Category Archives: What’s In The Lab

Quick Pic: When Life Gives You Watermarks

I’m always amazed at what our library collections hold. This absolute gem of a book came to the lab for repair from the general collections,  Watermarks In Paper in Holland, England, France, etc., by William Algernon Churchill (reprint of 1st edition; 1967).

Aren’t these watermarks terrific? I love the elephants with their trunks coming out of the top of their heads.

from rags to riches to rags
Flyleaf
watermark of two elephants on either side of an elaborate letter R
1786, Map engraved in Amsterdam, w/m of Adriaan Rogge.
watermark of a beehive with four bees flying around, centered inside a wreath of flowers
1683-1902 [C & I Honig]

Happy Little Skeleton

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.

Easter Bunnies

Today is Good Friday and we happen to have our three-volume octavo edition of Audubon‘s Quadrupeds of North America in the lab to get some stabilizing repairs and enclosures. The first volume of the set is absolutely teeming with prints of hares and rabbits and this seems like an auspicious day to share them. Audubon’s Quadrupeds first appeared in three folio volumes (under the title “The Vivaparous Quadrupeds of North America”) between 1845 and 1848. The first octavo edition was published by John James Audubon’s sons (John W. and Victor) following his death in 1851. Initially both editions were issued in parts. You can view full a full digitized version of this book here.

Quick Pic: When Life Gives You Cephalopods

cephalopod illustrationToday was a busy day in the lab. We had 25 people come through on three tours, and we had to help set up for a tour in another department. Today is also the due-date for our performance evaluations. When life gives you a Friday like that, finding a beautiful illustration of cephalopods is a gift. I especially like the center illustration of the eyeballs.

This is one book in a serial on biodiversity. It is French, dated 1889, and beautifully illustrated. Some volumes in this series are available in Hathi Trust. I also found the page on mollusks, which was equally beautiful. This one is getting a custom box to keep it safe.

Book Macabre

The other day a pretty somber, but intriguing little book came into the lab.

Just from the decoration, the subject is pretty apparent.

It turns out this is the first authorized edition in Italian of the Dance of Death, printed in 1549 (the binding is from a later period). The book is just one example of a long-standing artistic genre which seeks to remind the reader or viewer that no matter one’s station in life, death comes to us all. The wonderfully detailed woodcuts, designed by Hans Holbein the Younger, depict a personified Death interacting with kings, the clergy, and commoners alike.

This particular volume is interesting because it has been extra-illustrated. Probably at the time it was put in it’s current binding, leaves of thicker wove paper were added to the textblock and engraved copies of the woodcuts were tipped to them. While the designs are sometimes mirrored, it is interesting how faithful the engravings are to Holbein’s original composition.

If you would like to see more of the images, you can view a digitized copy of this book online here. This item will get a few straightforward stabilizing repairs so that it is safe to handle in the reading room. This seems like a good candidate for Rubenstein’s annual Screamfest event in the Fall.

Quick Pic: Year of the Rooster

Charles Bailey Reed Scrapbook Cover

Readers who celebrated Chinese New Year just a few weeks ago will know that 2017 is the Year of the Rooster. Fittingly, this wonderful painted scrapbook from the Charles Bailey Reed Collection recently came into the lab. Reed served as a radiologist in the U.S. Medical Reserve Corps in France during World War I.  This scrapbook contains postcards, newspaper articles, photographs, and other ephemera from various cities in France, dated between 1914 and 1924. I just really love the image of the rooster crowing atop a discarded Pickelhaube, signalling the return to regular life after the war.

Cradle Boxing Day

Last month, Senior Conservator Erin Hammeke shared her treatment of a caoutchouc binding, which incorporated a clamshell enclosure with integrated cradle. There are many items in the collection that can benefit from an enclosure like this (henceforth referred to simply as a “cradle box”): books which require a restricted opening to reduce the risk of further damage, collection material that is used frequently, or items that are exhibited at library events outside the reading room. Our History of Medicine Collection has several items which meet these criteria and everyone in the lab was interested in learning how to make a cradle box. This week we dedicated a boxing day to this project, which served both as a training exercise and supports use of the collection.

While several variations on structure are described in publicly available resources (see the AIC Wiki), we decided to all just stick with Jeff Peachey’s design. The benefits to this design are that the cradle fits the book very well and is attached to the box, so you don’t have to worry about it being removed and getting lost. We could also rely on Erin’s previous experience and help each other through the more complicated steps!

Construction begins by measuring the book at the intended opening angles to determine the sizes of the individual parts of the cradle.  As with measuring for exhibit cradles, it’s much easier to prop the boards up with cushioned weights before taking measurements.

(Photo by Rachel Penniman)

Then those pieces are cut from Davey board…

(Photo by Rachel Penniman)

… and covered in book cloth. The cradle is essentially constructed in two pieces, which are attached by a cloth spine piece. The image below shows the interior of one cradle side during covering (left), including the adhered ends of cloth tape that allow the user to lift up the cradle (right).

(Photos by Rachel Penniman)

Once the cradle is complete, the book is placed inside and the entire sandwich is measured for the clamshell box. The box is constructed in the usual way, but the right side of the cradle is attached to the interior of the smaller tray near the spine.

It was a lot of fun to approach learning this enclosure design as a group. If one of us hit a roadblock or did not quite understand the next step in the instructions, we could all talk it through together. Over the course of the day, we developed new techniques for completing steps or learned from each other’s mistakes. And, more importantly, now six more books from the collection will have cradles with them wherever they go!

Cast Composite (AKA Synthetic Texture) Technique

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.

Penny Magazine - Before and after treatment
(click images to enlarge)

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.

Penny Mag - Before and After TreatmentBookbinding 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.

Leather Mold

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.

(Under normal lighting at bench)
(Under normal lighting at bench)

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.

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.

6_open-in-cradle

 

All Made Up

Every once in a while we come across a book composed of parts from multiple copies of the same edition, commonly referred to as a made-up copy (Carter, 2004). It can be very difficult to tell if a book is made-up, depending upon how the different pieces were assembled and treated.  An item that recently came into the lab provides a fairly obvious example.

Made-up book
Visibly smaller section on the right.

This incunable in a 19th century binding contains two gathering (one at the front and another towards the center of the textblock) that are noticeably shorter at the tail and fore-edge. Shorter leaves can indicate a number of things about the production of a binding, including proof (Roberts & Etherington, 1982) that the leaves were not overly trimmed by the binder. In this case, though, other evidence suggests the section came from another binding. It may be difficult to tell in the image above, but the paper of the section on the right is significantly brighter than the sections before and after.

Different edge treatment
Red and blue edge decoration

Additionally, the edges of the shorter section have been treated differently. The image above shows that the edges of the smaller section (left) are colored red, while the rest of the texblock (right) has been sprinkled with blue pigment.

In-filled tail edge
In-filled tail edge

It appears that the binder infilled the smaller section at the front to match the size of the surrounding leaves. Similarly toned and textured laid paper has been adhered to the tail edge and at the gutter of each leaf to make them larger. Since the red edge decoration is still visible on these leaves, this was probably done to reduce the risk of handling damage, rather than an attempt to disguise the added gathering.

While the added sections appear somewhat out of place in this binding, I appreciate that the binder did not attempt to hide them by over-trimming the entire textblock or obscuring their red edge decoration. The clear diffirences between paper size, color, and edge treatment provides additional information about the life and use of this object.


Carter, J. (2004). ABC for book collectors (8th ed.). New Castle, DE: Oak Knoll.

Roberts, M. & Etherington, D. (1982). Bookbinding and the conservation of books : a dictionary of descriptive terminology. Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress