Category Archives: What’s In The Lab

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

Persistent Picture Props

By Rachel Pennimen, Senior Conservation Technician

Philena McKeen
Philena McKeen

Recently part of the McKeen-Duren Family papers was brought to the lab. Two boxes of approximately 40 daguerreotypes and ambrotypes were in need of better housing. Most of the photographs are of the close family of Silas McKeen. Silas was born in Corinth, Vermont in 1831 and was a Congregational Minister in Bradford, Vermont for much of his life. At some time, a family member had attached slips of paper inside each of the cases with a description of who was depicted in each photograph. Inside the case of a photograph of Silas’ daughter Philena was a longer caption:

Label

“Philena McKeen-
1st photo ever taken in
our family – taken by
Southworth of Boston
when Philena was there
taking music lessons.”

The name Southworth jogged my memory. Back in May we were treating True Flag, a newspaper published in Boston from 1851-1908. While encapsulating an issue from Saturday July 15, 1854, I had noticed an advertisement for daguerreotypes and taken a photograph of it.

True Flag Quote

Southworth & Hawes was a prominent photography business active in Boston in the mid-1800’s and well known for their portraits of notable people of the day, including Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Harriet Beecher Stowe. The daguerreotypes of Albert Sands Southworth and Josiah Johnson Hawes are held today in the collections of The George Eastman House, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Museum of Fine Arts Boston.

Curious to learn more about Messrs. Southworth & Hawes, I requested a couple of books from Duke Libraries and noticed something repeated in their images:

3updaguerreotypes01

3updaguerreotypes02
(All images above from Young America: The Daguerreotypes of Southworth & Hawes by Romer and Wallis)

Like the backdrop on class picture day, it looks like certain props and settings were used repeatedly in the studio of Southworth & Hawes; A table with a floral patterned cloth, a potted plant, and a book seem to have been an especially popular combination of props. The specific fern-patterned cloth draped on the table beside Philena even makes an appearance in a number of other photographs. A daguerreotype of Harriet Beecher Stowe at The Met looks especially similar.

harriet-beecher-stowe10
Harriet Beecher Stowe (Metropolitan Museum of Art)

Along with celebrities, Southworth and Hawes took a number of photographs of their own family members. Although not the best example of their work, in this photograph of Nancy Southworth Hawes (wife of Josiah Hawes and sister of Albert Southworth) at the MFA in Boston, she appears to be holding the same highly decorated book as Philena.

Nancy Southworth Hawes
Nancy Southworth Hawes (MFA Boston)

Unlike the fern-patterned cloth and potted plant that popped up again and again, the photo of Philena and the photo of Nancy are the only two I found where this specific book was identifiable. I wonder if the book was just another prop sitting around the studio for patrons to use, or if it held some greater significance. Interestingly, Albert and Nancy Southworth grew up on their parent’s farm in Fairlee, Vermont; less than 10 miles from Philena’s childhood home in Bradford. Is it possible these two families knew each other before meeting again in the Boston photographer’s studio?

Quick Pic: Hidden Writing

MssUV

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.

Spine After Spine*

*sung to the tune of Cindy Lauper’s Time After Time

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.

Works of Samuel Johnson, Spine #1

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.

Title Page

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.

Spine #2

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.

Spine #3

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.

The Road to the Conservation Lab…

… is (often) paved with good intentions.

Last year the John W. Hartman Center for Sales, Advertising & Marketing History acquired a small collection of fashion design drawings from the 1940s and 50s by Vivian Gauld. Gauld was West Coast-based commercial artist whose drawings were used in retail advertising campaigns for companies like Rose Marie Reid, Jantzen, and Carr’s Fashions. Some of the drawings are currently on display in the Michael and Karen Stone Family Gallery, highlighting recent acquisitions to the collection.

Hartman01

Before coming to Duke, each drawing had been mounted to foam-core board with double-sided tape and then shrink-wrapped. I can see why this packaging method was done. While it does reduce the risk of mechanical damage from handling and shipping, the tape and sealed package are not the most stable environment for long-term storage. Curators and conservators always assess items with our Exhibitions Coordinator before they go on display. Because the items going on exhibit needed to come out of their shrink wrap anyway,  the team made the decision to rehouse the whole collection.

Hartman02

I was able to carefully cut and remove the shrink wrap from each package. The few drawings with friable media (like pastel or charcoal) actually have it applied to the back of the thin drawing paper, so there was little risk of disruption from the static charge of the plastic film. I was able to separate each drawing from the backing board by heating a very thin metal spatula with a hot air pencil and passing it between the drawing and the tape carrier, however, residual adhesive still remained on the verso of the drawing and needed to be removed prior to rehousing (image below, left).

HartmanBeforeAfter

The double-sided tape appears to have been applied fairly recently and had not yet penetrated the paper or crosslinked. I was able to remove it without disturbing the paper fibers by gently rolling the adhesive off with a crepe eraser (image above, right). 

HartmanBeforeAfter2

These drawings will now be stored in either clear polyester L-sleeves or paper folders, depending upon the drawing media. The collection had been placed into two metal edge boxes, but removing the foam-core backing has significantly reduced the required storage space. We can now fit them all into one box. While the shrink wrap package probably seemed like a good idea at the time, I am glad we were able to rehouse the drawings before they were visibly affected by it.