Foxing: Part Two

My Adventures With…

James Herriot’s Yorkshire, fortunately the cow was well.

When I started writing the blog about foxing it ended up being a lot longer than I’d anticipated so I decided to split it in two parts. You can find Part One here and it discusses how I’d noticed that some of my books, which I aim to keep in as pristine condition as possible, had started to fox, that is have brown spots appear on the pages, and this was very nearly the end of the world for me.

The other weekend I was in the Yorkshire Dales. I’d gone because I needed to get away but decided I wanted to go where there were few people and also because I love James Herriot’s books. I also wanted to visit The Stid (nothing to do with writing but it’s interesting as it’s said to be the world’s most dangerous stretch of water – yes in Yorkshire! Google it and don’t fall in.)

Just as I was on my way back to the car park by Bolton Abbey I noticed an antique bookshop, Grove Rare Books. It occurred to me that they might have some literature they could sell me that would answer my questions of what to do, and they would have a clear authority on the subject of how to look after books. It turned out they didn’t sell literature about the actual upkeep of books, but the man who worked there was very helpful. He, of course, had his own collection of texts on how to look after his products and so spent some time helping me look up what I could do. To be honest I think he knew it anyway, he seemed the kind of person who knew very useful things, but he wanted to show the authority from the books – he obviously understood his customers well. We found the below in an older text book:

Advice from the old book

The book the man showed me was written a long time ago, I forget exactly when but many decades; it was in impressive condition and suggested a few options. Chloramine T seems to be a thing, I have no idea what it is, if it works, or even if it’s legal in the UK or other places so I’m not recommending it, I did discover it has a use for fish though. The other option was The Antifox Company in Guildford in Surrey as they had a liquid called Antifox (do not drink this! the book clearly warns) and a powder with which to treat the pages. “£5.00 + £1.00 for shipping by surface only”. Not that I was going to purchase it, but on googling the company it seems it no longer exists so maybe it doesn’t work, all you get is websites about actual foxes in Surrey, and from searching the address there is nothing of note there.

The man who worked there did reassure me that foxing doesn’t spread from book to book but is just a reaction to impurities in the paper, it’s not like mould. This is what the British Library’s guide said just without the fungal word (I almost just used the first letter but then thought better of it when I reread it), and to be fair the British Library guide is about mould and just happens to mention foxing as an aside so it’s not saying it is fungal.

The Strid

As someone who looks after a lot more books than I do, and which are worth far far more, I believe the man in the shop. He reassured me that it wasn’t a threat to the rest of my collection but I just have to live with it. A damp environment might contribute to the foxing. I had moved recently so my mind started panicking, was my current home damper than my previous ones? I don’t think so but it’s made me more careful to ensure in future I don’t store them in damp rooms.

I was also advised that if my collection was expensive there were services that I could investigate that would restore each page, but I have have a load of paperbacks not Gutenberg Bibles or Shakespeare First Folios (which are probably not the versions Radio 4 will give you on the desert island either).

I’m a lot more confident now and I’m beginning to return my foxed books to the their shelves. I’m far more aware of foxing and have noticed since January I carefully examine the book I’m reading, and any in detail before I buy them for marks, but I have to accept the fact that both myself and my books are getting older.

Oh and if you are ever near Bolton Abbey pop in to Grove Rare Books, they are good people.

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Foxing: Part One

My Adventures With…

Those dark spots on the page or across the fore edge (the opposite to the book’s spine) might make the book looked aged and interesting, but I hate them. I like my books to remain as close to a pristine condition as I can possibly keep them, and for the most part I succeed. A cracked spine will have me worrying for days and you should never fold the page corners. However if you have a collection of books it’s inevitable that you will come across foxing. The British Library describe foxing this way:

“Foxing is the term used for the brown spots and stains seen on affected paper which may be fungal in origin but may also be caused by chemical impurities in the paper.”

The word fungal is alarming!

Over the winter I started to read a novel (Doctor Who: Festival Of Death by Jonathan Morris if you’re interested) which, just because of the way of things, took a longer while to read than it normally should. I’d take it to and from work and read in my lunch break; one day I noticed it had started foxing.

This really worried me. I have never seen this before on the other BBC novels I have, and I own nearly all of them (and every Virgin!), so I hastily went and checked the rest of my collection. All but two of the BBC Doctor Who novels were clear, neither as bad as this one, and to my immense relief it was on none of the Virgin books, which are really important to me (there’s an entire blog coming folks). I immediately isolated the the affected ones and searched the rest of my other books. There were some that had marks on them but most seemed fine.

What worried me the most was Festival Of Death was only published recently, well in my head. It has since been republished in different editions because it’s a very good novel, but I’d been collecting from first release and as I had first editions of all the others when I started to look to fill in the gaps, of which this was one, I had to keep to the same format; look it up it’s not that cheap these days. Oh and it turns out that the “recent” publishing of the first edition of this novel was actually in the year 2000, longer ago than I remembered but I have books way older which are still pristine.

I tried to think back to when it had arrived in the post probably about a year previously. I would have noticed if it had been marked back then surely? I can only think that as it had been over the cold part of the year and as I’d sometimes leave it in the car during the working day this is what must have cause the foxing to happen, but I’d done that before to other books and I’d never seen this. Quite what caused this, specifically to this book, I needed to find out. But my main fear was to stop it from spreading.

Not one of my books

To be honest I’d never really gave it much thought before. I assumed that if I looked after them, all neat and tidy on a bookshelf in dry conditions, then they would not begin to show signs of damage like this. After having had a book collection for nearly all my life though as I get older so will the books.

The night I noticed it I did a search on the internet and there is some fairly confusing information out there, the British Library seemed to be the most qualified to advise, but that word “fungal” made me very uncomfortable.

I can be a bit dramatic at times, hey I’m a writer ok?, so I had visions of all my books turning to mould over night, a life time’s collection gone! What could I do? In moments of not so clear thinking I continued to search the internet for any solution. One place suggested I microwave the book to kill anything, stupidly I did this.

How long you cook the books for was not instructed so I decided I’d try a minute and see what happened. When I opened the door the book was damp and letting off an alarming amount of steam, the glue binding the pages together had melted and it looked sorrier than before I started, but just to be safe I put in back in for another thirty seconds.

I let it cool down, wafting the steam out of it and left it dry. Nearly half a year later no further foxing has occurred but I STRONGLY DO NOT recommend this as an option. I think it can probably cause more damage that way. It turned out it would be a while before I found out exactly what was happening to resolve the issue; in Part Two of this blog, coming later, you can see what happened next.

Incidentally the novel Festival Of Death is about a decaying spaceship, sort of, so it was kind of appropriate and it’s also well worth reading.

The Beautiful Death is the ultimate theme-park ride: a sightseeing tour of the afterlife. But something has gone wrong, and when the Fourth Doctor arrives in the aftermath of the disaster, he is congratulated for saving the population from destruction – something he hasn’t actually done yet. He has no choice but to travel back in time and discover how he became a hero. And then he finds out. He did it by sacrificing his life.
― Jonathan Morris, Doctor Who Festival Of Death

Buy Doctor Who: Festival Of Death by Jonathan Morris

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