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Removing ink, highlighters and stamps

Book Care and Repair

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Dec 16, 2006, 11:18pm Top

I buy a lot of used books and bargain books, many of which are in excellent condition, basically new, except that they have been marked with a bookstore stamp on the first or second page, or have had a line drawn or been stamped across the edges of the pages to indicated that they are a final sale.

I was wondering if there is a good way to remove these markings from books that I can do at home for a minimal expense. None of these books have any real value over the cover price, so taking them to someone wouldn't make sense, but I would like to be able to clean them up a little.

The markings usually aren't anywhere near the print, so I'm not worried about accidentally removing the print when I remove the additional markings. What would be best for this? A solvent? Sandpaper? I'm just not sure where to start.

Dec 17, 2006, 1:06am Top

I would avoid a solvent. Light sanding should work for markings on the edges, but I would not try it on the page itself. Removing ink can be difficult because it penetrates the paper, so if the mark isn't interfering with the text, you might be better off leaving it.

Apr 10, 2007, 8:38pm Top

I've heard there's no real way to remove ink or highlighter or crayon marks. I would think a chemical solvent or something as harsh as sandpaper would damage the paper.

I just like to think of writing as a part of the book's history.

Apr 10, 2007, 10:30pm Top

I won't buy a book that has been stamped on the inside, period.

As far as the black felt-tipped marker that been on the edge of papers, I highly recommend 000 (triple-ought, as they say), or finer (if you can find it anywhere) sandpaper and a small sanding block. I put the book in a vise, cover open and out of the way, and work gently spine-to-foreedge.

Edited: Apr 11, 2007, 9:10am Top

A neat stamp on and endpage or front matter doesn't bother me too much on a used book. Books are/contain small bits of our history. I have a book with a bookstore stamp neatly placed in the front paste-down. It tells me that the book was sold from the bookstore in the lobby of the Adolphus Hotel in downtown Dallas before 1920. Having lived in Dallas when the Adolphus re-opened after a major renovation, I find this bit of history adds to the book's interest, and should remain.

The same for owner's bookplates. A recent bookplate may not mean much now, but a few decades down the road and it may mean a lot to the owner of the book. I routinely do a google search on the owner names of my older books, just to see if some insight into a previous owner is out there somewhere. One turned out to be the president of Yale University back in the 1800s; another, a major Dallas philanthropist in the early 1900s.

Bottom line, I don't like to destroy historical evidence, even if it seems trivial or of no value to me right now. I can't predict what will prove to be critical in determining the age or provenance of a book for the next owner. And a book with the stamp of a library long gone puts a bit of irreplacable history in my library.

As you may imagine from this peek into my own interests, my library has a large section for history and historical references.


PS - having said all that, I really hate it when my local library puts two or three stickers on the outside of a book, often right on top of a blurb describing the book, randomly stamps several pages inside the book, and then sloppily writes a number in black marker on the inside front cover. I learned to respect and care for books from my school librarian as a child - now I tend to see them as the enemy when it comes to the care and feeding of books.

Apr 11, 2007, 12:49pm Top

I won't buy a book that has been stamped on the inside, period.

Really, no exceptions whatsoever? I'm with Osbaldistone--bookplates and various ex libris tags don't bother me--in fact, sometimes they add to the attraction of the book.

Over the years I've released into the wild a number of books bearing my ex libris (a stamp, not a sticker or a bookplate--except for some handmade ones when I was a kid)--sometimes I wonder what are the chances of ever running into one of THOSE in a second-hand bookstore... :)

Apr 11, 2007, 1:29pm Top

Okay, after having said that, I glanced at my collection and found a former Library book that still has the spine label on it even. My bad....

It's the exception that makes the rule -- (good thinking, self!!). Yeah! THAT's the ticket!

I also have a few second-hands that contain an ex libris, but I'm okay with that -- I have a few bookplates that I consider a 'collection', although it's not as serious a collection as my books, or the rocks, for example.

Apr 11, 2007, 2:26pm Top

Ahh, well, markings ON the cover are a different story--I have a few be-stickered tomes from the libraries (purchased legit!), and I'd gladly remove them if it didn't seem more of a trouble than profit. But they are usually wrapped too--stickers on the book, wrap over the whole thing.

I'm only bothered by price tags, and underlinings and margin notes in second-hand books (especially ink). I really have to want the book to buy one of the latter.

I have a few bookplates that I consider a 'collection'

All identical or in a similar style or what? I wonder if anyone ever finds a book with an ex libris and then starts collecting books with THAT specific mark... One rarely sees a description of the ex libris included in the description of a book.

Apr 11, 2007, 2:38pm Top

I just like to think of writing as a part of the book's history. (llamagirl #3)

Yes — I agree with that sentiment and never try to remove library stamps, scrawled signatures, ex libris and the like.

But I do wish the bookshops' "removable" labels lived up to their name. When I removed a "3 for 2" sticker from the front cover of We Need to Talk about Kevin it brought away the underlying print. Still I suppose that adds 'character'.

Apr 11, 2007, 3:22pm Top

I actually love books with marginalia! That probably increases my chances of buying them. I love the insight I get into the previous owner's thoughts on the book - I love the idea of adding my own and then it maybe someday going back out into the wild, even though I was so well-trained never to write in my books that it's still hard to do it! Every bit of new information put into a book just adds to its value. Although admittedly, books that have clearly been highlighted by a student who didn't actually care about what they were reading are very, very sad.

(I have some books that my father wrote notes and one-sided arguments with the author all over and they're probably some of my most precious things - I can hear his voice again every time I read them.) There are some great classics of the ancient world that are known *only* from bits that other people scribbled as notes in the margins of other books --

I feel the same way about most other markings, too - part of the reason l buy so many used books is knowing that they have their own story written in their history, not just in the print on the pages.

That said, if it's something that's going to deteriorate with time, like stickers or tape, I go after it with great prejudice.

And to be vaguely on topic - the only thing I can think of is that, depending on the paper and ink, it *might* be possible to bleach the ink out a little (blotting at it with bleach or strong stain remover, I mean). But you probably wouldn't get it all the way out, and you'd probably damage the paper at least a little. (I haven't tried it on a book, but it *ought* to work, and might be worth a try on one you don't care about.)

Edited: Apr 13, 2007, 6:42pm Top

> #8

I have a few bookplates that I consider a 'collection'

All identical or in a similar style or what?

All different. Maybe 2 years ago, I bought a book at B&N called The Art of the Bookplate and was fascinated by it. So, I've been collecting books with an Ex Libris in it, only if it looks to be unique for a given person. Oddly enough, I found 2 copies of that book in H-PB last weekend, and they were priced higher than the original price. Go figure!

Apr 12, 2007, 2:08pm Top

#8 > I'm only bothered by price tags, and underlinings and margin notes in second-hand books (especially ink).

Lola, are we twins or what?????

Apr 13, 2007, 1:42pm Top

Are you a 5'10", 120 lbs blonde with violet eyes, cherry-kissed lips and porcelain complexion?! Then YES!!! :)))

Apr 13, 2007, 1:56pm Top

#13> alas....no! :-((

Apr 13, 2007, 2:15pm Top

Omg, we ARE twins--neither am I! :)))

Apr 13, 2007, 2:38pm Top

GREAT sense of humour....ha ha ha ha!!!!

Apr 13, 2007, 2:47pm Top

*just about spews a bite of half-eaten cantelope over her keyboard*

Oh, that was good! I was going to remark about how much I HATED YOUR GUTS for looking like that.


Apr 13, 2007, 2:52pm Top

Oh Morph, I would have a lot to hate, then (middle aged plump woman that I am...eh eh eh eh)!

Apr 13, 2007, 4:04pm Top

I was going to remark about how much I HATED YOUR GUTS for looking like that.


Rule of thumb: on teh internets, best to assume that everyone's a dog. :)

Apr 13, 2007, 4:09pm Top

Arf arf!

Edited: Apr 15, 2007, 12:20pm Top

Was feeling a little down (actually, a lot down) this AM until I tuned in and read the "twins" repartee.

pre-twins me :(
post-twins me :)

Jun 3, 2007, 7:24am Top

Surprisingly, some bookstore stamps are erasable. This is true mostly of price stamps from college bookstores.

Aug 3, 2007, 4:16pm Top

Hi - this group was recommended to me because I have a bit of an issue with a few of my books. My nephew scribbled in them with a pink highlighter, earlier in this thread it was mentioned that nothing could take it out but maybe there is something that can fade the color a bit?

Aug 3, 2007, 8:47pm Top

Oh, no!

The only thing I've been able to find is a suggestion of ethanol: http://palimpsest.stanford.edu/byform/mailing-lists/bookarts/2002/03/msg00085.ht... You'd probably want to test this on a small portion of the text first, since you don't want to remove that, too!

I'm afraid you might have to live with it, and then plan on locking up the books, the highlighter, or your nephew! ;-))

Aug 4, 2007, 8:15am Top

Thank you for the link - I am going to try it on the title page of one of my books - let me just say all writing utensils are now kept out of reach of small hands!

Apr 15, 2008, 4:00am Top

Hello to everybody,
I have the bad habit to eat chocolate while reading (I guess I'm not the only one). The other day, and although I was very careful not to leave any tiny bit of black chocolate (Cote d'Or, 85% cocoa) on my fingers, I made a 1/2" stain on the margin of a page (Limited Edition book, Caxton wove paper). Can I remedy this, or is it better to leave it as it is because I could still more damage the paper?

Edited: Aug 5, 2010, 5:06pm Top

So, I'm two years too late, but household bleach will remove highlighter without harming the text. It's not archival, obviously, as the bleach will damage the paper a bit, but for regular books and used textbooks it works wonders.

I usually dip a cotton swab in the bleach as they erase a swatch about as wide as an average highlighter.

Aug 10, 2010, 7:58pm Top

I would think that dilute bleach might be safer; are you using it full strength, Helcura?

Aug 27, 2010, 5:12pm Top

Yes, I just used it out of the bottle. Never had a problem - I use it mostly for textbooks that have been highlighted, as I hate having someone else tell me what's important.

Dec 20, 2010, 5:39pm Top

Bleach will cause paper to yellow over time. There was a used book seller in a town I lived in once upon a time, who used bleach in his books. You could tell some of his inventory had been there for years because of this.

Dec 28, 2010, 12:33am Top

1: If the ink is on the surface of the paper, and not soaked through (as a Sharpie would do), you should be able to erase it with an "art gum" eraser. It will take a while, but it will erase without damaging the paper.

26: An art gum eraser will probably also erase Pepys' chocolate.

Feb 14, 2011, 1:38am Top

Often it is best to leave things as they are.

Sandpaper can sometimes be used to remove stamps.

However, either stamps or crayons can sometimes be removed using rubber cement. You can paint this on, let it dry, and then rub it off with your finger. It usually takes several repeated applications to lighten the stamp or crayon marks.

James Keeline

Sep 6, 2014, 10:05pm Top

When I read that sandpaper would be a great option, but did not have any I quickly thought to use a rock that was really abrasive and it worked very, very well! It took a little time, but the writing came off and actually made the edges of the pages have a vintage worn look! How neat! If you concentrate on just the name, usually written in the middle of the side pages, the outer areas will be smooth while the middle if rough. I rubbed the rock along the entire side of the book careful to move the book cover out of the way. Also you do not want to breathe in the paper shavings. l Thank God that the writing was not on either the top or the bottom. I just like things to be uniform. This book is a gift to our son's teacher who asked for a donation of chapter books for the class. I made sure that none of the ones for the students to read had other student names in them but this one--- the one I doctored for the instructor was special and could not be left in the store!

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