A few weeks ago, I wrote about a method for making your own custom cord. I had included an illustration of fiber to rope by Jane Dalrymple-Hollo, which mirrored a diagram from Tom Conroy’s 1987 article. A few days later, Jeff Peachey sent me a much earlier example of that same diagram from an 1842 issue of The Penny Magazine. This was quite serendipitous, as I am currently treating four volumes of that serial from our collection and I had already posted images of one in my post on book edge treatments. The illustrations in this magazine are just fantastic and the whole run is available through Hathi Trust. You can find the 1842 article about a rope and sail-cloth factory here.
Remember a couple weeks ago when I mused that we might stack two folding tables on top of each other to dry twice the amount of books in the same footprint? I can report that it works really well.
We found some additional damp books from the disaster we had a couple weeks ago. Since the tables were still set up I decided to test my hypothesis. It worked really well. As you can see below I made sure there were plenty of fans to circulate the air around the top layer. The books are drying nicely and we can still move around this small space with relative ease.
I have been trying to catch up on some reading lately and just finished a wonderful collection of essays titled Roger Powell, the Compleat Binder. If you are interested in early manuscripts, I would definitely recommend that you give it a read – but one article in particular provided an excuse for some fun experimentation with broader book binding and book conservation application.
Robert Espinosa published a paper on a rigid board, laced structure for potential use as a conservation rebinding in the early 1980s, and a heavily revised version of this article appears in Roger Powell. In this second version, Espinosa expands upon his discussion of hand spun sewing supports.
Sewing supports are just one of many components in a sewn binding that can influence the action of a book, as illustrated in Tom Conroy’s excellent article The Movement of the Book Spine. Choosing the right combination of sewing supports, sewing structure, and spine linings can make a big difference in the resulting binding. We keep a selection of commercially-made linen cord on hand, but sometimes, when creating a new binding or replacing a damaged sewing support, they don’t quite meet the needs of the book. I decided to give Espinosa’s method a try.
The process starts off with a length of 18/3 Coats Barbour linen thread, tied together at the ends and doubled to create a length of four threads. I have stretched that piece over two needles in the image below to hopefully illustrate the starting configuration.
I dampened the thread a bit to soften some of the sizing and make it more flexible. I needed something to hold one end firmly while the other was twisted, so I just looped one end over a wall-mounted cabinet door handle. Next I tightened a small screw hook into the chuck of a cordless drill. Now I just needed to figure out which direction to twist. Since the thread I was using has an “S” twist, the cord (or hawser-laid rope) would need have a “Z” twist. With one loop of the threads over the cabinet handle and the other over the hook of the drill, that meant it the drill should turn counter-clockwise (or in the “reverse” setting). Even going pretty slowly, I was able to wind approximately 3 feet of cord in about 10 seconds.
The result is about half the diameter of the smallest 4-ply cord we have on hand and frays out nicely. Using this method, one could create a custom cord to any specification simply by adjusting the thickness or number of strands of the starting thread.
File under, “Why didn’t I think of that before?”
This morning I stacked two of our folding tables on top of each other to allow the tops to dry before putting them away. It occurred to me we could have created this two-tiered drying table to dry the wet books we got this week. We could dry the same number of books using half the floor space. Alternatively, we can dry twice as many books on the same footprint if we had four tables, in two stacks of two. I need to remember this for next time. I think it would work as long as you were sure there was enough air flow around all the tables. Am I the last person to come up with this?
We got a lot of rain in the wee hours of Monday morning. Housekeeping alerted the library, and our Preservation Officer and Head of Security sprang into action. The rain found its way from the roof down three levels to the sub basement. Most of the damage was to ceiling tiles, carpeting and equipment.
It could have been worse. Less than 100 collection items got wet. We set up drying stations in the lab and in the fume hood-room and quickly got to work. At one point we ran out of fans and put out a request to our colleagues. Within minutes we had more than enough to get the job done. We had to take only one book to the freezer.
Unfortunately the water found its way inside the walls of the Digital Production Center, Conservation and our disaster supply closet (oh the irony). Our vendor had to pull the baseboards out and cut holes in the wall to allow air to get inside to dry the drywall.
We had more rain Tuesday night with additional moisture seeping through the walls. Looks like we will be working undercover for a while until they track down the problem. We’ve had some good practice at this sort of thing, so we know how to be productive even though the lab is a mess.
We are hoping for drier weather in the days to come, but July and August are our rainy seasons so anything can happen. Until then, we will do what we can and stay vigilant for more leaks.
*I realize this video has been said to be staged, but it is still pretty accurate to how we felt on Monday morning.
Some recent acquisitions are in the lab this week for rehousing. We thought it would be interesting to peak at this small piece of illuminated parchment under ultraviolet light and a palimpsest became clearly visible. You never know what information may be hidden under normal lighting! For more examples, see previous posts on Preservation Underground and Bitstreams on multispectral imaging.
Yesterday we took a break from repair work to make heat set tissue. We followed the NARA recipe, tweaking as needed. We set up an assembly line to make quick work of it. We made about fifty sheets that varied in color and weight. We have some big digitization projects coming in, so it will be good to have a stockpile of this tissue ready to go.
The treatment and decoration of book edges vary greatly depending upon the time period or style of binding. The edges of a textblock can sometimes reveal information about how the book was assembled or used over the years. I came across an example of this the other day in a 16th century printed volume with this small tear and flap of paper.
It appears that this little piece was torn and folded back before the edges of the textblock were trimmed down. When unfolded, you can get an idea of how much of the sheet was cut off that edge by the bookbinder’s plow.
There are a number of reasons why a binder might trim the edges of a textblock. For one, the edges of a sheet of handmade paper naturally have a kind of feathery undulation to them from the wooden mold used to make the sheet. These are known as a deckle edge and the image below illustrates the difference between a cut edge (left) and the natural edge (bottom) on a piece of modern handmade paper.
When a number of deckle edges are assembled together in a binding, they form a very rough, uneven textblock edge. This can allow dust to filter into the textblock and can’t be elaborately decorated like this example of a gauffered edge.
Book collectors may prefer a deckle edge on a binding, however, because it demonstrates that the paper has not been overly trimmed. Sometimes one will find just a few uncut edges within the textblock. This can be an example of what is called “proof” or “witness” (Zaehnsdorf, 1900, p. 178), demonstrating that the edges have been trimmed as little as possible to achieve the smooth textblock edge.
I’ve noticed that most of the modern hardback case bindings we are acquiring for our circulating collection come with an untrimmed fore-edge. It does imitate the deckle edge of older books, but I suspect that its popularity is primarily driven by cost-cutting measures from printers, rather than aesthetic reasons.
Unfortunately, it was historically common practice to re-trim the edges of a texblock during rebinding. Books that have been rebound many times may be significantly smaller with no remaining margin or even some missing text, like this poor bound serial.
I should close with the disclaimer that no book edges are harmed as part of our modern conservation efforts. The treatment of an edge can tell us a great deal about how a book was prepared or repaired, so we make every effort not to alter or obscure that evidence through repairs or treatment.
Etherington, D. , & Roberts, M. (1982). Bookbinding and the conservation of books : a dictionary of descriptive terminology. Washington, D.C.: U.S. G.P.O.
Zaehnsdorf, J. W. (1900). The art of bookbinding. A practical treatise. London: G. Bell and Sons.
This poor pamphlet got split in half when it got caught in the mobile shelving. It seems rather metaphorical. Can Conservation put the European Union back together again? Maybe. Or maybe we will just replace it with another copy. If only the other EU split could be solved so easily.
Written by Tedd Anderson, Conservation Technician
Welcome to Part Two of EXTREME ENCLOSURES: Miniatures.
If you ever want to feel like some sort of extreme being (a giant, perhaps, or even better: Andre the Giant), you may want to take a gander at the tiniest books that Rubenstein Library has to offer: the miniatures. The raw power you feel when holding five leather bound books in the palm of your hand is astounding. Rubenstein has almost two hundred miniature books. These little guys, known as The Minis, are often bullied by the notorious “big boys of the stacks.” Once again, Conservation has to step in to take care of at-risk books. We needed to help the Minis bulk up so they are not beat up by larger books or lost in the wild (albeit highly climate controlled) world of the stacks.
The miniatures had previously been housed in folders within document boxes; usually a dozen or so in each box. One may handle multiple volumes before finding the one they wish to access. Once the desired volume is finally found, it can be easily lost due to its miniscule size. To facilitate handling we wanted to house them individually in standard size corrugated clamshell boxes (aka “pizza boxes” or “drop spine boxes.”). First we had to decide on what that standard size would be.
The height of the standard box was set by the 8-inch-high shelves. To determine the width and depth of the standard box, I measured each miniature to find the largest amongst them. I settled on a standard box that would measure 6 inches x 1.75 inches x 4 inches. An added advantage to a standard box is the ability to batch tasks. I would measure, cut, and crease 30 or so clamshells at a time, saving a lot of time.
Once I had the standard clamshells figured, I had to determine how to settle the books into their new houses without them rattling around. I wanted to keep the inserts simple and intuitive. After a few experiments, I chose a two-tiered system of spacers made from corrugated board adhered with double stick tape. I added Volara and 10 point card stock tabs to further stabilize when necessary. Watch as this Mini “Addresses of Lincoln” gets a house.
When finishing up the nearly two hundred enclosures for all these vulnerable Minis I rejoiced. Knowing how intimidating other large volumes can be to the slighter books in the collection, it’s nice to know a conservation technician can make a petite book’s size anxiety just a little less extreme. I am comforted that the Minis now rest easy: safely tucked away in their soft foam and supportive board havens, never to feel lost or intimidated again.
Several adequately housed Minis basking in their new security:
Be sure to visit part one of Extreme Enclosures: Boxing the Audubons.