How to care for your vintage cookbooks


We’ve talked about collecting secondhand, vintage, and hand-me-down cookbooks before. But once we have acquired the precious tomes, how do we protect them and keep them in the best possible condition? Indexed blog The Kitchn provides advice from the experts.

The Kitchn asked respected booksellers Celia Sack (of Omnivore Books in San Francisco) and Bonnie Slotnick (of Bonnie Slotnick Cookbooks in New York City) about how to care for vintage cookbooks. Sack says that the first thing you should do is to remove any notes, newspaper clippings, or other bits of paper in the book. While we may find these notes charming or sentimental, she notes that they can eventually leave dark spots on the pages. If you want to keep the notes or clippings, put them into an archival plastic sleeve.

If you’re using the cookbook, you should remove the dust jacket before doing so to prevent damage to the jacket. (But always keep the dust jacket as it can add tremendous value to the book.) Slotnick recommends using a piece of plexiglass or glass to cover the book when in use to prevent any drips or spills onto the book’s pages. (This is excellent advice for non-vintage books as well.)

As for storing the cookbooks, both women agree that while we may want to show off the books in the kitchen, that’s probably the worst place to store them. You want to keep books away from light, heat, and moisture, all of which are found in the kitchen. Sack recommends keeping the books on a bookcase away from direct sunlight. There should be adequate spacing for the books so they can be removed without much tugging or wiggling.

If you are going to photocopy pages from the book, try to do it just once, says Slotnick. Repeated exposure to the light of a photocopier can degrade the pages. You might even try photographing them, sans flash, with a cell phone or tablet, and then printing out the saved image.

Read the full article at The Kitchn for more tips on how to handle and store your favorite vintage books so you can enjoy them for years to come.

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  • Breadcrumbs  on  April 24, 2015

    Plexiglass or glass to prevent spills & drips. No notes. No way! I cherish the notes in my books whether they are mine or notes from those who experienced my books before me. I view the splatters and splashes as badges of honour, well-earned for a dish prepared with love. Value to me is determined not by money but rather by love. How much was a book used? Were notes carefully or hastily made in the margins only to be crossed out next time around in favour of a new approach or ingredient? I care for my cookbooks very much but I don't show it by wrapping them in plastic and tucking them out of reach, I care for my books by using them. I bet if they could speak they'd say they felt loved!

  • BethNH  on  April 25, 2015

    Breadcrumbs stated my feelings perfectly. Cookbooks are meant to be used. I don't care if my books show wear and tear. If my children want my books in the future, they'll have to take them with grease spots, tattered book covers, and a few stuck together pages.

  • sir_ken_g  on  April 25, 2015

    If I had any rare books I might worry. I have old ones – but not rare.
    If they need fixing Elmer's glue for the binder and clear packing tape for anything else.
    Yes splatters are a sign of love.

  • hillsboroks  on  April 25, 2015

    I cooked my first Betty Crocker cookbook to death. The spine cover was gone, many pages were loose and still more were splattered but when I found a pristine copy in a thrift shop my adult children fought over who got the old copy. I am now on my third copy of Sheila Lukins and Julie Rosso's The New Basics. I just copy the important notes over to the new copy and keep on cooking. I now figure that if a cookbook is really good I will probably go through at least two copies of it.

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