Many people have asked us how to store antiquarian books in Singapore, so that they won’t tan, fox or spoil easily.
Antiquarian or otherwise, books need to be handled with care if they are to last. And in Singapore, there are two major obstacles to the preservation of books – the humidity, and the strong sunlight.
Humidity can cause books to warp or fox easily, so you’ll see small brown dots appearing on your books – something very common in tropical climates. Sunlight, on the other hand, causes books to “tan”, meaning the pages will be uniformly yellow or brown.
The good news about antiquarian or rare books is, they’re much more resilient than you think. After all, many have lasted a 100 years or more, evidence of their hardiness. Similarly, rare/collectible books like modern leatherbound editions, or those in slipcases, are made to last.
For example, all these books are manufactured using acid-free paper, which helps to preserve the integrity of the book. In the past, most paper was made using vegetable fibres, so the books were not as brittle as the cheap, factory-made paper of today. Also, most these books were bound by sewing the pages together, unlike most books these days, whose pages are glued.
This is why, even in Singapore, you’ll find that an antiquarian book will be in a better condition after 5 years than a new paperback after the same amount of time.
Nevertheless, storing your books appropriately is still important. There are, as mentioned, two major things to deal with: humidity, and strong sunlight.
The best way to counter our natural humidity is by purchasing a dehumidifier. This is a device that literally sucks the water out of the air. It can be purchased quite easily, from most home appliance stores. The lowest-range dehumidifiers cost $300 or so.
However, if you don’t own an entire library and would like a simpler, cheaper solution for your few books, you may want to consider purchasing silica gel instead. Your best choice would probably be to purchase Hungry Hippo containers, which you can find at just about any store for approximately $7 for a pack of 3 or 4. If your books are in a single cupboard, use one Hungry Hippo, and replace it once every two weeks or so.
Dealing with strong sunlight is much simpler – just keep your books in a cool, dim place! Avoid placing your books by the window, and especially make sure the edges of the book (the ones with pages exposed) do not face the sun. If possible, keep your books in an enclosed storage space, such as in a cupboard with doors instead of open shelves.
Books that come in slipcases, like The Brothers Karamazov and others published by The Folio Society, are good for climates like Singapore because the slipcase offers another form of protection from the sun. Therefore, if there’s a book you absolutely love and want to keep, investing in one of these books would ultimately be more worth it than purchasing, say, a new hardcover copy, since these editions are meant to last.