All posts by Henry Hebert

Quick Pic(s): Things That Make You Go “Huh?”

One of the perks of working in a university library is that you will regularly encounter some very strange and delightful things. The item that checked that box for me this week was the Codex Seraphinianus by Luigi Serafini.

Cover of the Codex SeraphinianusIt was pretty obvious why it came in to the lab for repairs. The cover to textblock attachment was way too weak for the size of the book.

Complete case detachmentThe text held a number of surprises, though. This illustrated encyclopedia, written in some imaginary language, contains images of all kinds of crazy stuff. The illustrations cover everything from animals, …

Illustration of fictional animal
A surreal Wool E. Bull?

… to fashion, …

Illustrations of imaginative clothing

… , to elaborate machines and architecture.

Illustration of imaginative architecture.

It even has some suggestions for activities to occupying your free time.

Illustration of a child floating away, holding a balloonIf you are a fan of mysterious illustrated books, like the Voynich Manuscript or the Rohonc Codex, then Codex Seraphinianus is probably worth a look. Once we’ve had a chance to reattach the case, of course.

My New Favorite Tool

By Rachel Penniman, Conservation Specialist

This tip is shamelessly stolen from a blog post by Satomi Sasaki Verhagen on The Book & Paper Gathering and I cannot thank them enough for writing about this wonderful tool.

It’s a mini, handheld humidifier that creates a very fine mist (click here for a short video) perfect for localized humidification. It looked so useful in their blog post I ordered one right away and had fun playing around with it when it arrived.

Now over a year later I’ve finally had a chance to use it on a treatment project. I blame working from home for not finding a use for it earlier.

We recently got a large vellum binding with many creased and torn fold outs that needed flattening and mending. The binding was stiff and allowed for only a very small opening angle. Mini-humidifier to the rescue. I was able to very lightly humidify just the localized areas of creasing to flatten and realign them before mending. It worked beautifully. Because the little humidifier doesn’t create a very large spray of mist it was easy to direct and keep only in the areas I wanted. Also, it creates such a small amount of moisture that it worked very slowly so it was easy to control how humid each area got.

It wasn’t perfect though. If left running it could build up condensation around the nozzle especially when held at an angle. I found I had to hold a paper towel around the base to prevent any of these drops of condensation from falling on the page I was humidifying. Regularly turning the humidifier off and blotting drops of water off from around the nozzle helped manage condensation build up. The battery didn’t last very long but it is rechargeable and charged very quickly while I was at lunch.

Overall I was so happy with how this tool works and will definitely be using it again.

Graining Our New Litho Stone

When paring leather for book bindings or book repair, it is essential to have a flat, smooth surface on which to work. The parts of the leather that will be turned-in, particularly around the endcaps of the book, must be made very thin and often with a long, gradual bevel. Uneven paring will visibly show after being adhered, so it takes some care and practice to get it right. Paring on the right surface allows you to feel any variation in the leather with your fingertips and take off more material as needed. You also need to work on a material that is hard enough to not be cut up by the paring knife. Many materials (such as glass, marble, or granite) are used for this work surface, but one of the more common is lithographic limestone. Limestone won’t dull a blade as quickly as other stones. It also absorbs water, so I like using it as a work surface for the whole process of covering in leather.

Our new stone. We’ll call the image on the left the “Top” of stone and the image on the right the “Bottom”.

The lab recently acquired this small lithography stone, which was used as a printing plate for what appears to be a worksheet for practicing handwriting. The printing image on the “bottom” of the stone includes examples of short words with ascenders and descenders: land, lakes, plan, glide, plan, fling, often, etc.

The stone was pretty flat, but had a number of scrapes and scratches that could mask problems with paring work. I wanted to remove those before we began using it. Luckily there is a standard method and a lot of resources available to help me do that.

When a stone plate has been printed for the last time, it must be refinished (or “grained”) to remove the old image and prepare the surface for a new drawing. I consulted The Tamarind Book of Lithography to see what we would need to do to prepare the stone. This is a great resource that includes a lot diagrams and step-by-step instructions. Luckily Duke’s Department of Art, Art History & Visual Studies had the equipment to grain a stone and they allowed me to bring the stone over to the studio.

The process was fairly simple and kind of fun to do. With the stone sitting on top of the graining sink, I poured a little water over the top of the stone to act as a lubricant and then added some course carborundum grit (silicon carbide) for the abrasive.

A heavy piece of round steel with a handle, called a levigator, is then used to spin over the stone surface to start grinding it down.

I tried taking a video of the process, but it was a little hard for me to hold the camera steady while using the levigator. You can get a much better overhead view in this video from California State University Stanislaus:

The spinning continued until I had worked up a fairly thick stone sludge.

The stone is washed clean and the process is repeated until enough of the surface has been removed. 

Printers will continue graining with increasingly fine grits to get a very fine surface for drawing – but that didn’t seem necessary for our purposes. I believe the outside edges of the stone surface are also filed by the printer to keep them from showing up as an artifact in the print, so the patina and ghost of the original print are still visible around the outside of our stone. I decided to stop at this point because some of the edges were starting to get sharp. We’ve got a sizable chip on one side that needs to be avoided anyway.

The top after graining and drying

I’m pretty pleased with the results. The print image still remains on the bottom of the stone, so we can keep some evidence of what the stone was used for previously. The stone is fairly heavy (40-50 lbs by my guess), so it now lives on a wheeled cart so it can be easily moved around the lab as needed.

Prepping Papyri

Quite a bit has been written on this blog over the years about caring for Duke’s sizable papyri collection, so many of our readers will be familiar. For those who may not know about it, the collection was digitally imaged back in the early 1990s and the images are publicly available for research. The Duke Papyrus Archive is a very helpful and well-used resource, but sometimes we get requests to reimage fragments from the collection. It may be that the resolution of the images in the archive is too low for a researcher’s needs, or there is a request to use multispectral imaging to see if additional information can be made legible.

P.Duk.inv 362: Lease of land, 2nd century B.C. Extracted from mummy cartonnage.

As we have mentioned before, each papyrus fragment is stored between two pieces of glass, which are taped around the edges. This housing solution allows the extremely fragile fragments to be safely and easily handled in the reading room, but it does pose some challenges for imaging. Our digital production staff are able to adjust the lighting environment to reduce reflections from the glass, but the glazing package also needs to be very clean both inside and out. Any dust, stray fibers, or residue are clearly visible in the high resolution images we produce. Prior to reimaging, each fragment is examined to determine if any cleaning or additional intervention is required.

Some of the taping on the glass packages is starting to show some wear and tear. White paper tape was used to seal the glazing for many of the fragments and the adhesive may have become desiccated and failed, or the paper carrier may be splitting. Sharp glass corners or edges may also be untaped and exposed.

Re-imaging is a good opportunity to remove the fragment from its glazing, clean the package, remount the fragment, and reseal the package with higher quality materials. The process is pretty straightforward. To begin, the tape is sliced open on all edges with a scalpel and the top piece of glass is carefully lifted away.

Next the papyrus fragment is removed by very gently sliding it off of the bottom glass sheet onto a piece of clean Bristol board. The surface of the board is very smooth, so papyrus fibers along the edge of the fragments do not catch. The fragment may actually be composed of several loose pieces, so I always do a few little test lifts at the edges of the piece with a microspatula first to get a sense of the fragment’s condition. Luckily, this fragment is all in one piece. I like to note the orientation of the fragment in pencil at the corner of the board, just as a reminder when I go to reassemble the package. The fragment is placed in a temporary enclosure for safety and set aside.

The adhesive of the paper tape is water-soluble and comes off of the glass pretty easily. After mechanically scraping off the tape carrier with a scalpel blade, the glass is placed in small plastic tray filled with filtered water so that any remaining residue will soften and can be scrubbed off. I finish cleaning the glass with a 1:1 ethanol and deionized water solution and buff the surface with a cotton pad. To keep it as clean as possible it’s important to clean any working surfaces beforehand and wear gloves.

Before and After Cleaning

With the glass clean and dry, it’s time to transfer the papyrus fragment back. The papyrus fragment is aligned on the lower glass and secured to it using very small pieces of pre-made remoistenable repair tissue (see Baker 2010 for instructions on making the remoistenable paper). When the mounting strips are dry, the upper sheet of glass is placed on top and the edges are taped with Filmoplast SH linen tape. I like to double-up the taping at the corners of the package to ensure that every edge is completely covered.

In the years before the Rubenstein Library renovation, these glass packages were rehoused in uniform rigid portfolios with cut foam padding. Each portfolio has a picture label and small groups of them are stored together in metal edge boxes for easy retrieval. You can see images and read about that rehousing project here. These portfolios are still functioning very well, so the cleaned and retaped glazing package is placed back in it’s custom portfolio and box before being transferred to the digital production center.

Happy 11th Birthday, Preservation Underground!

On this day in 2009 our blog was born! Looking back, we have accomplished quite a lot here over those 11 years. We are rapidly approaching our 500th post. It seemed fitting to celebrate by highlighting our eleven most popular stories or “quick pics” from the lab:

1. Working From Home Options for Conservation Labs

2. A Fleet of Futons–Yours for the Making

3. It Came From The Bowels

4. What a Difference a [Press] Makes

5. Cradle Boxing Day

6. Moving the Duke Family

7.  The ‘Largest Sheet of Paper Ever Made and Printed’

8. When It Rains On The Inside

9. 1091 Project: Making Enclosures

10. Letter Spacing on Labels

11. Hold Me Closer… Protective Enclosure

I was a bit surprised to see that three of the top posts are from this calendar year. With the disruption to everyone’s work over the last 9 months, it has been a little more challenging to keep to our usual publishing schedule. But with everyone spending more time at home these days, I guess that also means more folks are looking for something to read. Welcome to our new readers and a huge ‘thank you’ to long-time followers who have stuck with us! Here’s to another 11 years of preservation stories, coming to you from the library basement. Have a safe and restful holiday.

7th International Mountmakers Forum

One of the silver linings of business travel being suspended for the foreseeable future is that so many conferences have gone virtual this year. This has provided a number of opportunities to experience the meetings of professional groups outside my usual repertoire. This week I’ve been really enjoying the International Mountmakers Forum. The organization has been very generous to record and upload the talks to Youtube.

Mounting objects for exhibition can be very challenging, and I have learned about new materials and techniques this week that could be used in the gallery spaces in our library.

The success of virtual conferencing during that pandemic gives me hope that this kind of programming will remain available, even when the world has returned to normal. Conferences are an essential fundraising opportunity for many professional organizations, and there can be financial disincentives for the organization in making content too freely available. At the same time, there are many professionals working in cultural heritage institutions or in private practice who do not have access to funding for professional development and are cut off from the debates and interactions that happen at these meetings. I’ve been very impressed with the way our professional organizations have adapted in the last year and I look forward to continued innovation and greater inclusion using these same systems in years to come.

With Disrespectful Love

Finding funny notes or inscriptions in books from the collection is such a delight. Rachel came across one this week in this book of poems that we just had to share.

Readers who are Brontë fans may recognize this as the first work by the sisters to ever go to print. They adopted masculine-sounding pseudonyms to avoid, as Charlotte later wrote, being “looked on with prejudice.” The starting letters of the first names correspond, with Charlotte writing as Currer Bell, Emily as Ellis, and Anne as Acton.

Look at These Labels

by Erin Hammeke, Senior Conservator

Archival boxes with picture labels of objects inside.

We get pretty excited about labels in the Conservation Services department, as evidenced by this post, and this one. Apart from spine labels, we frequently add signage to our enclosures to provide information about what’s inside and how it should be handled.

We often add picture labels to the outsides of our enclosures, particularly those containing fragile objects. We find these labels cut down on browsing and give and idea of what’s inside.

Picture labels can be created fairly quickly by capturing at relatively low resolution and under normal lighting conditions. We photograph items on a white background in our digital photographic documentation studio. Using the levels adjustments in Photoshop, select the white eyedropper and then select the white background. This usually causes the background to disappear and makes for a cleaner looking label.

Examples of object labels

We add in handling information specific to the item, such as HANDLE WITH GLOVES or CAUTION: SHARP!

We also print of sheets of small labels with common handling concerns, such as CONTAINS GLASS, FRAGILE, HEAVY. This makes for quick and easy labeling of boxes that otherwise wouldn’t get a special photo label.

Label that reads "Heavy"

Label that reads "Fragile"

We’ve even had luck playing with clip art to make some useful handling labels.

Label for a "two person lift", including the weight of the box.

Infographics

Graphic label showing how to move the object.

 

Label describing how to use enclosure with attached cradle.

Sometimes you need a simple and specific way of demonstrating how to handle an item, and narrative text or clip art just won’t cut it. We’ve had some luck creating infographic style labels using this process:

  • Take a high resolution photo of the action/item you’d like to have pictured in your infographic label.
  • In Photoshop, open your image and create a new layer on top of the image.
  • On the new layer you’ve created, trace the elements with a drawing tool. Working at 100% or higher, and using the smoothing settings will help to improve any jagged or rough-looking lines in your drawing.
  • Copy the layer with the drawing and paste it onto a new blank canvas with a white background. Make any final adjustments to your drawing, keeping in mind that it doesn’t have to be perfect.
  • Reduce the size of your drawing without reducing the file quality. Most of these images will not be printed out very large, so pick a label size, such as 2 x 4” and resize the drawing so it fits on that label. You will find that most imperfections in the drawing will not be noticeable when the drawing is resized.

 

Visions of the Alhambra

by Erin Hammeke, Senior Conservator

Title page of Alhambra

I recently finished repair on these two double folio volumes, concluding a multi-year project. I performed dry cleaning and page repair, in- situ sewing repair, board reattachment, leather rebacking, and leather corner repair. Working on two volumes this size and weight (35lbs each) proved to be both an engineering challenge and a physically demanding project. I came up with some solutions for a few of the challenges presented while treating these very large volumes that I’ll share here.

This two volume set by the architect Owen Jones documents the decorative surfaces at the Alhambra Palace in Grenada. The texts are most well-known for their beautiful, large-scale color lithographic plates.

Color lithograph Plate 1 in Alhambra

Front board with leather spine and corners and marbled paper over the boards.

The volumes were bound in half-style bindings with green sheepskin covering and marbled paper sides and endleaves. The boards were detached and the sheepskin was in poor condition, with many tears and large losses. We decided to remove all of the leather up to the gold tooled areas. After attaching the boards with the use of many clamps (my favorite tools!), and prepping the spine with sufficient linings and sham bands, it was ready for covering.

Large clamps affixed to the book's boards at the spine.

Relined textblock spine and book boards without leather.

I selected goatskins for the new leather and calculated that I would need three skins to cover both volumes’ spines and large corners. I dyed them to match the original – another challenge when working at this scale!

The sheepskin remnants were very thick, and did not take well to paring down and thinning. I was worried about having a smooth transition between the old and new leathers where they overlap. I realized I needed to pare the new leather to accommodate the old, but I didn’t want to lose the strength or dyed color of the hair side of the new goatskin. A piece from our Scharf-Fix that I’ve never used before provided the perfect solution. The kit comes with assorted roller sizes and we’ve only really ever used the full size (28mm) for edge paring.

Using one of the smaller rollers (13mm) along the meeting edges of the leather allowed me to take a step out of the flesh side that could accommodate the thick sheepskin remnants. I used the full-sized roller to clean up the stepped bevel by working it perpendicularly and off the edge.

Pared edge of leather, from the suede side.

Leather in the Scharffix paring machine

During covering, I worked this bevel in with my bone folder creating a precise step for the original leather to sit into and making for a flush transition.

New leather inserted under the original.

After adding new stamped leather spine labels, I created sleds that the heavy bindings can be moved on, hopefully protecting the covers from damage from being dragged across reading room table tops.

Finished book inside enclosure

Have you discovered other uses for the variously sized Scharf-Fix rollers? What are your tips for repairing oversized and heavy bindings? We’d love to know!