Archive Boxes: Who Needs Them?

While a book may not be fragile when it is first printed, it quickly and imperceptibly begins to decompose. Over time it’s materials disintegrate. Leather turns to powder. The spine releases the pages. Add that to the wear and tear of occasional use or handling and eventually the book may be beyond repair. Preserving books from this damage is one dilemma book collectors face when deciding how to store antique and rare books securely and for all time.

Archivists haven’t discovered a fountain of youth for old books yet unfortunately. In fact, they’re no closer to reversing or stopping the aging process of the printed word than scientists are for the human body. All we can hope is to slow the process down a little.

Archive boxes do just that. They aren’t the plastic surgery of book preservation though. They cannot reverse damage, but they do serve a very practical purpose. They protect books from unnecessary handling. They’re constructed from acid-free materials that neutralize any migrant acid and atmospheric pollutants. These solid, crush-resistant boxes also resist light infiltration and dirt. Storing books in archive boxes minimize the collection of dust on the antique book, which reduces unnecessary dusting e.g. heartlessly manhandling the delicate binding with a textured rag of sorts. If this sort of treatment appeals to you as a collector, you ought to consider a secondary hobby in demolition.

Indicators that a book collection may be ready for an archival box:


Acid-free archive boxes can vary in price from $10 to $70 dollars and more. Hopefully you have enough familiarity with economic theory to recognize that a five dollar book does not require a fifty dollar container. Depending on your budget and your collection, you need to know what percentage you are willing to part with for books and what you plan to spend on maintenance.

It may sound like a simple question, but it relates directly to why you collect books, which varies from individual to individual. Whether you collect for pure enjoyment or with an eye for resale value, all types of collectors may have items in their collection they should keep in archive boxes.

Sentimental Value

The smutty poetry my grandfather self-published in a shack in North Dakota the year I was born is not a hot items on the book-collecting market these days. In fact, it wasn’t in demand during any previous days during my life either. Nevertheless, the three volumes, including the Bailey family classic: “Sordid Stories and Vulgar Verse” by Joseph Bailey, deserve an archival box, because they will remain in my personal collection for the duration of my life, be passed on as an heirloom, and quite literally, they are irreplaceable.

You can’t put a price on something like that. At least, I won’t put a price on it, but I will put in an archival box and not just to prevent friends browsing my library from reading the title.

Extreme Old Age

Unfortunately, not all books increase astronomically in value as a result of their longevity. It could be that they were written in Latin a long time ago when that was still allarchive boxes the rage with academics. However, same as these days, they still publish widely on subjects no one cares about and do not fetch top dollar with collectors. Yet, they may be fragile. Generally, books printed after 1850 do not count as “old,” and even books printed before that year may not be valuable. Fragile books benefit from archival boxes even if they’re worth no more than the box itself.

While there is no definitive age at which a book requires a box, you should weigh general age in with another factor:

Shabby Construction

This is the truth. Things that are poorly made, fall apart. Often times, authors’ first novels, shabbily edited, and cheaply published are very books that demand the most attention from collectors. While little thought may have been spent on producing some of the most valuable works in print, a lot of care should go into preserving them.

Given that these qualities: poor manufacture, age, and value so often coincide, whether or not a collector invests in archival boxes should evaluate the combination of these factors. A serious collector ought to have complex equation to calculate each book’s potential need for an archival box that produces a specific range value and function something like this:

The Value of the Book (V) + or – 15% based on the collector’s personal confidence in the longevity of modern civilization / Extreme Old Age (E) + The Quality of the Book’s Construction (Q) + or – points on a ten point scale for degree of brand loyalty the collector feels for the book’s publisher x (S) for degree of sentimentialsentimental attachment to the power of person’s distance of relation to the collector = Archival Box Worthiness.

Okay, no, ha ha ha, sorry, no. Unless you’re book collecting on an unprecedented scale, don’t use a formula. Even if you are, you probably understand that value changes in relation to the demand for the item. The whims and fanciness of collectors shift quickly and dramatically at times, too. There’s no easy way to decide whether a book requires that you investment in an archival box, but as to whether preserving books your most prized leather bound, valuable or fragile books with these devices warrant consideration, the answer is a resounding yes.

Even with these acid free boxes, climate will still be a factor in the rate of disintegration. Avoid storing books in attics or basements where temperature and moisture may accelerate their decomposition. Glass covered bookcases serve the same basic purpose as archive boxes to a lesser degree, handling and dusting may be reduced, but archival boxes are the superior option.