All posts by Henry Hebert

Media in Books, Revisited

We’ve written before about book publishers’ novel and sometimes misguided attempts at including additional media in bindings (see Robots 1:1). Many new acquisitions to the circulating collection include supplementary images, audio, or video on CD, and they often come to Conservation Services for a pocket that can be physically attached to the book to keep all the parts together.

Night Falls on the Berlin of the Roaring Twenties (2018) is a wonderful graphic exploration of the cultural and technological “golden age” of the Weimar-era, immediately proceeding the rise of National Socialism.  Illustrations by Robert Nippoldt, accompanied by texts from Boris Pofalla (translated by Ida Hattemer-Higgins), profile prominent individuals and places in the city.

To complete the experience, an audio CD of music from that period is included inside the rear board – and here is where the book design really shines.

The rear paste-down features a print of a “cathedral style” table-top radio. The CD is printed to match the design of the radio and mounts to round plastic knob, rather than being stored in a plastic case or paper pocket. The audio track list is printed on the adjoining flyleaf as if it were coming from the radio.

But the best part is when you remove the CD to reveal the vacuum tubes and other internal components of the radio! We like to complain about modern structures and design in book publishing, but in this case they really got it right.

Quick Pic: Exhibits Incoming!

Despite the library (and campus in general) feeling very quiet and empty this past year, there has actually been a lot going on. Library exhibits are no exception and there are currently two really wonderful shows up and available by appointment in the building. Plans are already underway for bigger and more exciting events in the fall. This very large and sturdy crate containing a loan for an upcoming show just arrived this week.  Stay tuned for more details!

Maps of Durham

Another very exciting and very large book arrived in the lab this week: a volume of the Sanborn fire insurance maps for the city of Durham.

The Sanborn maps were used as a reference by insurance underwriters to assess risk and determine how much insurance to offer without having to physically travel to the location. Originally published in 1913, the contents of this book were continually updated until 1931 to accurately reflect changes in buildings throughout the city. Rather than reprint the maps annually with updates, corrections were just pasted in. You can see the evidence of these corrections everywhere. For example, the endsheets are covered in additional indexes:

Looking closely, you can see printed instructions to the corrector for which indexes to paste over with the update. Small cutouts of updated maps are also pasted, layer after layer, throughout the interior.
The binding is reflective of common ledger bindings from the late 19th and early 20th century, which feature a number of structural components designed to allow such a large and heavy book to function. These include both leather and heavy cloth spine linings, a shaped rigid spine piece, and cloth reinforced hinges.
Despite the added strength from those materials, they have not been able to withstand the stresses that this book places on them when opening – particularly as they have aged and weakened. Large portions of leather and the “hubs” (raised bands) are missing from the spine. The leather joints have completely split and the spine piece is just hanging on by a thread now. Fortunately the sewing and spine linings remain intact and functional.

Luckily, most of the stamped leather tabs remain.

While examining the book, I was keeping an eye out for some of Durham’s more notable landmarks.  The Erwin Cotton Mill, located at the corner of 9th and Main street, was easy to spot.

I also found the oldest operating business on 9th street, the White Star Laundry. That corner looks a little different these days. The building in yellow was demolished in the 1950s.

When I came across the Liberty Warehouse, it looked like it was in the wrong place.  But the building that I have always known as the Liberty Warehouse (now the site of an apartment building by the same name) was actually the third iteration of the warehouse, built in 1940.

I even found the infamous “Canopener” bridge on Gregson St!

The Sanborn maps contain a wealth of information about the cities they describe and are an important resource for scholarship. We will be working with the curators at the Rubenstein Library to determine the best treatment plan for stabilizing and housing this volume so that it can be safely accessed by patrons.

If you are interested in learning more about the history of your city from Sanborn maps, you might be able to find digital images of the maps through the Library of Congress.

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.