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Old Books and What to do With Them

People love to read and when the books have been read so much they start to fall apart, people replace them. This is not something that I, as a secondhand dealer, object to. In fact this is very good for the environment as books have been mass produced for over 50 years now, so some out of print copies are almost “Like New.” In fact this is how some places, like Ikea, can fill their new shelf displays with identical copies of a few titles across all of the stores in a country to showcase how their shelving works. The same thing is done with fully furnished model homes. Why? Well everyone knows what a book looks like and it helps the minds-eye to see how your stuff could fit as a comparison. But I digress.

Buying used books can help the environment by not becoming waste and help the economy by making it easier, or more affordable,- for the most part -to buy items. If you want something to read, and only have $20 you can get either one new book, or, depending on your stores, up to 18 books that you might not have even heard about. Sounds good right? New to you books and a chance to replace a falling apart best read.

But what do you do with that broken, falling apart copy of a book?

If you are like most people, you toss it into the bin. Hopefully the recycle bin. Most of a book is recyclable. The hardcovers, due to that plastic sheen seen on kids books, is not. Some of the Dust Jackets (DJs, also known as Dust Covers or DCs) are not. Some are plastic based, some have waxed coatings and others are just sealed with archival tape. Good luck with that, archival tape, by nature, can survive a heck of a lot.

Other people burn books, which if they are too damaged, BUT NOT MOLDY, is a good way to compost them. The ash from the pages can be very helpful to maintain the temperature in compost piles. Do NOT burn moldy books. Just don’t. Do I really have to explain why? Let’s just say those pretty colors that come off of them are not good for your health. Moldy books are also not able to be recycled. So, those you can just toss.

Another group of people, we will call them Crafty Folk, like to upcycle them. Upcycling, for those who don’t know, is the art of taking something and re-purposing it for another use. Crafty Folk have used well read, trashed books to make sculptures, planters, decoupage items, safes, art displays and homemade stationary.

But no matter what you do and have done with older, cannot be repaired books, you must do this one thing in the future.

Find out who did the cover art.

Find out who did the cover art.


You might have noticed that every time a book gets reprinted the art work changes. Or that when it is printed for a different audience or in another language nothing matches? There may be some similarities,but most of the time it isn’t subtle. The photo below shows a good example of this:

In the 1970s, 80s & 90s a lot of fantasy & science fiction books had artwork by Boris Vallejo. His distinct style is instantly recognizable. For many years his fantasy art could only be found on the glossy covers of the mass market books.

What most people don’t realize is that some artists can start out drawing Dust Jackets and become famous later on. Other artists were already famous and offered their services to publishers or writers of their favorite books. Ingahild Grathmer, for example, did the illustrations for an 1977 edition of Lord of the Rings. Her style is quite distinct, but you might be more familiar with her other job, namely being the current Queen of Denmark Virgil Finlay, Paul Lehr, Frank Kelly Freas, Bob Pepper and H. R. Giger (yes that one) are just a few of the ones out there.

But here is a little secret.

Some of them have signed the books along with the author.

Thus there might be some value to that broken down book after all.

So before you toss that book, or do what ever else you were thinking about doing with it, check the book for the illustrator’s name and do some research. You might have a rare copy. Or you might just see some nice art work.

A win-win either way.

And since that DJ and cover cannot be recycled, why not save them, along with what ever interior artwork there is? You can offer it online to some Crafty Folk or some art teachers to see if they can use them for something.

But wait! What if I find the signature in the book?

First step is to put the whole book in a box or other safe place. You will need to do some research, and it will take some time.

And that process will be explained in the next posting.

Happy Reading!

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