There’s something special about a book made with handmade paper. You don’t come across it too often in general collections, but, when you do, you want to take extra good care of it. This week a beautiful example of this arrived at the lab in the form of The Poems of Sappho, printed in 1910. As you can see in the images below, the book was in rather rough shape. I could tell it would be the perfect candidate for a new case. This means I would need to make new covers for this book.
Upon opening it, I immediately noticed the lovely deckled edges of the paper and what appeared to be a watermark.
A watermark is an image or design that is impressed into the paper during the papermaking process. This is easier to see when you hold the paper up to a light like so.
The main purpose of a watermark is to identify the papermaker; however, this watermark goes even further and tells us where the paper was made as well. In this case, the paper was handmade in Italy by a group called “The PM co”, which could possibly refer to The Paper Mills Company.
Saving this paper and the vital information on it is going to be my priority as I treat this book. This should be relatively straightforward, but what happens when two of these pages have been glued to the covers?
Preserving the Paper
When the book was bound, the pastedowns were made with the first and last sheet of the textblock of the book rather than using a separate decorative paper.
In order to make a new case for a book, I have to remove the old covers. I must lift the original handmade paper from the front and back boards to retain it. This can be done by taking an exceptionally thin metal spatula and running it back and forth under the paper to loosen and separate the paper from the covers.
This can be a tricky and time-consuming process if the paper is old and brittle, or if the paper is well adhered to the covers and doesn’t want to come off. Luckily,both pages cooperated with me and I managed to remove the covers without damaging the paper.
A lot of the original board material had to be lifted along with the paper, so the next step is to remove that material from the pages. Leaving it on would make it nearly impossible to neatly reattach the pastedowns when I made a new case for this book. So, I removed as much as I could mechanically before moving onto the rest of the treatment.
With the brand-new case complete, the book and it’s handmade paper are better protected and ready to be handled.
As someone who repairs books for a living, the idiom “don’t judge a book by its cover” can have a much more literal meaning than expected. I’m regularly encountering books that seem to need only one kind treatment from the outside, but then have more problems than I realized on the inside. This can be a bit frustrating when you’ve mentally prepared yourself for one kind of project and instead find yourself tackling more than you had planned for. Even so, it is especially satisfying to finish a treatment on a book that you felt was going to be complicated. In today’s blog, I’ll be sharing my most recent encounter with a book that I misjudged.
The Perkins Library has a great number of collections of Arabic books like the ones you see below.
These books are especially striking due to the eye-catching uniformity of their spines. Outside of how aesthetically pleasing they are, there is an added benefit to the fact that all the books are identical in design. Take a look at this collection of books below. Do any of them look different than the rest?
If you happened to notice the fourth book from the left in particular, then you can see what I meant earlier by “an added benefit”. Thanks to the collections precise design, it’s all the more obvious when something isn’t quite right.
In this case, this poor book seems to have been crushed under something as well as torn along the spine. We certainly can’t leave the book to be handled by patrons in this state, so back to the lab it goes.
At this point, I had assumed the only problem I was dealing with was the crushed spine of the covers/textblock. Unfortunately for me, I didn’t realize that this book had been through more than just some extreme pressure. Right as you open the book to its title page, you’re greeted by discolored paper and some significant black speckling. The spotting continues a good 20 or so pages.
These are the tell-tale signs that not only did the book get wet at some point, but mold had made itself at home here as well.
Now, luckily this isn’t a terrible amount of mold to be dealing with. However, it does mean I have to add several more steps to my treatment before I can tackle the original issue of the crushed spine.
Let’s say there hadn’t been any mold in this book. What would my treatment have looked like?
First, I would remove the covers so I could assess the damage done to the spine of the textblock. Once I had addressed that, I would prepare the textblock as I normally would for a recase. Finally, I would repair the covers by making a new spine piece to replace the damaged one, and reattached the textblock to the case.
Now, I will have to remove all of the mold first before I can start anything else.
Based on the dry and powdery consistency of the mold, I can tell that it is no longer active and can be safely cleaned by hand. To do so, I used a soot sponge to manually clean the mold and debris off of every page.
You can see the immediate difference before and after using the sponge on the old mold, both on the pages and the sponge itself.
The soot sponge is mostly likely also picking up dirt and dust on the pages as well, but regardless it’s clear the book needed a good cleaning.
Now that the textblock is free of the residual mold, I can finally get to the treatment I had planned at the start. This book will be back on the shelves and ready for patrons in no time!
Stamp collecting, often associated with philately (or the study of stamps), is a hobby that has been around since the first postage stamp was issued by Britain in May of 1840. Since then, stamp collecting has been one of the world’s most popular hobbies, resulting in the production of over 400,000 different types of stamp by the year 2000.
Many of the stamps produced are from smaller countries seeking to bring in much needed revenue, which they achieve through the printing of limited run stamps specifically for stamp collectors. One such country happens to be North Korea. This fact came to my attention when a collection of North Korean stamp albums arrived at our lab.
The collection consists of five stapled pamphlets and two bound books, all full of loose stamps in need of securing.
I will mention that it is unclear whether these are actually functional stamps or just coated paper made to look like stamps. There is no noticeable adhesive on the backs of them, and even a UV light analysis and our ordering specialist couldn’t get us any closer to a conclusive answer.
Regardless, we couldn’t risk all of these stamps being lost or stolen. I had to find a way to contain them all so that patrons could access these albums without leaving the fate of these stamps to chance.
How do we treat these items?
Each of these albums is made up of pages containing several small slips of mylar with the bottom edge adhered to the actual page.
Within each of these slips sits either a single stamp or multiple stamps, which varies from page to page.
Although the stamps don’t necessarily fly about or out of the slips as you flip through the pages, it’s obvious that they aren’t exactly going to just stay in place over time.
So, what is the solution here?
Since these mylar slips were already at my disposal, it made the most sense to use them to my advantage. After applying a thin bead of wheat starch paste to the top of each stamp, I tipped each stamp into the mylar and made sure the bottom of the stamp was placed as far down into the slip as possible.
This way the stamp is secured in place without having to glue up the entire back of the item, and the mylar acts as a catch for the bottom of the stamp so that they can’t be pulled out as easily. With the stamps now safely secured, these albums are ready for a closer look at their contents.
How do we interpret these items?
These albums seem to be geared towards foreigners and tourists. Of the seven albums here, three contain text in Korean, Chinese, and English, one contains text in just Korean and English, and the other three contain text in just Korean and Chinese. Seeing as none of these are written only in Korean, it can be assumed that these albums were not intended solely for Korean audiences.
As you have also probably noticed, these stamps cover a wide variety of subjects as well. It seems as though you can find a stamp on just about anything if you really wanted to. This is probably for the benefit of appealing to as many collectors as possible who might only collect certain kinds of stamps.
The world of stamps is quite intriguing, especially considering how they can become vehicles for propaganda. Are you a stamp collector or a philatelist (someone who studies stamps)? Leave a comment with your thoughts on this collection if you are, and leave a comment even if you aren’t! We’d love to hear what you think about our new addition to the Perkins Library. If you’d like to find these items in our catalog, youcanclickanyoftheselinks.
When you look at how books are generally made, you’ll find that a majority of them are either sewn with thread, glued together as individual sheets, or occasionally bound with a combination of sewing and commercial glue.
On rarer occasions, a book will be stapled together. As luck would have it, one of these books recently came across my bench in need of a new cover. At first glance, you can’t immediately tell the difference between a stapled book and a sewn book.
It’s not until you open the book up and look at the gutter of one of the signatures that you might be able to see whether the book is stapled or not.
It’s even easier once you’ve taken the cover off and can look directly at the spine of the textblock. As you can see in the images below, there are staples running through a significant portion of the signatures of this book.
Now, in a perfect world where I have all the time and patience I could want, I might remove the staples, mend any damage to the signatures in the process, sew the book back together, and then make a new cover. In this case, such an approach would be too labor intensive and time consuming. As the only senior conservation technician charged with maintaining the general collections, I cannot devote that much time to one book when I might have as many as 25 other books also waiting to be treated.
With binding structures like this, the treatment decisions tend to boil down to preserving the provenance of the object vs choosing to rebind the book for greater longevity. In this blog post by Peter D. Verheyen in 2011, it’s evident that these wire bindings are a curious part of the history of bookbinding. Since they’re unusual, and since our goal is to conserve as much of the original item as possible, one might think that saving the original binding would be the obvious choice.
But how do technicians in general collections conservation (such as myself) reconcile keeping as much of the original object intact when we also have to prioritize making sure that the book can withstand regular use from patrons? If the staples in the binding had been so rusted that they were breaking whenever I opened the book, I would most likely take a more involved approach to the treatment of this book. An example of such a treatment would be adhering a cotton cambric to the spine and sewing through it along with the textblock, which you can see an example of in this paper by our very own Beth Doyle.
Luckily, in this case, both the paper and the staples were in good enough condition that a secondary treatment wasn’t necessary. However, it could be argued that perhaps I should have gone ahead with the more complex treatment just in case the staples failed in the future. In the end, these are the dilemmas we face in general collections conservation.
I decided that the best course of action would be to clean the spine of its original lining and glue and replace it with a strong Japanese tissue adhered with wheat starch paste. By doing so, the spine is stabilized and strengthened while the staples are also given additional support. This reduces the potential damage that could occur from future use and repeated opening and closing of the book.
With the textblock now in a stable state, I could prepare a new case for the book. The original case had already failed and since the original materials were too fragile to keep using, it didn’t make sense to try and reuse the case. Instead, I made an inset on the front board in order to preserve the original cover material. If you’d like to learn more about the book, you can find the catalog record here.
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.
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.
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.
It’s also nice to see people in person, and to be more present with this side of the library. Technical services can often feel overlooked because it is literally behind the scenes and in another building than the main library. But books wouldn’t get to the shelf without the hard working tech services staff!
What do you do over at Smith?
Today I got a note about pests in Rubenstein Technical Services. While there I looked at some collection materials that had complicated housing needs, downloaded environmental data, and sorted through some circulating materials that I sent back from Conservation. Of course no day as a middle manager is complete without at least one meeting so I attended that.
My work days at Smith allow me to focus on our documentation including updating our collections disaster plan, and writing new workflow documentation for our environmental monitoring program. I am also a short walk from the Lilly Library and the Music Library. On Smith days I can walk over to collect environmental data, or consult with the librarians on East Campus if they have questions for Conservation.
But one of the best parts about working here is that I get a sneak peek at the materials headed to Conservation like this truck of music scores ready for pamphlet binding.
I also spied these three volumes of “Suave Mechanicals” ready for Conservation’s Official Reference collection in the lab. Our reference collection has grown over the years and has books on everything from coptic bindings to blueprints and electronic media.
Our very own Erin Hammeke has an essay in Suave Mechanicals v. 6. Erin, Chela Metzger from UCLA, and Alexander L. Ames from The Rosenbach, wrote an essay on the history of Anabaptist bookbindings titled “The Faith that Binds: Swiss Anabaptist Devotional Bookbindings in Early America.” I cannot wait to read this. The rest of volume 6 looks pretty darned good, too.
For more inside scoops on what happens at Smith Warehouse look no further than “Signal Boost,” the official blog of DUL Technical Services and Rubenstein Library’s blog “The Devil’s Tale.”
Taking a Break
Preservation Underground will be on hiatus until the new year. It is time to rest, recharge, and enjoy the season. We wish all of you a peaceful and healthy holiday, and a very happy new year. We will see you in 2021.
As part of the Rubenstein Library Renovation Project a few years ago, the Special Collections Hallway Gallery was enlarged and rebranded as the Rubenstein Photography Gallery. The 67′ by 25′ space features a different collection from the Archive of Documentary Arts every few months. Because it still functions as a primary route through the building, the gallery provides an inviting environment for visitors to experience the library’s photographic collections.
We have been monitoring the environmental conditions within the space continually since it reopened in 2015. Although the temperature stays very stable in the building throughout the year, we do see some fluctuation in the relative humidity (RH) for the gallery. In the coldest winter months, public spaces tend to become very dry because of the heating systems. The question has been lingering in our minds: what are the environmental conditions that the artwork is experiencing inside the frame? Last fall, a small working group from Conservation, Exhibitions, Preservation, and the Archive of Documentary Arts gathered to design a simple experiment to try and answer this question.
As part of this experiment, we wanted to not only measure the temperature and RH within our normal frames, but see if there was something simple we could do to buffer any changes to those conditions. While there are many options available to change the conditions inside a frame, we determined the easiest (and cheapest) option would be to seal frame contents in a relatively impermeable package.
Framed photographs in our galleries include several components inside each frame. The glazing of our frames is a UV-filtering acrylic. Beneath that is a window mat cut to the size of the artwork. The print is mounted to another piece of mat board underneath. At the back of the package is a piece of corrugated board made of white plastic (polypropylene). We hypothesized that by taping the outside edges of this “package” of material with polypropylene tape that the air exchange inside the frame could be significantly reduced and therefore reduce the change in RH. We decided to set up two identical frames for comparison, one with a sealed package and one without.
We acquired two HOBO MX2300 Temp/RH dataloggers with external sensors and I set to work fitting them into two of our standard gallery frames.
The datalogger sensor is much thicker than the art that usually goes inside one of these frames, so I had to build up the thickness of the package with several layers of mat board. I created a central stack of mat board with a window cut to fit the sensor. I chose not to use full sheets of mat board for a couple of reasons:
We have a lot of small scrap pieces already and I didn’t want to waste materials.
Frame packages typically only have one full mat board sheet and window mat inside. Adding five or more full sheets to the package seemed like a lot of additional material, which might act as added RH buffer.
The rate of change between the two frames was the important variable. As long as each package was constructed with the same quantity of material inside, we should be able to get a representative comparison.
An inkjet print with a cut mat and the glazing was placed on top of the sensor. The sensor cable was passed through a hole cut in the corrugated plastic, allowing me to mount the logger to the back of the frame. The contents were all stored in a stable 45% RH environment for several weeks before installation. With the package all together, I sealed up the outer edges as well as the hole in the plastic backing with clear tape. The sealed package was then placed inside the metal and wood frames.
We installed our sealed and unsealed experiment frames in the gallery in early December 2017, along with a new show. The frames were mounted on a small wall, next to the window to our reading room, so as to be less of a distraction from the rest of the exhibit and to be in close proximity to the data logger which monitors the gallery space.
The inkjet prints we included in each frame had a short description of the experiment so that curious patrons would understand the the purpose of their unusual positioning.
After five months, we took the frames down and compiled all the environmental data. In the graph below, the gallery conditions are marked in grey, the unsealed frame is marked in yellow, and the sealed frame is marked in blue. Temperature values are displayed on the left, while RH values are displayed on the right.
The data confirms that the space maintains temperature very well, staying right around 70 degrees Fahrenheit. The RH in the gallery space does bounce around quite a bit throughout the winter months, fluctuating between around 50% and 20%. Late January 2018 seems to have been particularly volatile.
We were very surprised at how well each frame responded to the conditions in the gallery. Even inside the unsealed frame, we see a significant smoothing out of the RH graph: the over 30 point spread of the gallery RH is reduced to around 12% change in the unsealed frame and the contents did not drop below 30% RH. The sealed frame package performed very well, with only about 6% overall RH change in 5 months.
While the methodology of this experiment does have flaws, it is an inexpensive and adaptable approach to measuring environmental conditions. We can be reassured that our normal framing practices protect prints from drastic changes, even in the most volatile months. We can also take the relatively simple and cost-effective step of sealing the frame package to provide additional protection for more sensitive materials. This experiment has raised questions of how other methods, such as sealing the frame package differently or adding pre-conditioned board, might compare. It is likely that our investigations will continue, so that we can make the best choices for our collections.
On a gloomy Los Angeles morning earlier this week, I rode a driver-less tram up to the Getty Center to attend a one day seminar on Microfade Testing (MFT).
Speakers from institutions around the world discussed how they have been using this technology in recent years to support exhibits programs and make informed decisions about safely displaying cultural heritage material. The seminar concluded with demonstrations of several designs of MFT equipment, like the system pictured below.
It was such a delight to talk with other conservators about how they are using technologies like this in their own institutions. While I was able to learn a great deal about the application and some limitations of MFT, many questions remain about how we might successfully implement it here at Duke. In the meantime, the seminar highlighted some research opportunities that we can begin pursuing with technology we already have on hand, like multispectral imaging.
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.
By Rachel Penniman, Senior Conservation Technician
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.
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.