Off the bookshelf

The Enemies of Books by William Blades, 1880, “Revised and Expanded by the Author, 1902

I don’t remember how I stumbled over this title, probably while reading one of Nicholas Bashbanes’ books over the holidays, but I primeval sent out an ILL request for it. The book basically covers the things in this world that can damage books. At only 150 pages, it discretely covers the following ‘enemies’: Fire, Water, Gas & Heat, Dust & Neglect, Ignorance & Bigotry, The Bookworm, Other Vermin, Bookbinders, Collectors (the kind that collect just title pages for later republication in collections,) and Servants & Children.

Each chapter covers the obvious but also includes stories of libraries and collections that have fallen to each of the listed enemies. In many cases it also offers suggestions as how to avoid said problems. Here is one of my favorite examples; one of the ways to avoid moisture:

At the same time no system of heating should be allowed to supersede the open grate, which supplies a ventilation to the room as useful to the health of the books as to the health of the occupier. A coal fire is objectionable Oman grounds. It is dangerous, dirty and dusty. On the other hand an asbestos fire, where the lumps are judiciously laid, gives all the warmth and ventilation of a common fire without any of its annoyances; and to any one who loves to be independent of servants, and to know that, however deeply he may sleep over his “copy,” his fire will not fail to keep awake, an asbestos stove is valuable.

Needless to say, I won’t be installing any asbestos burning stoves in my house to assist in keeping my book dry.

Obviously long out of print I still recommend this item to anyone interested in the history of books, book collecting, and libraries. You’ll just need to ILL a copy. Or, you can read it online from the University of Virginia. It just won’t be the same though. This book’s size alone makes it a small treasure to read while holding a mug of coffee in the other hand.

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