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Street Life in London

By Erin Hammeke, Senior Conservator for Special Collections

This fall I had the opportunity to try out some new treatment and housing techniques. We recently acquired Street Life in London. Published in 1877, it is considered an early work in what would become the field of documentary photography. Throughout the text are mounted Woodburytypes depicting London street figures in somewhat staged vignettes and in archetypal roles: Italian Street Musicians, London Cabmen, The Street Locksmith, etc.

Before Treatment

The text was formed from single sheets of various weights and made into an early adhesive binding called a caoutchouc binding which is not too dissimilar from today’s paperback binding structures and uses a rubber-based adhesive on the spine. Our copy had breaks in the text, with pages and groups of pages coming loose with every handling. It can be difficult to repair an adhesive binding in a way that results in a sturdy structure, ready to hold up to instructional and reading room use. Luckily, Gary Frost and others have developed a technique of pasting an overhanging tissue guard to each leaf and consolidating these overhanging guards into a binding structure. This repair technique has been discussed on The Book & Paper Gathering. Their blog post, along with some very helpful guidance from Sue Donovan, a conservator who has recently researched and explored this technique in depth, inspired me to try the repair.

Mailing tube under fore-edge

I found the repair technique to be quite effective, albeit time-consuming. Each leaf had to be guarded, and after forming a slight round in the spine by jogging the fore edge into a curve (I used a mailing tube), I elected to glue each guard down one by one.

Spine guards

An alternative approach involves mashing the overhanging guards together with adhesive, which would likely have been a quicker but less controlled approach. The reformed text fit perfectly back into its original embossed cloth case (thankfully!)

Cover after treatment

Tail edge after treatment

The text functions well, but because of the heavier-weight, slightly brittle text paper, I decided I wanted to control the opening angle of the book during use by making a custom cloth clamshell with a built-in cradle. The cradle is attached to the inner tray of the box and folds out to support the book. I used Jeff Peachy’s instructions.

5_cradle-box-composite

I’d like to extend a big thank you to my generous colleagues for developing and sharing their innovative treatment and housing approaches with the rest of us! I’d also like to thank conservators Jan Paris, Annie Wilker, and Catherine Badot-Costello for their assistance.

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3 thoughts on “Street Life in London”

  1. Hi Erin,

    I am currently working as an intern for the Trinity College Library.
    I am very impressed by this article and particularly by the housing. I would like to try it myself for a caoutchouc binding that I am treating at the moment.
    Would it be possible to see the pattern of the construction of the cradle?

    Thank you very much 🙂

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