I always wondered about this…acidic paper in books
I noticed that some hardcover books are printed on acidic paper, and some are quality paper. I see this with regular new hardcover fiction and even non-fiction books I buy to read. Baldacci books for example tend to be printed on paper that after ten-twenty years is yellowed. Then other books, such as many Stephen King do not yellow in the same time period. I thought maybe publishers would determine which are acidic paper and which are not but discovered that is not the case and even not entirely the case for one author. It varies. This has only been happening in the last 20 years or so. Older books printed in the early 1990s and before tend to be on the quality paper stock.
Here is an example of a Nelson Mandela signed book that was printed on acidic paper.
When book is brand new paper feels rougher and looks creamy. If the non-acidic type, the paper is more smooth and white. It seems very random which books are printed on what paper. Even signed books are acidic paper - like the most recent Bill Clinton James Patterson book. But Bill Clinton’s My Life is not acidic. I can only tell once I have book in hand, and not by pictures alone (unless book already started yellowing/browning).
My thinking is they started doing this recently due to costs. I am surprised I have not been able to find much online about it. Only that paperback books are generally acidic and hardcover quality paper. But hardcovers appear to use acidic paper half the time it seems.
I suspect your thought about it being cost related is correct.
I have some thoughts to add but no time yet...
It appears it is truly random which hardcover books are printed on acidic paper or quality paper. I found a book that has aged a little and it used acidic paper for the first 50 or so pages and the rest was non-acidic quality paper. When opening the book up to the part where the paper changes it doesn’t look much different as the acid from the acid paper had migrated to the non-acidic paper directly touching it. However if you go deeper in the book in the non-acidic section you can see whiter looking pages verses the beginning pages.
If book was brand new it would had been very difficult to notice. The only difference I can tell is by touch/feel of the paper. The acidic paper feels rougher while the non-acidic paper is smoother.
The acidic paper in these hardcover books tends to be of better quality than the standard acidic paper used in paperback books (much rougher to the touch) which yellows faster.
I still have to get some thoughts together to post on the subject. But. I have seen that exact tan color on a book or two at the bookstore. I believe it was toning from prolonged exposure to the store's florescent lights.
Acid free paper is not necessarily immune from discoloration due to outside factors.
Was there any statement on the copyright page representing acid free, meeting some kind of standards, or a symbol of some kind? I know that there have been various designations used.
Nothing of the sort. Interestingly we have another copy of this same exact book/edition and it’s all the non-acid paper type (like the second part of this book).
The paper in this particular book is clearly two different types. I can tell by texture, feel and look.
Interesting. Is it a "book club" edition?
Nope, just a regular issue book. The copyright pages and everything are identical. The only difference is different paper stock for fifty first pages or so of one of the copies.
Years ago book club editions were different, usually smaller, and easier to spot. Later on, the only visible difference was the lack of a price in the inside front of the book jacket.
In any case, two types of paper is very odd. I wonder if we now have counterfeit books.
Both both are exactly the same, even price and jackets.
I thought it very strange this book uses two different types of paper. When it was new it was not noticeable. But looking at it now it definitely is and paper feels different so it didn’t just tone odd. It’s definitely authentic because both books were bought directly from same retailer that sold the books brand new.
Looking at multiple different books on the shelf I can tell which use this “acidic” paper and which use regular less/non-acidic paper. When I feel the paper there are certain characteristics that match up with the acidic kind verses the non-acidic kind. These books were/are all stored the same exact way in same environment since purchased new. I also noticed no hardcover books older than the 1980s use this acidic paper stock. It’s a fairly new thing I noticed. I can now identify new books that use it simply by texture. For example I know both of the James Patterson/Bill Clinton books use it. The first one has already yellowed a little.
Very interesting analysis.
For books, I recall that sometime in the 1980s the major publishers agreed to print at least the first editions of hardcover books with acid free paper. They usually had a statement that it was acid free on the copyright page, and most/all editions (not just first) used acid free paper.
This committment was secured by some sort of trade or professional archivists' association.
I'll try to see if I can find any details on that arrangement or if/when it was abandoned.
I have seen some, but very few, books that do indicate acid free or permanent paper. Barack Obama’s A Promised Land is a recent example. I am so glad this one is acid free as I have a signed edition.
Here is a picture of several hardcover books on a shelf. All about 10-20 years old. Some clearly have toned while others are more white.
Here is a picture of a book printed in 1931 (smaller book) next to a book printed in 1988 (larger book). What is interesting is that one is fifty years older than the other yet look the same age by their toning. Since I don’t know where/how the 1931 book was stored for those 50 years prior to 1988, I can’t call it the same environment as the 1988 book.
I did some research on this and all I could find was that in the late 1980s publishers agreed that hardcover books would be printed on acid-free paper. The yellowing books I have noticed are primarily from 2000 onward. Books as little as five years old have already started to tone, whereas others stored the same way in the same place have not toned at all. I definitely think it’s the paper.
I checked a few recent books I had nearby and none had any text or symbol indicating acid free.
I did find out that the infinity symbol (looks like a sideways 8) inside a circle also means acid free.
I found lots of references to the 1989 agreement by printers and publishers to use acid free materials. Then, reviews several years later found a very high degree of compliance.
I think I will track down the originating organization of the 1989 agreement and contact them to see where things stand.
A few other random tidbits I learned:
Acid free paper can absorb acidity from other materials or gasses.
Also, I know from experience that things like light, moisture, and dust can yellow even acid free books.
As for regular paper, historically any style or quality of paper could be acid free or acidic.
Around the time books were going acid free, paper manufacturers also started to make the transition.
Whereas once it was very difficult to find acid free paper, now the opposite is true. For example, the plain white paper you buy for your printer is almost always acid free. Packaging will usually state that, but in many cases where specialty paper or cardstock did not indicate it, when I searched online for the specifications it always came back as acid free.
Even top quality stationery was not acid free in the past. Now, much or most of it is.
As an example, I have some letters from GHW Bush and Barbara Bush on Crane's green White House letterhead, and they have heavy toning all around. Luckily (?) they are all autopen.
Not sure if Crane's is acid free now, but I know Southworth is.
Some questionable or non-acid free things: newsprint, index cards (unless specially produced), and notebook paper.
Yes, I have noticed all that with regular paper itself. Much of that I already knew and information I have want can be found usually (looking on package to see if paper is acid free and usually says it is).
It’s just the books printed in the last 20 years I can’t find information about acidity. I did notice when examining the paper in the yellowing/browning books it all has the same feel/texture and I can be 99% sure which will turn yellow in a few years when originally purchased. They only started using this kind of paper in books in the last 20 years. Older acidic books the paper is like the kind found in paperback books. This modern paper that yellows is not like that at all but it yellows then browns over time similar to acidic paper but not as severe.
I have seen even older White House letters on green letterhead (1940s) that has toning and being surprised it wasn’t always acid free.
Good to know Crane’s might not be acid free. I will be sure to use Southworth if I can.
Also add magazines and paperback books to the list of questionable/acidic items.
Oh, yes. How could I forget! Those are questionable to say the least.
Also cardboard is another one but very few people would get it autographed. However it’s good to know so no one stores autographs touching cardboard as the acid migrates. Another one is the black backing paper - super acidic. Ironically it used to be used with photos quite often then it got phased out when discovered it greatly discolored photos stored/touching it.
I have also noticed this with recent paperback books. Mainly the kind that have white paper - not newsprint (like many Romance novels).
The type is smudgey/blurry like it soaked into the paper during the printing process. It’s not as clear/sharp as this other book used for comparison - same author and publisher but different novel. It looks very cheap and almost like an inkjet printer made it. I took pictures of the copyright pages as it seems more obvious there with the smaller type. First one is sharp/regular printed books we are used to. Second is this cheap inkjet looking printing I have seen in many paperback books.
While browsing John F. Kennedy signatures I stumbled upon this. Just a good example of how bad an autograph on acidic paper looks after 60-70 years. Will probably be dust before it gets to be 100 years old.
I know laminating autographs is a no-no but wouldn't you think it would make sense with stuff like this?
That’s actually encapsulated and can be removed unlike lamination which is sticky or melted plastic on the paper. This encapsulated plastic and inner sleeve is just touching the piece but not stuck to it.
I can see that, but isn't it the same as slabbed coins where they are not airtight? Slabbed coins still tone, just at a slower rate.
I would think some percentage of air may still get into this. Plus if it's dropped by a clumsy collector, that could become pieces even more.
I have old hollywood magazine clippings from acid paper and I had to put them in frames since some have had edges flaked off.
Yes, some air will get in just like a slabbed coin. I agree that if this was dropped or even moved around a lot, it definitely could further damage.
Sometimes the best thing is to put fragile acidic paper between glass, or inert archival plastic sleeves to best protect it. But never laminate as that is not reversible and can sometimes cause further damage as the plastic may be acidic and not inert.
Some old documents were laminated long ago when lamination was new and first thought to be a way to protect historical documents. It turned out to be a bad idea as the plastic and adhesive broke down and caused even further damage. You can see the plastic has yellowed and now the laminated document can not be removed and looks much worse than if it were just left unlaminated.
I got into autographs in 1988 but it was always an off hobby like coins. I've never laminated any of my autographs. Most of mine are framed or in "Itoya Art Portfolio" albums, which work great for my modern sigs.
I admit I didn't think of the PVC issue like coin flips but you'd think they would have tech now to keep it from yellowing and breaking down.
There is always deacidification. It won't help reverse damage but will get rid of remaining acid.
Yes, that is a good method to use in helping better preserve acidic items from getting worse. I wonder if PSA/DNA in this case deacidified the Kennedy autograph before encapsulation or if that is even an extra service they provide for an additional fee. I would want it would be a standard service that always happens before any encapsulation happens.
It is tough since some deacidification processes can potentially damage the ink (wet process), but there are also gasses that can be used, as can be used for books.
This is one case where I would do something I normally would never recommend. I'd deacidify that fragment and then glue (archival) it down to an acid free board.
That book was acidic, but also subjected to extreme elements such as temperature and/or humidity.
What I find interesting is the pen ink does not appear to be aged or changed by the acid in the paper.
Found another one of those books where they had part acidic paper mixed with quality paper. From the edge it looks like a book with picture pages inserted but it’s actually just a novel - all pages have text and inside you can’t tell the difference very much unless you look at it closely. It’s very strange. It goes from pages 187-218 - very random. It starts at part of a chapter and ends in the middle of another chapter - so definitely different grades of paper mixed in the book making process.
That's the craziest thing I've seen on a book. I would have assumed it was photos on different paper.
Here are some pictures of the inside.
Saw this while browsing. It’s signed by Beethoven. It looks very acidic and if one were to fold it now it would literally break.
I noticed yesterday at the library when checking in two different copies of the exact same book (Run, Rose, Run by Dolly Parton and James Patterson) issued earlier this year, that one was toned throughout and the other not toned. My theory is one may had been brought to the beach and it sat out in the hot humid air which caused it to tone (ever notice when you leave a newspaper that just got delivered outside for a few hours the paper sometimes already starts to yellow if not brought in right away?)
I definitely think they are printing these recent hardcover books on acidic paper. It is not noted “acid free” on the copyright page so I think they can get away with it. There are a few books that do state “acid free” and I think those are they only ones we can trust these days unfortunately.
I couldn’t find anything on the internet about this but does anyone know if the coated glossy paper used in some children’s picture books is acid free, archival or acidic?
So I finally figured out part of the yellowing book mystery. Oxygen is the number one reason why paper turns yellow - more so than sunlight and heat. So whatever lignin is in the book will turn yellow and brown even if stored in complete cool darkness. If however the book was sealed where air couldn’t get in then it wouldn’t be exposed to oxygen and would not yellow.
The part of the mystery that remains is why is there any lignin paper being used in hardcover BOOKS. I understand it in newsprint but the vast majority of papers made today are acid free with the lignin removed.
Another thing I discovered is book makers as of lately have been sourcing paper from multiple places. This can clearly be seen in recent books where one single volume will have various grades of paper (some acid free and some not). I have seen books with as many as three different grades of paper in one single volume. I will also still see a book in one grade of paper but another book of the same print run may be in another lower grade. All depends on the suppliers and how much of each grade of paper was used and if they ran low on one kind.