Q: How do I rid antique books of mold and must?
-- Lavinia Seide, Lincoln, Massachusetts
Martha recently purchased an antique copy of "Doctor Doolittle's Circus" -- a children's classic with wonderful illustrations -- even though the book smelled musty and contained mildew in spots. She decided she would try to fight the must herself, using some suggestions contributed by the Northeast Document Conservation Center in Andover, Massachusetts, and Glenn Horowitz Booksellers in East Hampton and New York City.
Both our experts agree that there is no guaranteed way to remove the musty smell of old books, but you can try by first wiping your book with a clean, soft, barely damp cloth. Wipe off the cover, the top of the pages, and the pages themselves. If the mildew contains any moisture, open up the book and leave it in a sunny, airy place to dry. A fan will help speed up this process.
Then fill the bottom of a large garbage can with odor-absorbing material such as kitty litter, charcoal, or baking soda. Kitty litter is the most inexpensive of the three. Place the book in a smaller can, and place this can inside the larger one. Cover the large can and let it sit, checking the progress of the book every several days. If all goes well, your book will be ready for reading within a month.
Q:When I give a book as a gift, on which page should I sign it and write my note? Also, what's the best spot for a bookplate?
-- Laurie Kaseler , Tuscon, Arizona
If the book you are giving is one you have authored yourself, sign it on the title page if that page contains only the title, and no other information that clutters it up. If you are not the author of the book, then sign it and write the date and your message on the first free front endpaper, which is the first blank page as you open up the book. The idea is that the recipient shouldn't have to search for the inscription. If there isn't any room for an inscription on the front free endpaper, then sign on the following page, either the right- or the left-hand side, or on the inside cover. But take care not to let the dust jacket obscure it.
A bookplate is a printed label that shows ownership of the book; frequently it bears a symbolic personal design. The earliest bookplates date back to the beginning of the sixteenth century. They can be found in the libraries of European monasteries. Paste a bookplate on the front inside cover of the book, in the center of the page.