All posts by Henry Hebert

Invasion of the Binding Snatchers

When this copy of Memoirs of the life of the Reverend George Whitefield (1798) came into the lab the other day, we knew pretty quickly that something was off.

The label on the spine looked like it was sitting inside a little window of leather, and not even very well lined up. Looking closer, you could also see some stitching running vertically along the center of the spine.

We often see examples of home-made repairs for bindings, but I had never seen one like this before. It appears that someone has just swapped bindings from another book!

I’m guessing that the original boards had come off of the book and, rather than having it rebacked, a previous owner had just located a similarly sized-volume as a donor. On the interior of the boards, you can see evidence of cord from the previous board attachment. After removing the binding from it’s original textblock, a little window was cut in one of the spine panels to allow the correct titling to mostly show through, and then the new textblock was glued (and sewn) in at the spine. It’s a pretty clever solution, but it must have been difficult to find a donor binding of similar enough size to work. I always enjoy finding evidence of historical repairs and seeing the creative approaches that people have taken to keep their books in usable condition.

Edit: Today I learned that there is a term that could be applied to this item: remboîtage.  It is interesting to compare the definitions from Etherington & Roberts and Ligatus (derived from Carter’s ABC for Book Collectors). Most folks would not think of this as an example of a recase, because that term implies putting the textblock back into it’s own binding. Carter’s definition of remboîtage goes to great lengths to describe it as putting a textblock in a more elegant, more desirable, or superior binding. This rather crudely executed swap may be a bit of a stretch for Carter, but one could argue that a functioning binding is more desirable than a broken one.

Makers and Fixers All Over Campus

Staff from the Conservation Lab were featured in a very nice piece on Duke Today about the various repair shops around campus:

It’s a really wonderful peek into some of the extremely specialized work that goes into supporting buildings, collections, and services at Duke. Some of the facilities maintenance is more visible in the summer, when classes are out and campus is a little less crowded- but it is nice to read about the different types of skilled labor that are happening behind the scenes. We appreciate the opportunity to share!

New Outfits for Sailors

Sometimes an object comes through the lab in an enclosure which is not good for long term preservation, but still has artifactual value and should be retained with the item. In these cases, we have to get a little creative in fabricating a new housing that will keep all the parts together in a safe and intuitively usable package.

two prints of female sailors

A set of early 19th century hand-colored engravings arrived here recently, featuring portraits of the same female sailor on land and at sea. The paper was quite brittle and showed some staining, surface soiling, and insect damage. The prints had been housed in matching wooden frames which were slightly too small. The edges of the prints had been folded around the backing boards to fit, and some of those folded edges had snapped off.

front and back of empty picture frame before rehousingIt was clear that the frames were not a safe place for the prints to live, but they are important to the history of the object and need to be housed together. Time to make some new outfits for these sailors.

After deframing, both frames and prints were cleaned to remove any surface dirt. The prints were humidified in a chamber and flattened to remove the creases around the edges. The loose fragments of the “shore” print were reattached using a thin Japanese paper with re-moistenable adhesive we make in-house. interior of mated print, showing full encapsulation and photo corners

The brittle paper requires some additional support for safe handling and the media isn’t flaking, so each print was fully encapsulated in clear polyester film. The prints and frames would need to live inside the same box without rattling around, so I cut window mats and assembled portfolios with tyvek tape for the hinge. Each print was mounted inside with polyethylene photo corners, so that it can be easily removed if a researcher wants to examine the verso.

The frames also got some new housing in the form of a padded tray. Each tray features tabs at the head and tail so that they can be easily lifted out of the box. The foam is notched under the tab to accommodate the metal ring at the top of each frame, but also so that the frame can be safely tipped out of the tray.

wooden frame in padded tray

The trays and mats were made to the same size so that they can be neatly stacked inside a  clamshell box. Labels on the outside of the box indicate that it should be stored flat on the shelf and warn anyone retrieving the item that it contains glass.

Completed enclosure with mats and framesI like to go back and check on rehoused items like this after they have received some use to ensure that the new enclosures are functioning well.

Making Delrin Tools

Regular readers of Preservation Underground know that we spend a lot of time thinking and talking about tools. The variety and sometimes repetitive nature of our work requires a great many of them and we regularly experiment with new designs or materials to find implements that are more effective or ergonomic. Tool collecting can also be a little addictive.

A bone folder was probably the first bookbinding tool I ever purchased and remains one of the most used items at my bench. I’ve acquired or made many folders over the years of different shapes, sizes, and materials (like Teflon, metal, or nylon) and was amused to read that Jony Ive included a bone folder in his list of top 12 tools. It’s also the only reasonably priced tool on that list.

We have been using Delrin lifters in the lab for a few years now and Delrin folders have been growing in popularity in the bookbinding and conservation community, so I have been interested in making one. Luckily, during the pandemic, Rachel Penniman was able to attend a virtual workshop taught by Jeff Peachey on making Delrin and bamboo tools. We were able to set aside some time recently so that she could share what she learned in the workshop and we could all try making our own.

Delrin is a Dupont product that has a number of helpful properties for conservation work. It has a low coefficient of friction, but is stiffer than Teflon. It exhibits chemical and fatigue resistance and can also be very flexible when shaped to a thin tip. Peachey has written a great deal about the advantages of delrin folders and lifting tools.

The material can be purchased in a variety of sheets and bars, so there are many options for creating tools of different shapes. We started the day by looking at existing tools from our personal collections to discuss the features that we like or don’t like and how we might be able to make a better version from the Delrin stock.

Some of our starting tool blanks.

Delrin is easily shaped with cutting tools or abrasives and doesn’t come with the same health risks as shaping Teflon. A facemask and proper ventilation should still be deployed to avoid inhaling the dust.

Pictured above: box cutter, file, cabinet scraper, wooden bench hook, various grit sandpaper.

We were lucky to have good weather, so we set up an outside work space by the library loading dock. Views of the nearby Chapel were a bonus.

Shaping takes some time, so it was helpful to have clamps and wooden bench hooks on hand to support the work in progress.

Can we call this a Delrin “preform”?

After sawing, filing, scraping, and sanding for a few hours, we had produced a number of new tools. The nice thing about this material is that if you don’t like the shape you have produced, you can always shave it down some more or cut off the end and start again.

Now that I’ve gotten a feel for working with Delrin, I’m looking forward to experimenting with some larger, more rigid tools.

Miniature Screens

The internet loves things in miniature, and books are no exception. We’ve previously written about miniature figurines, photo albums, and other books – but today I’d like to add miniature screens to the mix. Recently this wonderful little book came into the lab for boxing: Japanese Screens in Miniature; Six Masterpieces of the Momoyama Period.

The Momoyama Period (1573–1615) was a time of great social change and constant warfare in Japan. A growing interest in the outside world and the introduction of European firearms contributed to new styles in both architecture and art. Large folding screens, covered in gold leaf and ornately painted, became an important decorative element inside the large fortresses built during this period.

The set of six small screens (~ 6″ tall) comes in a textile-covered wrapper and includes a short introduction with some historical context.

Each screen is six panels, mounted on board and folded in accordion style. A paper label with the title, artist, and date is adhered to the verso. The hinges are a little stiff, so I had to use some small weights to hold the screens open wide enough to image.

It is such a satisfying tactile experience to open each screen and unfold these delightful images. You just get the sense of how incredible the original objects must be, standing approximately 60″ tall with so much gilding.

Our New Golden Devil

We had the opportunity to order some additional brass type for our Kwikprint hot foil stamping machine recently, thanks in huge part to donors to our Adopt-a-Book program.  The additional sizes of type will give us more options when we need to make labels for new bindings, rebacked spines, or enclosures.

Along with the type, we were also able to get a small custom die of the reading devil who adorns the roof of the von der Heyden Pavilion – and it looks pretty amazing.

Reading devil, stamped in gold. Now that it’s in the machine and heated up, I will be spending the next hour looking around the lab for anything that I can stamp. The back of my Moleskine notebook was the first thing to go.

moleskin notebook stamped with reading devil

Now no one’s office supplies are safe! What should we stamp next?

Keeping It Together

Keeping it together can be a real challenge these days. There are many effective strategies for maintaining one’s mental health, but unfortunately this blog post isn’t about any of that. This blog is about library and archives materials. So I’m here to share a simple system for keeping it together when you are working on a textblock in need of some major intervention.

For the past several months, I’ve been working on (and writing about) a 16th century German book which has a number of problems. The textblock was already in pieces, but then it had to be taken apart completely for treatment. I was worried about keeping all the little bits organized, so that nothing would be lost or put in the wrong order as it underwent this long and multi-stage process.

As part of the pre-treatment documentation process, I collated the book using a digital copy of the same edition hosted by the Bavarian State Library. Early books are not paginated in the same way as modern ones, so you have to look for other clues to maintain the correct order. To help, I numbered each leaf in pencil before disbinding. The textblock is organized into sections of three folios. Some of the folds are intact with a little damage, but many of them have split entirely, leaving individual leaves. Each separated section was placed into a numbered paper folder, including any separated little bits of paper from that section.

Throughout the treatment, I have been trying to work on one section at a time to keep all the parts in easily manageable groups. This was true for washing, resizing, and mending.

Since all of the sections are composed of three folios, I started making marks on the outside of the paper folder to keep track of what I had finished in each packet. For example, in the mending and guarding stage it is best to work from the inside of the section to the outside. It can be a rather drawn out process of adding mends, then leaving them to dry under weight. I would cross out the number 3 as I finished the most interior folio, proceeding through the entire textblock before starting on the middle folios. Over the course of a couple of weeks doing this, it was very easy to just look through the stack of folders and see where to continue.

The first two sections have the most losses, so I’m still finishing some of the stabilization/infills on those – but overall the textblock is looking much improved!

(still in process, but you can compare to the “before” photo to see the progress)

There are probably many strategies for keeping the different parts of your treatments organized, but I have found this low-tech one to be very straightforward and helpful for books at least. What strategies/tools do you use?

Quick Pic: Fore-edge Tassels

I was in the Rubenstein Library the other day, reviewing the condition of some of the bound Ethiopic manuscripts for a research request, when I noticed something interesting going on at the fore-edge of one book.

It turns out that small lengths of colored thread have been sewn through the fore-edge of specific leaves to mark beginning passages of text.

I often see other examples of textblock “wayfinding” through the use of notched pages (otherwise known as a “thumb index”), leather index tabs, or even library patrons affixing their own post-it notes in circulating books – but I was, until now, unfamiliar with the fore-edge tassel. For books with parchment leaves, this seems like a very durable and effective page marking method. They certainly add a little more festive cheer than the typical brown leather tab.

MacGyver-ing the Big Books

Oversized books come with a lot of handling and treatment challenges. Just moving and opening them can be physically demanding and former owners may not have had a good place for storage. This atlas of London street maps from 1799 measures approximately 26″x22″. Prior to acquisition, it had been rebound in a modern limp leather binding and, in attempt to make it easier to transport or store, had been folded vertically in half. The leather became very chemically degraded and the outward-facing rear cover was torn off.

I’ve spent the last several months piecing the broken, brittle maps back together and now it is ready for some new covers. We’ve written on Preservation Underground before about boxing some of the biggest bindings in the collection and treatment of double folios. As in those cases, a lot of the specialized equipment we have in the lab is too small for books of this size. At times like these, you just have to put on the appropriate theme song, channel Richard Dean Anderson, and gather up all the clamps in the lab.

Resewing a book on raised cords requires that some tension be put on the sewing supports. We typically employ a sewing frame to hold them in the correct position during this process, but even the large wooden one we have in the lab is a bit too short. Luckily we have a very long, rigid metal ruler and uniform wooden press blocks to take its place.

I will be constructing a new binding with rigid boards for this atlas similar to another copy in the collection, and that requires some rounding and backing of the textblock spine. This process is traditionally done with a flat-faced hammer, in a lying press or job backer. The textblock spine is actually composed of compensating guard strips of flexible paper, to which the maps have been mounted. This allows me to reshape the atlas textblock safely. These guards also made the sewing process much easier, as I could just sew through them instead of a full-sized folio.

Our job backer is, again, about 4″ too short for this book to fit inside – so I attempted to recreate one with press boards and deep-throated C-clamps.

It had to be clamped to the table to allow me to tap with a wooden block between the raised bands and shape the spine. I had to adjust the center clamp as I moved from head to tail, then flip the entire contraption to get each side.

It ended up being fairly effective. With some temporary working boards laced on, you can see the gentle round and small textblock shoulder that is formed.

The atlas will get endbands and a strong linen spine lining before the final board attachment. The laced on, rigid boards will provide the protection and strength that such a large book requires. Although I’m sure those clamps will be needed again before it is finished.

Evidence in Print Waste

I recently shared some images of a 16th century printed book that is the lab for full treatment and I have since uncovered some additional information about the binding. As previously mentioned, the book was not in good working order when it was acquired, looking more like something left behind in the mines of Moria than a volume that you would be served in the reading room.

With so much water damage and loss to the covering materials, it was clear in my examination that the remains of multiple bindings exist on the wooden boards. The outer-most covering is a “quarter-style” strip of brown leather (both adhered and nailed to the boards) and block printed, blue paper sides. Underneath that first layer are wide leather corners and a brown or purple paste paper siding-up the boards.

The pastedowns have several layers of paper with both manuscript and print faintly visible underneath. The inner-most layers of covering material were adhered with a thick layer of hide glue, which has begun to fail either through age or the book’s exposure to moisture.  This made it possible to mechanically lift all the layers of pastedown away from the wooden board in one piece, revealing  the print waste.

I was surprised to see a New York newspaper from the late 1700s, especially since the text was printed in Frankfurt some 200 years prior. The date at the top left was slightly obscured by minor losses and the remnants of fanned-out sewing supports, adhered to the interior of the front board. Luckily the full run of The Daily Advertiser has been digitized and is freely available through America’s Historical Newspapers, so I was able to look for dates in 1786  ending in “4” that occurred on a Wednesday and locate the issue.

(1786, June 14). Daily Advertiser, II (405), p. [1]. Available from Readex: America’s Historical Newspapers.

I was able to repeat the process for the lower board and that pastedown actually includes the lower half of the same printed sheet. I would not have been able to identify it so quickly without a digital image of the full newspaper.

The print waste in this binding is a fascinating find on a number of levels. I will note that this particular newspaper is not uncommon, with many libraries holding copies; however, the advertisements printed on this page tell a number of stories. Many of the ads are focused on shipping, with cargo ships for sale and others for hire. There are advertisements for Canadian furs, Irish linen, glassware, and iron goods from England. My favorite is the notice describing a large reward for the perpetrators of a robbery or a smaller one for just the return of the stolen goods. But the darkest parts of our history are represented here as well: ships traveling from Barbados or Antigua carrying sugar and rum, redemptioner servants and slaves described as “healthy” and offered for sale.

We don’t have much information about provenance of this book, but the presence of this newspaper used as binding material gives us clues about when and where at least one of its many repair and rebinding campaigns may have occurred.  This important evidence will be stabilized and retained as part of the conservation treatment.