Did you know the book ‘Master Modeler’ (the biography of Tamiya founder, Shunsaku Tamiya) went out of print years ago, and now retails for between $100 and $300 in fine condition?
Books yellow with age depending on how they are stored. So if you own any somewhat valuable hobby books (or any books), have you considered how you care for them?
Over the past couple of years I’ve found myself becoming something of an amateur book collector. It began after I rummaged through my collection of old science fiction novels, mostly purchased in the 1990s. And then started looking into what else I might like to add to my shelves – authors and books I’d always said I’d read “one day”.
But as The Flaming Lips once sang, “All we have is now…”. And lately I’ve tried to make reading part of my daily routine.
I’m a big fan of authors like Arthur C. Clarke. But I also love reference books about sci-fi films. And of course many, many books, magazines and catalogues about toys, hobbies and collecting.
But first, a question: Would you be happy if your brand new books suddenly ended up like this just from sitting on your shelves?
This isn’t my book. But this lovely phenomenon is called ‘Foxing‘. Paper generally yellows as it ages, and we can’t stop it. But we can slow it down. And in addition, we can avoid it developing those ugly spots that are caused by a type of mould. Once embedded in paper, foxing can never be removed. And believe me, I’ve tried.
Whilst recently looking through my books, I discovered that even some brand new paperbacks I’d bought only a handful of years ago (and hadn’t read yet) had started to turn yellow just sitting on shelves.
After a little more research, I learned some basic rules of book care that any book collector will tell you. Book yellowing and mould are caused by one or more of these conditions:
- Sunlight. The main cause of page yellowing.
- Humidity. The main cause of foxing.
- Wooden bookshelves. This was a new one to me. A lot of people say timber “off-gases” as it ages, and this also causes paper to turn yellow. I am unsure of the science behind it when you consider all the timber bookshelves in the world that hold many precious books…. but let’s run with it for the moment…
- Other yellowed books. Apparently book yellowing is also contagious. i.e., Putting a brand new book next to yellowed books isn’t a good idea, they say, or else the white books will go yellow faster. Myth? Truth? If nothing else, best to keep your good books isolated.
Another thing I learned is that paperbacks are made from inherently cheaper paper that loves to turn yellow (faster) than hardcover or other, more expensive editions. This makes sense given paperbacks are designed to be as cheap as possible.
Alas, a lot of science fiction novels were only ever published in paperback form. So keeping them in nice condition over the years requires a bit of special treatment. Check out this neat little edition I have of ‘A Fall of Moondust’, by Arthur C Clarke…
This copy actually dates from the 1990s. And not sure if you can tell, but I’ve sealed this book in plastic 😅 The pages were not too yellowed. And after a bit of a further clean and restore, I think the book is in great condition. And now it should (hopefully) stay that way. It’s important to note however, that you can’t use just any plastic wrap for books. It should be acid-free plastic. So, here’s what I used…
Clearly, the first thing to do with books is keep them in cool, dark, well ventilated (low humidity) locations. And if you want to go the extra mile – avoid using wooden bookshelves too. Try steel ones instead. They do exist.
But as mentioned, I’m also of the view that covering valuable books in protective, acid-free plastic will help keep them safe from humidity and wear. Some bookworms may disagree with fully covering books, claiming it “traps moisture inside with the book”. However, can anyone provide evidence of this? Because after hours of online research, I’ve not been able to find any real backup for this theory. Only lots of people parroting the same line, which made me wonder if it was a bit like the water drinking myth.
And furthermore. What about comic books? Comic book collectors have long dealt with books made from pretty low quality paper. Some rare comic books are now worth thousands of dollars. And yet, I know from visiting toy and collectible shows that many comic books are kept and traded whilst sealed in plastic sleeves with little backing boards to keep them flat. So I decided to look into some of those acid-free comic book sleeves to see if they might work for books, too.
In addition, I visited a local seller of collectible books to ask about another more common type of covering material – dust jacket covers. And he showed me how he uses this on his own books.
Armed with this knowledge, and my (now unexpectedly expensive?) mint copy of ‘Master Modeler’, let’s look at how I cover books. I’ve given it my full “covering” treatment – Steps 1 and 2…
Step 1 – A dust jacket
For hardcover books, their fragile dust jackets are prone to wear from handling alone, as well as yellowing and foxing. You’re supposed to take dust jackets off when you read books. But even if you do, they still tend to get worn out when being moved around on bookshelves for years.
Putting a dust jacket inside a cover of it’s own will not only protect it from dirt and tears, I think it also looks nicer (shinier). On advice from my book dealer friend, I opted to buy a a roll of Unifold Polypropylene Dust Jacket covering from Bookcoverco to cover my dust jackets.
The process of covering a dust jacket does take a little practice. But it’s pretty easy once you know. First, here is my uncovered hardcover of ‘Master Modeler’…
And here’s how to cut and fit a nice dust jacket sleeve. Remember that the dust jacket cover should not adhere to the dust jacket itself. It should only “contain” the dust jacket. Meaning you can always take it off later, if you want.
Time required: 10mins
- Take the dust jacket off and lay it out flat.
- Unroll the covering, and place the jacket face-up, under the clear side. With the adhesive strip at the bottom of the jacket.
- Ensure the jacket is tucked right up tight against the top, and use a couple of clips to hold it in place.
- Then turn it over, and trim the paper backing away (no particular length – just ensure it’s shorter than the jacket)
- Now fold the bottom of the cover up, as tight as possible. And remove the paper backing of the adhesive strip, then stick it down. Use your nail to tightly crease the edge of the cover, ensuring the jacket is contained tightly at top and bottom, within the cover.
- Now turn the jacket over. Then carefully trim the ends to remove the excess cover, being careful not to cut into the jacket. The trimmed edges don’t need to be perfectly straight or anything.
- Now all you need to do is fit the jacket back onto the book. Place the book spine in the middle of the jacket, then take your time to fold and crease the page flap of one side so that it fits tightly on the book. Then do the other side.
The book dust jacket is now sealed inside a nice, protective, shiny cover. So it never gets torn or dirty.
This will protect the jacket. But not the sides of the actual book pages. Which is where step 2 comes in…
Step 2 – The comic book sleeve
Book edges are the most likely part to go yellow. And even worse – if they develop “foxing”, this is impossible to remove, as I mentioned earlier.
My advice is to wrap the whole book. And you might be thinking “Er, what if I want to read it?”…
Well, if you’re about to read it – don’t wrap it. But I bet 99% of the books you own, probably won’t get read in the next 10 years. Right? So, 5mins of wrapping/unwrapping is hardly an inconvenience.
This approach works for both soft and hardcover books. I use Ultra-Pro products, such as these magazine size comic bags. They are acid-free,, come in various sizes, and in packets of 100. I have some larger and smaller ones to choose from, depending on the size of the book.
Time required: 5 minutes
- Slide the book into the bag.
- Fold the excess over onto the back side of the book (to keep the front more presentable) and tape it down. I use Scotch Gift Wrap tape as it’s nice to use, and not very visible when applied.
- Now trim the excess of the bag away, leaving about 2 inches at the top. Be sure to continually, carefully re-push the book to the bottom of the bag to ensure it’s tightly at the bottom.
- Now simply fold the top of the bag over to the back of the book, and do the same for the excess bits at the bottom.
The book is now totally sealed. And I can sleep easy, given another non-foxy one like mine could set me back some $300 one day 😅
Restoring yellowed books
While the above techniques should help preserve your new books for the future, what about books that have already yellowed? Can they be brought back to remove some of the discolouration?
The answer is “yes” – but only the yellowed page sides. Any foxing can’t really be removed.
The way to do this is to sand the sides of the book. This is a well-known book technique and people typically use something like a small sanding block, with fine sand paper, to gentle remove the yellow.
But my approach is to carefully brush away some of the yellowing, using…a Dremel! Why do it manually, when a power tool can help…
As far as I can see, nobody else on the web seems to have suggested this method to date. But in my experience, it saves a lot of effort. All you need to do is attach the ‘Dremel 512E Finishing Abrasive Brush‘ to your Dremel. Then, with the book closed, carefully and lightly run the brush at low speed along the 3 page sides of the book. In my experience this can brighten yellowed page sides by up to about 30%. I use this approach on nearly every used book I buy – just to clean and brighten up the sides a little bit. The sides are always more yellowed, than the centre of pages, as they are exposed to the most humidity/light.
Here’s a picture of my slightly yellowed, brand new paperback of ‘Leviathan Wakes’ by James SA Corey which after just a few years on my shelf, had started to yellow. Left – before Dremel sanding, and right – after sanding…
I have a fair few other valuable sci-fi books, manuals, catalogs, magazines and other things that also probably would be better off inside a comic book sleeve, or with a dust jacket.
I’ve already covered my rare hardcover of ‘A Fire Upon the Deep’, by Vernor Vinge, with its amazing artwork…
But I should probably also slip some other things into sleeves in my drawers, like this ultra rare Nikko R/C catalogue from 1980…
Or this Lego Technic catalogue from 1987…
How about you? Especially as we head into winter here in Australia, consider the risk of mould etc on your vintage hobby books and paperwork, and whether they could be stored more safely.
As always, happy collecting guys!