Monday, August 9, 2010

A Question for the Book Repair Savvy

Reader Jon Hendry asks the following question about preserving old gaming materials:
My 1st edition AD&D books, and other items, are definitely yellowing from acidification. They ain't gonna last forever, and while scanned copies are an option, I like having them as physical artifacts as well.
There are deacidifying sprays you can get, but those would probably work better for, say, maps or short modules. I'm not sure how to go about deacidifying something as long as a DMG.
Anyone out there able to offer any advice or practical tips about this? I'm curious to know the answer myself, since, like Jon, some of my older gaming materials are starting to look yellow and brittle.


  1. The same applies to the old D&D books as does, say, comic books with which I was a dealer in for many years. The biggest enemy to paper is heat, ultra violet rays and moisture.

    The best thing to do is keep them in a dry, dark and relatively cool place when not in use. This will prolong the papers lifespan and slow down the chemical changes that occur with older papers that have been introduced to the 3 elements I mentioned above. Once damage is to a certain stage, nothing can be done to reverse the damage, but you can hinder the progress of further damage.

    If a book's pages are on the yellow side of acidity, a professional book/paper restorer can use an aqueous process to remove soluble acids. These methods involve solvents and chemical oxidation along with water. Chemicals used to lighten paper are benzene, xylene, acetone, hydrogen peroxide and chlorine dioxide amongst others. It's not a process the layman should attempt as it takes a bit of know-how to do it correctly.

    Also, one last thing...if you decide to put your books in a polyurethane cover (the clear plastic covers used in comic book collecting) for better protection, be aware that while they initially give some protection from the elements, over time they actually hurt the book moreso than help. Unfortunately, the chemical composition in polyurethane coverings start to break down over time (especially when exposed to heat or ultra violet rays) and will actually excel the decomposition of the paper in the book instead of protecting it. These type of coverings need to be changed no less than annually or bi-annually at the most.

  2. You basically have to take apart books, put the pages in a deacidification bath, then rebuild your book. Here's a link about the bath:

  3. I would also add that you should not store them in an ordinary cardboard box. Most normal cardboard is a huge contributor to the acid problem. You also need to store them away from other highly acidic publications. A nasty newspaper near your Monster Manual may be a really bad thing.

  4. Thanks for posting this James.

    There's an interesting blog post & comments at

    There are comments from the Library of Congress' Chief of Conservation. (I wonder if she'd respond to an email.)

    Glad: I'm mostly interested in slowing the deterioration, not bleaching out the yellowing that has already occurred. I can live with some yellowing, I'm just concerned about the pages becoming brittle.

  5. I have a first printing of the Dungeon Masters Guide and never thought about it until this post. I just dug it up and flipped through it. It is slightly yellow along the exposed page edges but is otherwise in usable shape. I guess environment really does matter. It has spent the last 20 years in a dark cupboard in the dry Colorado environment.

  6. You can also buy sheets of interleaving tissue paper to put in between the pages. It might be a little bit of a pricey option for an entire book, but in my experience they work exceptionally well. Too, I want to echo that how you store books is a big part of how long they last. I have books that are over 100 years old and still in good condition because they are kept in a cool, dry basement on stone or concrete shelves.

  7. Slightly off the subject (but you mentioned this in the initial post): I would definitely scan your gaming materials so you have a permanent digital copy.

    Our GM keeps ALL of his gaming resources (manuals, modules, charts, char-sheets, etc...) on his laptop and uses this in lieu of carrying around dozens of books.

  8. You have two options, really: If you are going to keep using the books, they will keep falling apart. It's the same concept if you have a pulp Black Mask magazine and you want to keep reading and re-reading amount of preservation is going to keep it together.
    Or you can store the books, but it will be for the nostalgia factor alone ("This was MY first AD&D book!") rather than a collectible factor, since unless it's a first print (not 1st edition) copy you can probably get a crisp, unused copy for less than $30 on Ebay.

    My advice is to store the originals, get a nice unused/unstained/unwritten in set from ebay or a secondary source, and use the second set for playing. There is no shortage of 1st edition MM, PHB or DMG at this point, the amount of these that were printed bitd is a staggering amount.

  9. You might also pose the presevation/restoration question to the Acaeum membership, since folks there have wrestled with this quite a bit: