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foxing and mold



Friends in the Book Arts:

        As an aspiring conservator of books and ephemera I am facing a
problem which assaults cloth and paper in any tropic or moderately
tropical geographic region.  As I live on the main-land flood plateau of
a sea-side barrier island the preponderance of moisture in the air is
ubiquitous; rarely does the relative humidity drop below 75% and warmth
(temperatures of 60 degrees or more) grace this area from March to
November, and the summers can be sweltering.  The cry of most who live in
this region has always been:  "It's not so much the heat I hate, it's the
humidity!" And I think anyone who lived along the eastern sea-board knows
of what is spoken.

        The persistence of warmth and moisture gives rise to all sorts of
spores and molds and pestilence which frequently attack books, mold being
the most obnoxious, because it creeps up on your books with a sinister
stealth and won't reveal itself unless you know where to look.  I am
finding however that cloth quarter-bound spines on mass-produced titles
are the most susceptible, and I would imagine the reason for this is that
they are rushed through production to begin with.  Therefore, I have
deduced that the shoddy construction of these books lend themselves
readily to the growth of molds which thrive on the water in the adhesives
when combined with moderate amounts of heat.  Also cloth is a prime
example of an absorbent, and as such "sucks-up" whatever moisture it can
find, this too contributes to the growth of mold especially if left to
stagnate, which brings me to my question.

        Given the fact that a dust cover exists in order to offer
protection to a books casing, doesn't it seem likely that it would also
serve as a catalyst for the growth of mold insomuch as the moisture which
"gravitates" to the cloth in the spine is hindered from dissipating by
the presence of the dust-cover?  Books without dust-covers are less
likely to develop mold in that what moisture is absorbed in the cloth
spine can, in time and with the variance in temperature and
relative-humidity, dissipate freely and thus remain healthy as a "living"
"breathing" organism.  I say living and breathing for this reason:  a
book is "alive" in the sense that it exists in the "now" and is subject
to the influences of time and setting.  Two copies of the same title can
have radically different experiences, as any used-book dealer might tell
you, thus contributing to the value or devaluation of the title.  A book
"breathes" in that it absorbs moisture and expels it through the normal
course of time.   The book does not have any control over its ability to
breathe, it simply conforms to its natural state to absorb, time and
temperature extract the moisture through natural evaporation.  Hence a
healthy "living" "breathing" "organism."  Molds love to thrive on this
type of host, and which parasite wouldn't?  A dust cover adds to the
attraction by allowing humidity to build-up in the air-pocket between
paper and cloth.  A mini replica of the primordial emergence of life then
ensues and viola! an organism IS born and its name is mold, its specie a
spore.

        Should we chuck our dust-covers as women once burned their bras
in protest to the paternalistic imposition of propriety?  Should we allow
the spines of our books to breathe free the ether of life's goodness
without the need to fear the rise of mold though self-replicating
humidity between dust-cover and cloth spine?  Or is there a way in which
to treat the inside of a dust-cover, with some type of space-aged polymer
that would aid in the health of the book? Plastic coating is out
altogether for haven't you noticed that plastic beach toys get all slimy
and moldy if not allowed to dry properly?  What is needed is some type of
chemical that could be coated in layers up the dust-cover that would
protect it from foxing and protect the book from mold.  Also couldn't the
cloth spines of books be coated with a similar substance to help
stave-off the influence of mold?  This subject intrigues me insomuch that
such a product would prove invaluable to anyone who is concerned about
their books being devoured by mold.  And as it goes, the present of dust
covers only enhances the need of the bibliophile to worry.  The solution
could be vigilance and a constant cleaning of the books, but in a library
of just under 5,000 titles, I would never be able to stop, for the when I
got to the end I would have to start all over again at the beginning.
Surely a book should be cleaned once a year and dusted weekly all the
rest, but mold creeps stealthily, remember?  It will attack when our
defenses are down and will likely to be passed over in the rote task of
dusting.

        What is needed is research to develop a substance that will serve
to protect both the cloth binding and the dust cover.  I would love to
assist someone in this research, I have undertaken rudimentary attempts
but require the input of a scientific perspective.  Any offers?

        Again I've written a tome, but I hope you've enjoyed it.  Please
consider my point:  that mold can be defeated (in our books at least)
through chemistry.  I guess DuPont rang true when its motto once was:
"Better living through chemistry."  I shudder to think what chemistry has
wrought, but I marvel at the ways in which it assists us in our daily
life.  Without it, we'd be lost.

Rommel John Miller                        rjmiller1095@juno.com
12544 Selsey Rd
rjmiller@shore.intercom.net
Ocean City, MD  21842-9128             (410) 213-0082  (voice/fax/data)


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