All posts by Henry Hebert

Preservation Nesting Boxes

One of my more recent projects has been working on this gorgeous late 19th century Japanese photograph album.

While I’m still dealing with the album itself, today I’d like to briefly share some steps I’ve taken to stabilize the decorative paper box in which the album was originally purchased and stored. When the album came to the library, it was inside the original enclosure, and both album and enclosure were packed in a regular cardboard box with medical underpads as cushioning material.  Unsure of what I was really looking at, I documented the object exactly as it came out of the cardboard box – underpads included!

The underpads do have some merits as packing material, providing both cushioning and a moisture barrier. They are not the best long-term storage materials, though, so we opted to remove them. As you can see, the box was looking a little rough. I removed the photo album and laid out each piece of the enclosure to better see what remained.

The enclosure is  essentially a drop-spine box, covered in decorative red and gold paper. Yellow textile pads are included in the interior of the lid and base to protect the lacquer and ivory covers. The head, tail, and fore-edge of the lid have black woven textile straps and bone pins, which originally fastened to small woven textile loops laced through the lower tray walls. As you can see, several parts of the box are missing and most of the joints have broken. The straps are also broken in several places and very weak.

This enclosure is special because it includes a great deal of information about the album’s provenance. Kusakabe Kimbei (1841-1932) is widely known for these souvenir albums, consisting of hand-colored portraiture and scenic views. Bennet (2006) describes Kusakabe’s (1841-1932) businesses at the two Benten-Dori addresses: 36 functioned as a photography studio, while 27 operated as a shop where composite albums of Kusakabe’s prints were sold (p. 135).

We want to ensure that researchers can open and closely examine the enclosure to see the information on the interior label, but it is not necessary for the heavy photo album to remain inside. The decision was made to create a new padded enclosure for the album and stabilize and store the original enclosure separately.

I began by re-assembling all the box pieces in much the same way I might repair the joints of a paper binding. Using the patterns on the decorative paper, I was able to match all the detached pieces. The original decorative paper was lifted away from the boards and strong handmade paper, toned to match, was adhered underneath with wheat starch paste. I stabilized the remains of the textile straps using toned 60/3 linen thread.

Since the enclosure will not contain the heavy album anymore, the decision was made to just reattach and stabilize the extant materials, rather than recreating the lost walls of the tray and edges of the lid with new board. With only two walls on the bottom tray, I decided to construct a small corrugated box to fit inside and act as additional support. The “filler” box is light weight and can easily be removed by a researcher. This set of two boxes will get a final, outer box to protect the textile straps.

A box, within a box, within a box.


Bennett, T. (2006). Old Japanese photographs: Collector’s data guide. London: Quaritch.

Rolled Textile Storage

Conservation Services is often called upon to create appropriate housing and storage solutions for over-sized textiles in our collections. This very large and currently uncataloged item from the Robert Hill Collection is a recent example.

After some deliberation, the decision was made to store this item rolled on a hollow tube. Our housing method is fairly straightforward: We started with a piece of unbleached cotton muslin, cut larger than the banner in all dimensions, placed on a work surface of assembled tables. The banner was placed in the center. A rigid  tube, about 5″ in diameter and wrapped in high quality paper,  was placed at one end of the muslin (as pictured above). These tubes are constructed of blue/grey barrier board, with neutral pH adhesive, and have passed the Photographic Activity Test. They are available through several suppliers like Gaylord or University Products. With a person at each end of the tube, we slowly rolled the muslin and banner together, being careful to smooth out any distortion or creases as we went. The bundle was then loosely tied up with twill tape.

If dust was a concern in the storage space, we might also wrap in an additional layer of clear polyester.  We will likely add a tyvek label  attached to the twill tape (for example) when cataloging is complete. STASHc (Storage Techniques for Art, Science & History Collections) is a great online resource for potential solutions for housing more cumbersome collection materials, and methods similar to ours can be found there.

Button, Button, Who’s Got the Button?

By Rachel Pennimen, Senior Conservation Technician

Not actual collection buttons, just some of the many buttons we have in the lab.

 

The Rubenstein Library holds a growing collection of political ephemera including many political pins. Over time the library has received multiple additions to the collection and expects to continue collecting more of these items in the future. The collection arrived in batches with a variety of different inconsistent housing methods. At first, conservation had been creating custom built trays with individual spaces for each button as seen in this Duke Today video.

Here is another example from the Terence Mitchell Collection of Tobacco Related Ephemera of the kind of tray we were creating for the buttons.

Mitchell Tobacco Collection

This approach resulted in a really nice custom enclosure for a group of buttons, but was time consuming to create by hand and inconvenient when just one or two new buttons would need to be added to the collection.

After a meeting with Rubenstein Library curatorial and technical services staff to assess the state of the entire collection and discuss goals for the future of the collection I started researching housing options. I remembered seeing a method for housing buttons by pinning them on to foam covered boards but many of our buttons didn’t have their backing pins and there was no way to number individual items using that system. I had also seen a method for housing small artifacts that looked like it could be promising with a little modification.

Now we house each button using a clear 4″ x 5” zip top, virgin polyethylene bag with a 40 point tan barrier board stiffener inside. The bags are either 4 mil or 6 mil so they are strong and provide some cushion. I cut the barrier board to be small enough to easily slip in and out of the bag and I round the corners so they don’t fray or poke through the plastic bag. The pins aren’t attached to the stiffener backing but it provides structure and support for the different sized items. The top of the stiffener can be labeled with an item identification number if needed. Then the bags can either be housed flat in trays or upright in shoebox style archival boxes.

This method makes it easy to house large numbers of buttons quickly and is easy enough for technical services staff to assemble these housings themselves. When one or two new buttons arrive to be added to an existing collection, they can easily be bagged and filed in place in an existing box. It is also still easy for researchers to flip through a box and look at each button without having to handle the actual item. So far we’ve been really happy with this solution and I imagine it could be adapted for housing other small ephemera collections in the future.

Quick Pic: The Longest Manicule


Today, as I was examining some items from the Lisa Unger Baskin Collection, I came across one of the longest armed manicules I’ve ever seen. This mark, whose name derives from the Latin meaning literally “little hand”, is a common annotation meant to draw the readers attention, like a highlight. This one just looks like it belongs to Mister Fantastic. If you’d like to read more about this mark and see other examples, these recent articles from Slate and Atlas Obscura may be of interest.

Digital Fills to the Rescue!

By Rachel Pennimen, Senior Conservation Technician

This copy of Hilda Vaughan’s ‘A Thing of Nought’ was sent to the conservation lab to have a box made to protect the fragile dust jacket and cover. The illustration and lettering printed directly on the front board is visible through a transparent, blue tinted plastic dust jacket that is itself printed with the title and author’s name.

Unfortunately the poor quality plastic of the dust jacket has not aged well. Small pieces of the plastic dust jacket were in danger of flaking off with every movement and could hardly be handled safely. In order to keep the dust jacket on the book but still allow for handling of the item, Curator Andy Armacost had the idea of using a dust jacket protector similar to the type sometimes used on our general collections items. This traditional style of dust jacket cover has a Mylar front and a paper backing that wrap around the dust jacket to protect it from wear.

Slim-Fold Book Jacket Covers, University Products

 

This would have the benefit of completely surrounding the plastic dust jacket and preserving all of its parts while allowing it to stay in place on the book and be handled. The trouble is that the paper backing on this kind of product would obscure what was printed directly on the book’s cover. So I attempted to create my own dust jacket cover where the paper backing was printed with a copy of the original boards.

I tried black and white photocopies of the cover on white paper and colored papers. They gave a similar idea of the original cover design, but I was really hoping for something more detailed and accurate.

Photocopy on white paper, photocopy on cream paper, and original cover

I tried again using our photodocumentation setup to take a color photograph of the cover but when I printed out the image the color didn’t match the original at all.

Printed color photograph and original cover

Senior Conservator Erin Hammeke had previously used a tool developed by Victoria Binder to make a color accurate printed reproduction for use in an exhibit so I decided to look into that. Victoria’s article in Topics in Photographic Preservation entitled ‘Digital Fills for Photographs with Glossy Surfaces’ discusses using the Action feature in Photoshop to automatically make variations on settings like midtone color, exposure, and saturation in an easily printable contact sheet. I wasn’t looking to create a fill for a photograph, but color matching a printed image to an original was exactly what I needed. By using Victoria’s Actions Set I could easily print contact sheets with up to 15 variations on a single page, and pick the one that looked closest to the original without wasting reams of paper.

I adjusted my image in Photoshop according to the best results from the contact sheets. The printed photograph gave all the detail of the appearance of the original board decoration and the adjustments made the color an almost perfect match when printed.

Printed photograph before color correction, after color correction, and original cover

The original plastic dust jacket was placed over the printed reproduction of the book cover and a piece of Mylar was folded around both. When the jacket assembly is put on the book the visual effect is very similar to the original.

Interior of the jacket assembly around original cover

Because the cover isn’t attached in any way to the book, a researcher can simply unfold the jacket assembly and view the original book cover decoration beneath.

Final dust jacket assembly next to original cover

I’m so happy with how this project turned out. The original plastic dust jacket is much easier to handle safely, the original appearance of the item is retained, and all of the parts can still be kept together.

Revisiting a Big Challenge

The Rubenstein Library recently acquired another large Torah scroll. Measuring 40″ in length, these scrolls can be quite heavy and difficult to move safely. The support on which the scroll arrived was minimal and inventive.

The scroll was wrapped in layers of cotton muslin, with cotton twill tape laced through honeycomb board to secure it. Honeycomb board is light enough for two people to easily lift, but rigid enough that it doesn’t bow or cause the scroll to shift. At the time of acquisition, we discussed keeping this support. After considering the necessary handling and pathway through the building to serve the scroll in the reading room, however, it was decided that a full enclosure would offer more protection.

Longtime readers may remember when Beth boxed a similar scroll a few years ago, and more recently you might have seen Tedd’s series on Extreme Enclosures. Each of these large enclosures employs double layers of corrugated board, covered in buckram, to cut down on weight while remaining durable enough for long term handling. Beth’s Torah enclosure is nearing its seventh birthday, so I thought this would be a good opportunity to see how it has aged. Can the double-wall corrugated board really stand up to the abuse of regular handling and re-shelving?

It turns out the box (pictured above without its telescoping lid) is still in very good shape. Despite many trips to the reading room and all the activity of the Rubenstein Renovation, the enclosure shows no wear or distortion from the weight of the contents. Research Services staff report that the lighter weight makes re-shelving (with two people) quite easy and the drop-wall design allows for convenient removal of the heavy scroll from the box.

Considering the success of the first box, I decided to adopt the popular idiom of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” and duplicated the design for the recently acquired Torah.

Library conservators are often called upon to creatively engineer solutions to unique preservation problems. With ever growing and diversifying collections, it sometimes feels like all our attention is pulled toward the next object coming through the door. It’s nice to have the opportunity to go back and critically review some of those solutions, but nicer still to see that, years later, they are still working as they should.

Rubenstein Materials on Display at the Nasher

Today I traveled over to the Nasher Museum of Art to install an item from the Rubenstein Library for the upcoming Portrait of Venice exhibit. A hand-colored map of Venice from Georg Braun‘s 1572 edition of Civitates Orbis Terrarum (below) will be on display alongside the mural-sized woodblock print by Jacopo de’ Barbari.

Map of Venice from Civitates Orbis Terrarum.

The Nasher exhibit runs from September 7th until the end of this year. If you did not have a chance to see the Barbari print during the Glory of Venice show at NCMA, this is another good opportunity. The sheer size and detail of the piece is just incredible. The exhibit will also feature interactive multi-media displays produced through multi-disciplinary and collaborative research at the Wired! Lab at Duke.

All Done

When I shared an image of a tape-laden document last month, I was still in the process of treatment. That treatment wrapped up a few weeks ago and here are the final results:

While the results are not that aesthetically pleasing, the document is now stable. All the oxidized tape is off and the staining has been significantly reduced. I knew there were several significant losses going in, but I did not realize  just how much of the center fold was gone until all of the tape was removed. Rather than attempting to infill the areas of loss with shaped pieces of toned Japanese paper, the entire sheet was encapsulated in clear polyester.  This reduced the overall treatment time, while still allowing the item to be used and handled safely.

The tape saga continues…

Last month I posted a picture of a tape-laden item from the NC Mutual Life Insurance Company Archives. Progress on this collection is slow and steady, but I thought it would be fun to share a during treatment photo of tape removal and stain reduction.

Tape Removal (During Treatment)

Pressure sensitive tape had been applied over this horizontal tear. Above the tear, the tape carrier has been removed. The paper below the tear has been treated with solvent and washed to remove the remaining adhesive and staining. Treatment has greatly improved the text legibility and will prevent further darkening of the paper support. Next, thin Japanese paper mends will be applied to rejoin the pieces.