Regular readers of this blog may remember when I shared some photos of a fun little copy of the Dance of Death a few weeks ago. The front board had come off, so it was looking a little sad.
It felt a little strange to leave the treatment story of this item unresolved, though. Here are a few more images of the book after treatment.
After firmly re-attaching the front board, I covered the split leather along that joint with a thin, flexible overlay of toned Japanese paper. The leather had been very heavily dressed at some point, and that coating had become quite dark over time. I was able to remove the coating during treatment, which brightened up some of the tooling on the boards and spine.
This little Dance of Death is now ready to head back to its home in the stacks… or to the reading room to remind researchers of their own mortality.
I talked with one of the Music Library staff this week. They had a damaged microfilm and wondered if we could fix it. The film had lost its reel, and someone in the past folded it into about six sections and stuffed it back in the box. This caused it to crack at the folds. Luckily we have the terrific Sonya in Microforms who is an expert in microfilm. I asked if she had some splicing tape, and indeed she did. She gave me a tutorial on how to use it along with a roll of splicing tape. Until today, I had never spliced microfilm, nor did I know the sprockets on 35mm microfilm don’t really matter in terms of how the film physically runs the through the machine (unlike motion picture film–the things you learn!).
I came back to the lab and carefully eased out the folded sections (who said being a photo major in the ’80’s would never prove useful?). I then matched the pieces and spliced it together at the broken folds. I put the roll on a new reel and sent it back to the Music Library. Hopefully it will run through the reader now without further damage.
The other thing I learned today was how to change the toner in our copy machine. I’ve never had to do that before today, either. It’s been an amazing day of skill building.
While we are always trying to maintain an awareness of new techniques and materials for conservation through the literature, sometimes it can take a while to experiment and actually put them to use. Recently, I have finally gotten around to trying my hand at making and applying cast acrylic films for book repair; a technique which I had originally seen presented by Grace Owen-Weiss and Sarah Reidell at the Library Collections Conservation Discussion Group of AIC back in 2010 (See the Book and Paper Group Annual Vol 29, p. 92). Using a silicone mold, a blend of acrylic gels, and a paper or textile support, one can employ this technique to create a thin, reversible repair material that matches both the color and texture of the object.
This bound serial came into the lab several months ago, exhibiting some splitting of the leather at the joints and corners. Luckily the boards were still firmly attached, so it just needed some minor, stabilizing repairs to reduce the potential for further damage or loss. There is a lot of variation in the color of the red leather, either from light damage (evident on the marbled paper on the back board), pollution, or handling, which gave me the opportunity to make several different samples of film to match the various colors.
Bookbinding leathers come in such a variety of grains and surface textures, so I started by making a silicone mold with two different grains. The brown leather on the left is a piece of goatskin from Harmatan, while the black piece on the right is actually fake leather from an old backpack. These were adhered to a piece of davey board, placed in the bottom of a bristol board tray, and then the 2-part mold material was poured over the top.
Interestingly enough, the fake leather grain was a better match for this book. After applying the acrylic mixture to the mold, a thin Japanese paper support is applied on top. After drying, the film can be peeled away from the mold. Sarah Reidell has a really wonderful bibliography on her website, where you can find step-by-step instructions for creating the acrylic films, so I won’t go into more detail here.
This technique produces a repair material that is quick and easy to apply, but visually blends much better than a toned Japanese paper repair. There are so many opportunities for experimentation using this technique, with the support materials, the application methods of the acrylics, and textures of the molds. I’m very excited to add this to our stable of techniques that we can employ here in the lab.
It’s that time of year. The time to rush around frantically looking for gifts for your friends and relations. If you need some last minute ideas, any of these would be a lovely gift for your conservator friends
What’s On Your Wall?
“Bitten by Witch Fever” is a beautiful book about the history of arsenic in wallpaper. The book contains 275 facsimile samples of wallpapers that were tested and found to contain arsenic. The book explains the manufacture, uses and effects of arsenic. Arsenic, it’s not just for silking documents anymore.
Shanna Leino makes wonderful tools. This little steel micro chisel is a workhorse of a chisel. It can be used on paper, leather, binder’s board, and wood. Henry says, “I use it all of the time!” Can’t argue with that.
Steel micro chisel (the website says “sold out” but there’s always Ground Hog Day to shop for).
“Beyond Words: Illuminated Manuscripts in Boston Collections” is a companion catalog to a multi-institutional exhibit of illuminated manuscripts that is taking place this fall. Gorgeous reproductions of over 260 manuscripts from the collections of Harvard University’s Houghton Library, the Isabella Stewart Gardener Museum, and more.
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.
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.
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.
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!)
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.
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.
We realized we needed some sort of large cart to better move folders from the stacks to the reading room when we expanded our flat file storage to include super-oversized file drawers. After some investigation we settled on the “U-boat.” This custom cart was first introduced to me by Michele Hamill, Paper and Photograph Conservator in the Digitization and Conservation Services Department at Cornell University Library.
The cool thing about its design is the three-tiered storage system. The base is tall enough for a standard archival records box, the middle has a concave section to transport large folders, and the top is a large flat space to place oversize flat boxes. The best part? The top is removable! Once I saw it, I wanted it.
Today was the first opportunity for Conservation to really put the U-boat to use in moving oversize materials. We had to move three super-oversized folders from the lab to the third floor stacks. These folders are about 75 inches long and 50 inches wide, so we brought down the U-boat to transport them.
Once the folders were on the cart, we placed a large tube in the middle to stabilize the contents and keep the folders from slipping or folding over. Three of us escorted the cart upstairs to the stacks. Two people steered while one cleared the way and opened doors.
The U-boat was custom made for us by G.S. Manufacturing . It arrived fully assembled and ready to go. While this is the first time I’ve used the U-boat, I often see it in use in the stacks for oversized flat boxes. Is it wrong to fall in love with a cart? Because I believe I have.
In 2014 we implemented our Adopt-a-Book Program. To date over 44 items have been adopted by 22 donors. We started this program as a way to raise money for the conservation of materials from across our collections, especially those that we might need to send out for conservation because of an object’s size or special needs.
This was a perfect item to put up for adoption due to its size, the amount of tape removal needed, and its need to be lined. This blueprint is 52-1/8″ by 40-1/8″. It is too large to fit comfortably in our washing sink, and we have no suction table or karibari board to facilitate the lining. We also wanted a digital image and facsimile reproduction made so that the original could be safely housed while the facsimile could be displayed.
Thanks to the generosity of Mrs. Corey, we were able to send this drawing to the Northeast Document Conservation Center for treatment. You can see from the images below that the treatment was truly transformative. NEDCC conservators removed 91 linear inches of tape, reduced the staining from the adhesive, washed it and repaired the tears and losses, and finally lined it with Japanese tissue. NEDCC digitally captured the drawings and made a 1:1 physical print of the file for us to use as our use copy.
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.
Older bound volumes in a research library collection have often been subjected to multiple interventions or campaigns of repair over the years. If a leather-bound volume has not been completely rebound, it has often been repaired in some visible way. One of the more common repair practices is rebacking, in which either new material is added underneath the leather covering the spine and boards or the spine is replaced entirely. In preparing the book for rebacking, original covering material may be removed, obscuring evidence of previous repair efforts. This second edition of the works of Samuel Johnson, printed in 1713, is more like an onion with many layers of repair material.
The current binding appears roughly contemporary to the text. It is covered in full brown calfskin and decorated with sprinkling and blind tooling in a style commonly referred to as the “Cambridge Panel“. Many decades ago, this book was actually part of Duke’s circulating collection and was repaired using the typical techniques employed by libraries at that time. A strip of green buckram was adhered to the boards and spine with an acrylic adhesive and the inner hinges were repaired with strips of white textile. The repair is doing it’s job by keeping the boards on, but it is a little awkward. What used to be a tight-joint binding, now has a space between the shoulder of the textblock and the spine edge of the board. This pushes the boards out at the fore-edge and creates an unnaturally large square.
In my initial examination, it was clear that the book had been repaired before the green buckram, too. The endsheets had been replaced with a smooth, wove paper and somewhat crude sheepskin corner repairs were visible through the pastedown (see above). There is some obvious insect damage at the corners of the front board, but interestingly the insects appear to have only liked the new repair materials. The original text and calf leather are un-chewed.
In discussing treatment options with the curatorial staff, it was clear that the unsightly cloth repairs should come off of this book. When I separated the binding from the textblock, though, I found another leather spine underneath.
This is not the original spine of the binding. It appears to be a reback using the same sheepskin as the corner repairs. Most of the red leather label remains in the second panel, but the leather is quite powdery and large patches of the grain layer have peeled away. After further deliberation, the decision was made to also remove this spine material, since it was not original and in very poor condition. During removal of the second spine, however, something else was revealed.
A gilt ‘W’ and a tiny piece of gold line are visible in the second spine panel. Could this be the remains of a third (and possibly original) spine? It is unclear. While it does not appear that a full calfskin spine is underneath the sheepskin reback, it is possible that the reback was applied on top of small remains of the original spine. It is also possible that titling was added directly to the reback leather, but then because of error or damage a red leather label was added later.
The textblock spine will be cleaned and lined with strong, high quality materials like Japanese paper and unbleached linen to create a better functioning book. The results will certainly be better than just following tradition and adding another spine on top.