The Care of Books

Jot 101 care for books bookworm

Found at Jot HQ the other day—The Private Library—an attractively bound volume of 1897 by the antiquarian A(rthur) L. Humphreys, author of  How to Write a Village History, Old Decorative Maps and Charts and the Berkshire Book of Song, Rhyme and Steeple Chime.

Among the various interesting things he has to say about books in general is his section on ‘The Care of Books ‘. These observations may be listed in a number of sub-headings which could appear thus:-

1) Anecdotes by Andrew Lang.

‘…( Sir Walter ) Scott was very careful; he had a number of wooden dummies made, and, when a volume was borrowed, he put the dummy in its place on the shelf, inscribing it with the name of the borrower. He also defended his shelves with locked brazen wires. ‘ Tutus clausus ero’ ( “ I shall be safe if shut up “) , his anagram, was his motto, under a portcullis…Housemaids are seldom bibliophiles. Their favourite plan is to dust the books, and then rearrange them on fancy principles, mostly upside down. One volume of Grote will be put among French novels, another in the centre of a collection of sports, a third in  the midst of modern histories…The diversity of sizes, from folio to duodecimo, makes books very difficult to arrange where room is scanty. Modern shelves in most private houses allow no room for folios, which have to lie, like fallen warriors, on their sides.’

2) Heat and dust as enemies of books.

‘Mr Poole , a very experienced American librarian…made an experiment in the upper gallery of a library, and found that—“ while the temperature of the floor was 65* Fahr., that of the upper gallery was found to be 142*. Such a temperature dries up the oil of the leather and burns out its life. Books cannot live where men cannot live.”

In London particularly dust, smoke, and soot get at books and do great damage. To have the top edges gilded is an excellent way to prevent dust getting into the leaves. Books which have roughly trimmed tops harbour dust much more readily, and it is with great difficulty removed from such…Books should not be either swung together

or beaten together. The carpet in a library should not reach the wall, or right to the cases, but should fall short so as to be removed when required to be cleaned…’

3) Other bibliophilic dos and donts


Never lift a book by one of its corners.


Do not pile books up too high


Do not rub the dust into instead of off the edges


If mildew or damp is discovered, carefully wipe it away, and let the book stand open for some days in a very dry spot –but not in front of a fire.


Do not wedge books in too tightly. Every volume should fit easily into its place.


Do not cut books except with a proper ivory paper knife


It is ruination to a good book not to cut it right through into the corners


Do not turn the leaves of books down. Particularly, do not turn the leaves of books printed on plate paper.


If you are in the habit of lending books, do not mark them. These two habits together constitute an act of indiscretion. (we at Jot 101 confess to not understanding this particular piece of advice).


Never write upon a title- page or half-title. The blank fly-leaf is the right place.


Books are neither card racks, crumb baskets or receptacles for dead leaves.


Books were not meant as cushions, nor were they meant to be toasted before a fire.


Only small quantities of books (twelve volumes to twenty) should be packed in a parcel. Boxes, either wine cases or boxes specially made, should be used. Books being very solid and heavy should be packed in strong cases, and the method of  packing them should be to place them upright alternatively on back and edge in layers. By this means they can be fitted tightly to the case they are meant to travel in. Leather bound volumes should be wrapped up singly before being packed, and the box should be carefully lined with paper so that any roughness on the wood of the box may not damage the volumes.

Book and parcel post volumes should have three or four thicknesses of paper, and if bound volumes a strawboard on either side as well as paper. [RR]









One thought on “The Care of Books

  1. Jim Meven

    “If you are in the habit of lending books, do not mark them. These two habits together constitute an act of indiscretion.”
    My guess is that he means do not write notes in the margins, since it would allow the borrower to read your private thoughts.

    “Books are neither card racks, crumb baskets or receptacles for dead leaves”.
    One of the delights of secondhand books is the stuff like newspaper cuttings and old train tickets you find in them.


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