Grading and Caring for Big Little Books®

Grading / Caring

Grading Qualities

The characteristics that collectors consider when evaluating the quality of books are presented in the following chart. The characteristics highlight features specifically related to BLBs and similar books rather than to characteristics related to magazines, pulps, or comics.

Specific quality characteristics range from scuffing and tearing to marking and defective printing.


Perfect--never opened or read

Some of these have been found in unopened boxed shipments of BLBs discovered in storage.

Near Mint

Near perfect--seldom, if ever, read

The book has: a tight binding; no missing pages; a bright glossy cover; unscuffed corners and edges; clean, unmarked pages.


Mild usage--read, but well-treated

The book has: a tight binding; no missing pages. The book may have: a cover that has lost its gloss but is otherwise bright; slight cracking along corners and edges (not fraying); clean pages; minimal light pencil markings; no defects in printing, binding, or cutting.

Very Good

Average usage--well read, but well-treated

The book has: no missing textual pages.

The book may have: a somewhat soiled or faded cover; slightly frayed corners and/or edges; minor tears (up to 1/2") at spine corners; minimal markings, but may be in ink.


Average usage--well read

The book has: no missing textual pages; it may have a blank page missing.

The book may have: loose pages; a somewhat soiled or faded cover; worn corners and edges (frayed); minor tears (up to 2") at spine corners (minor tape repairs are acceptable if done carefully); pages that show usage; minimal markings that are heavy or permanent; minor defects in printing, binding, or cutting; some bending or warping.


Harsh usage--well read

The book may have: a loose binding and/or pages; no more than three missing pages; a scuffed or heavily soiled or faded cover; well-worn corners and edges; major tears (longer than 2") at spine corners; extensive taping; pages that are very browned; extensive permanent markings; minor defects in printing, binding, or cutting; been extensively bent or warped.


Seriously damaged

The book may have: a separated binding and/or pages; more than three missing pages; extensive scuffing, fading, or soiling; water damage; pieces missing from cover; a missing spine or cover; been repaired badly with cellophane or other tape; browned or brittle pages; extensive permanent markings by ink, Crayola, paint; serious defects in printing, binding, or cutting; damage by rodents, insects, mold, or mildew.

The symbols used for grading are:

    M Mint
    NM Near Mint
    VF Very Fine
    F Fine
    VG Very Good
    G Good
    FAIR Fair
    P Poor

Further Details: Missing Pages

Missing pages within the text of a book are easy to spot. The book usually opens easily at the place where a page or pages are missing. Books graded G or better should never have text pages missing. G graded books might have a non-text (blank) page missing, but should state this with the grading. Any book with a few text pages missing (no more than three) is a book in FAIR condition. Any book with more than three pages missing is a book in POOR condition. Sometimes a book in FAIR or POOR condition has a cover in very nice shape. This fact does not change the grading category, but the quality of the cover can be described and the value raised accordingly. NOTE: Non-text missing pages are quite common, and many collectors purchase books without knowing the books are incomplete. To know if a non-text page is missing, it is important to know how BLBs were constructed and how the pages are numbered.

In counting page numbers, both sides of a page must be counted. For most BLBs (one exception is the soft cover premiums), the face of the first page is glued against the outside cover. Thus page 2, if it were numbered, is the side you see first when you open a book. At the back of the book, the back face of the last page is fastened to the cover. Knowing this, you can now count the page sides at the front of the book up to the first numbered page or from the last numbered page to the back cover.

Early BLBs often had non-text (blank) pages placed between the cover and the title page and at the back of the book. The blank pages are frequently missing in books, and because they are blank, the loss is sometimes not noticed. You can tell if a blank page is missing by counting backward from the first numbered page to the side glued to the cover. If the count does not come out right, then a page (or pages) is missing. Similarly, you can count from the last numbered page to the side of the last page glued to the back cover. The final count should always be divisible by 4. If it cannot be divided by 4, then a page (or pages) is missing. Early BLBs were usually, but not always, 300, 320, or 432 pages in length. The last sets of post-war Better Little Books®. were 288 pages and did not have blank pages in them.

Caring for Big Little Books®

Books, even favorite books, are often damaged by careless storing or handling and by the thoughtless ways by which they are displayed. To give BLBs and similar books a long life and to maintain them in fine condition, common sense care is imperative. Such care begins with some knowledge about the materials of which the books were made and how the books were constructed.

The materials that make up the books are paper products similar in quality to those used to make pulp magazines and comic books. The books were able to be produced at an amazingly low price due to the use of inexpensive materials. The materials were not the finest quality; they were never intended to last many lifetimes.

The main environmental factors that affect the paper and binding in harmful ways are: heat, sunlight, moisture, and certain air pollutants. In addition, animals and people cause other damage.

Heat. Heat is a catalyst for the acidic conditions in paper. High temperatures cause deterioration, resulting in the browning of paper. Storage of books on shelves near the ceiling is unwise since the temperature near the ceiling may be many degrees warmer than the rest of the room. Uninsulated attics and garages are harsh on stored books because of the heat. Central home heat is harmful if the air becomes too dry. Pages and glue become lifeless and brittle in dry environments. A relative humidity between 50 and 60 per cent is ideal. Keeping the temperature down at home is the best way to keep the relative humidity up. Healthy temperatures for books are below 68 degrees F.

Sunlight. In addition to its heat, sunlight is composed of ultraviolet rays which are harmful to color pigments and paper, resulting in the fading of covers and browning of pages. Sunlight should not be allowed to fall directly upon the books. Even on cloudy days, the rays in sunlight penetrate cloud cover, and when they strike paper, they act as a catalyst for the acidic conditions. Even fluorescent fixtures produce harmful ultraviolet rays. Incandescent lamps should be used when light is needed.

Moisture. Darkness protects books from the harm of direct sunlight, but when associated with heat and too much humidity, darkness inevitably sets up conditions for mold and mildew. Moisture is a problem in both tropical climates and cool climates where fog and mist are common. It loosens the glue of the binding, and once the paper absorbs moisture from the atmosphere, mold or mildew can form on the surface. Good air circulation around the books is important.

Air Pollution. There are many kinds of dust in the air from lint to small particles of soot and sand. Most are not harmful, although they do discolor the exposed edges of pages. For city dwellers, certain gases, such as sulfur dioxide which becomes sulfuric acid, deteriorates books by breaking down the paper and bindings. Air filters and purifiers help remove particles from the air.

Vermin/Insects. Animal life is attracted to books because of their nesting and food value. Physical damage caused by animals can be seen as gnawed corners and edges (by mice or rats) and as wormholes burrowed through pages (by insects in the larva state). A large variety of beetles lay eggs on the spines, then in hatching, larvae eat their way into the books. Silverfish, a very common small insect, is attracted by the glue and coatings on covers. Normal household remedies resolve the mice and rat problems. Local stores have chemical remedies for insect problems.

People. All books should be handled carefully so as not to break the backs or loosen the covers. Some people will turn a book face down when open. This breaks the binding at the back and loosens the pages. It may also cause creases in the spine and warp of the book itself. Bending corners to mark pages weakens and occasionally tears the paper. Writing in the books often defaces them beyond repair. Dirt, pencil, and finger marks on the surface of covers and pages, if not deeply penetrated, yield to a soft rubber eraser or piece of art gum. Ink is almost impossible to remove without damaging the book. It is best to leave it alone. Few people avoid pulling a book from a shelf by the top of its spine. Notice how many BLBs have major tears along the top spine edges because of this. The books are best removed and replaced by grasping them midway by front and back covers simultaneously. It is at the hinge joint that the books get most strain and wear when used. The hinge is simply a paper covering that connects the body of the book to the covers. Every time a book is opened, friction and tension are set up in the hinge. This is one of the reasons why many BLBs have spines broken at their sides and why spines are often missing. Torn hinges can be repaired with 3M double coated tape #415. This is currently the only tape recommended for repairing books. It should be neatly placed in a single strip along the torn portion of the book. Along the spine, vertical taping is preferred to several horizontal strips. Never use cellophane tape! It has its own chemical composition that is less stable than the book paper. Old cellophane tape becomes quite brown quickly and transfers its unstable condition to the surface on which it is taped. All tape is difficult to remove without causing damage. Use tape sparingly!

Protecting BLBs. When displayed, books should be stood upright--not flat, tilted, or wedged. They should be placed on a bookshelf with other books, just tight enough to prevent sagging or leaning but not so tight to make removal difficult. If packed too tight, there will be rubbing when the books are shelved or removed. Edges and corners will become scuffed leaving a feathery edge of exposed fibers. If not full enough, the books will lean and sag, covers will bend, and bindings will be harmed.

Some collectors choose to protect their books by sealing them in transparent wraps. Standard sandwich and plastic bags offer limited protection because their material is relatively permeable to moisture and chemicals. Vinyl materials should not be used because they contain chemicals which penetrate and discolor books. Mylar type 'S', a clear polyester film, is recommended for covering books because it is the least permeable to moisture and has resistance to chemicals, mold, and mildew. Mylar comes in rolls of various thicknesses--the thinnest is the best to use. Here is one suggestion for wrapping. The suggestion is made by Jack Harrington, BLB Club Member #121:

Cut a piece of Mylar to 6 7/8" x 10 3/8". This size allows some extra room to play with. Next, follow the step-by-step diagrams.

Mylar or its thinner product, Mylite, is expensive, but the expense and time in wrapping are well worth the results. You will have first class protection for your BLBs and, just as importantly, first class appearance.

A Final Comment. Sadly, there is little hope that the quality of these books can be continually passed on from generation to generation. Cover colors will eventually fade to indistinguishable shadows of their former glory. Pages will become brown and brittle. Animals will gnaw or burrow at the pages. Humans will soil, bend, and fray covers. They will tear, smudge, and mark pages. Because of many factors, the care for, fine quality books will become rarer and rarer as time passes.

© 2012 Educational Research and Applications LLC.