Caring for Books

Most dealers in scarce or rare books have taken up the practice of protecting the covers of books without dustwrappers by making a cover for the book out of a sheet of acetate and protecting books with dust jackets by covering them with plain acetate or an acetate cover that is backed with acid-free paper. The latter are made by Demco, Bro-Dart, and other companies. We have taken to using the covers without backing made by Demco (although they are probably available from others), as many collectors want to see the back of the dust jacket to assure themselves that no repairs have been made or it is not dampstained. We can give you the contact information so that you may order these covers

From our viewpoint, acetate covers improve the appearance of books, but more important, they protect the books and dustwrappers while on our shelves. The original dustwrappers are an expensive part of the book, and it is easy to tear their edges just by taking the book off the shelf; therefore, it is only reasonable to go to the expense of putting on covers.

The collector who takes books home may not feel the need to keep the covers on the books, and if the books are not handled much and you don't like their appearance, then we do not see any reason to keep them on. The covers do provide a measure of protection, but they do age over time and probably should be changed after a number of years.

The best protection for a book is a specially made box, but these are labor-intensive and expensive, in the $75 to $150 range, and are hardly worth the cost to protect a $50 book.

If boxes are not within your budget or cost effective, we would recommend glass-front bookcases as a good investment for your more valuable books.

The most important thing is to keep the books in a relatively clean environment at consistent temperature and humidity levels. This can be accomplished with air conditioning, a dehumidifier, and perhaps an air cleaner.

It is also important to watch the little things, like leaving a book out on a table where a visitor might set a glass on it or something could be spilled nearby and spread to the cover before the book could be picked up; shelving books too tightly so that the top edges are torn when a book is removed; leaving acid-content paper such as newsprint stored in the books, which will darken the pages; or putting thick sheaves of paper in the book, which can loosen the bindings.

Books are fragile, but the worst-made of them have resided in attics for decades without serious damage. So worry more about dampness than dryness; avoid direct sunlight, which can fade the covers badly; and don't put stickers or gummed labels directly on the covers or even on the acetate protectors. They will discolor the books or dust jackets and, if exposed to light while on the acetate protectors can cause discoloration on the dust jacket. The latter is mentioned because we've seen a number of book collections marked with different-colored labels. Try to resist the urge to write your name in your books and only use acid-free bookplates and just lay them in the books, even if signed by the author, instead of gluing them in the book. We once had a gentleman call and ask if he could bring in for an offer some signed copies of an author who is quite collectible, and when he arrived we were stunned to see that not only had he written his name in ink (in a large bold signature) above the author's signature but had written that the book was a "FIRST EDITION" in ink and then stapled the dustwrapper (all the way through the boards) to keep anyone from removing it!


As far as insurance is concerned, we understand that most homeowner policies have a limit on collectibles and you may have to purchase a special rider to the policy to cover your books. If the books are covered under your basic insurance policy or a rider is required, your company will normally require an appraisal for its files. The easiest and least expensive way to obtain an appraisal is to type an itemized list of your books, or at least the ones that have a value over $50. Include the author, title, publisher, place, date, edition, and very brief description, and leave room on the right margin for the dealer to add the appraisal prices. After you have this list, visit a book dealer and ask the dealer what the charge would be to appraise the books on the list. If you are local, we would be happy to it, but if you are not local the dealer doing the appraisal needs to visit your home and actually look at the books, but the cost will be significantly lower if the dealer does not have to take the time to make up a list in order to do the appraisal. If you send it as anattachment, the dealer can open it up and type in the values on your list and provide a cover sheet with the appraisal total. If you have a thousand books and only a hundred of them have a value over $50, just list the hundred books and then add a miscellaneous category for hardbacks and paperbacks, so that these can be included. Many people do not feel the lesser books are worth the trouble, but if you have eight hundred hardback books with an average value of $10 each, it would be nice to get the $8,000 if there were ever a fire in your house.

Additionally, we would like to note that there are vast differences between insurance companies when it comes to books. We had a collector with a million-dollar collection who kept all the valuable books in a bank deposit vault and was being charged $7,000 to $8,000 a year in premiums. At the same time we had another collector with a million-dollar collection stored in a house he hadn't lived in for a few years and he was paying $750 a year. And just recently a collector with perhaps a hundred-thousand-dollar collection told us his insurance company wouldn't insure them at any price. Check with your own insurance company and get a quote from them. Many times we've found the requirements of certain insurance companies are onerous. They may want a complete appraisal of every item, even the $5 ones. And they may want it updated every six months or year. We would think an update every two years should be enough.

We use Collector's Insurance in Westminister, MD, which only requires specific information on books valued at $5,000 or more. The problem is, you still need to know the total value of your collection in order to insure it at full value. So, you still need an appraisal of all your books.


We offer appraisal services for insurance purposes and for donations. We appraise books, letters and manuscripts on an hourly basis (never on the value of the material) plus expenses. We fully recognize our obligation to be fair, impartial and accurate to the best of our abilities.

The senior appraiser is Allen Ahearn, co-author of Book Collecting: A Comprehensive Guide, first published by Putnam's in 1989, revised and enlarged in 1995, and again in 2000; Collected Books: The Guide to Values, first published in 1991, revised and enlarged in 1997, and again in 2002; and over 170 price guides for individual authors under the Author Price Guide series. (Collected Books is used as a reference by most booksellers and appraisers.) The compilation of these books and guides, as well as the day to day buying and selling of scarce and rare books for the Quill & Brush puts Mr. Ahearn in the position to make accurate estimates of fair market values for books, letters and manuscripts.

Mr. Ahearn graduated from the University of Maryland in 1960 with a major in English Literature and a minor in Mathematics. He earned a Masters in Business Administration from George Washington University in 1970. He is a member of the Antiquarian Booksellers' Association of America, serving on the Board of Governors for four years; and is a member and was the first President of the Washington Area Booksellers' Association.

Rate - $200 per hour or $1,500 per day.

Bargaining on Prices

Bargaining with us is not unheard of, and if we've had a book on the shelf for a year or so, we might be willing to accept an offer of something less than the marked price. But the collector should understand that most banks have little confidence in books as collateral, and so all the books on dealers' shelves have probably been paid for outright. The nature of the business is to wait for the right buyer to come along, even if this takes over a year in many cases, and 10 to 20 years in some.

One must be aware that some dealers tend to price many of their books much higher than other dealers in the same field, and of course because of this can offer significant discounts. This is confusing to the beginning collector, who may become used to certain dealers automatically giving discounts of 10, 20, or 30 percent or more, and so assume we'll do the same.

If you are a serious collector there is a danger in continual bargaining, because if a scarce book you have wanted for years comes into the store and we have other customers for the book, it is safe to assume that you will not be offered the book first.

There are reciprocal discounts within the trade, because dealers purchase much of their inventory from other dealers. There are no warehouses stocking inscribed copies of Fitzgerald's books, and if you have a customer for one, your best chance of finding it is on the shelves of another dealer. You, as a collector, do not offer the dealer the long-range opportunities to buy salable inventory, and therefore there is no compelling reason to give you a discount, which seems to come as a shock to certain collectors, fortunately a minority. A few years ago at a book fair we watched a prominent collector whom we have known for years negotiate a dealer down to a 30 percent discount on a book that was fairly priced. This was a sad scene. The collector probably made $500,000 to $1,000,000 a year, the dealer, probably $30,000 to $40,000 max. I knew the collector well and had dealt with him for years but lost a lot of respect for him after watching this transaction.

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