Category Archives: What We Find In Books

Quick Pic: Remove If You Need To

General Collections conservation is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you are going to get from Circulation. Lucky for us, this gentle reader only got through a couple chapters, not the whole text. We’ll take this over highlighting or underlining any day.

Sticky note on book
We do need to, thanks.
Sticky note on book
The fading would indicate these have been here a while.
Book with a lot of sticky notes
Arrows on stickies: 21st Century manicules?

To the Bookbinder.

The ancient Greek mathematician Euclid is widely known as the father of geometry, and his 13 book treatise, Elements, was one of the most famous mathematical texts in antiquity. The original text (written around 300 BCE) is no longer available to us, but it was widely copied and translated into many different languages over the centuries, with the first English translation appearing in 1570 CE. There have been many editions of the book as scholars analyze and retranslate extant manuscript copies, along with early commentaries and annotations.

A brown leather book sitting on a table surface in 3/4 view, showing detached boards. This 1719 English edition recently came across my bench with detached boards and powdery leather, fairly common condition problems for a leather trade binding from this period. The textblock was a bit dirty, with grime building up particularly at the folded engravings. As I was surface cleaning the first of them, I noticed some interesting instructions for the bookbinder included at the bottom of the print:

“To the Bookbinder. Page 44 Observe that every Scheme is made to fold out fronting the page directed to; And so, that when they are unfolded all y figures may ly clear out of the Book.”

The binder did successfully follow the instructions to make the diagrams visible “clear out of the book.”

It’s a useful arrangement to have the sheet extend that far out, so as the reader is going through the steps used to construct an object using a straightedge and compass, they can view the entire diagram and follow along visually. Otherwise, if the diagrams were bound in the usual way, the recto of one page might obscure the diagram you were looking at and you would be forced to flip back and forth.

What I love about these simple instructions is that they provide a little glimpse into the design and production of this object. Many tradespeople contributed to making the book, but they were working in different places and at different times. Including instructions for assembly in the prints is very helpful. For books sold in sheets, the printer or book seller may never meet the binder and be able to explain how it should be assembled. Had the book come to the lab in a worse state, with broken sewing  or parts detached, that little note might also be useful for me.

What We Put In Books

Datalogger inside book
Datalogger inside book

I love finding things inside books. We even have a category on Preservation Underground called “What We Find In Books.”  Photographs, notes, flowers, printers waste…they all tell a story. But what if we put something inside a book intentionally?

We wanted to conduct an experiment that would compare the environment inside a book compared to the the environment of the stacks. Luckily we have a discarded book that already has a small hole cut out for a datalogger.  I made the hole bigger to accommodate an Onset HOBO dataloggers. While this book now has less of a cellulosic load and may not compare exactly to other “whole” books, I think it will give us some interesting data.

The book is quietly gathering temperature and humidity data every 15 minutes. We will report our findings at a later date.  Until then, happy environmental monitoring!

 

Defy Inflation by Cruising

Much of the news this week is dominated by either underwater ship wrecks or inflation. After doing a little research about an early 20th century literary magazine that came across my bench, I discovered that one advertisement serendipitously intersects both of those topics.

This copy of The Bookman came in for some minor repairs before going on exhibit. The covers are the main advertising spaces for this publication and mostly feature some pretty dull descriptions of books available from George H. Doran or Harcourt, Brace and Company. It being June, the image of a steam ship and “Ideal Summer Vacations” advertised on the back really caught my eye.

Eight days in Bermuda for only $90 sounds really nice, but was it a good deal in 1924? The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ CPI Inflation Calculator estimates that sum to be the same as around $1600 today. That seems like a reasonable amount to spend on a long cruise; however, after a quick search I discovered that many of the major cruise lines today are offering the same voyage for less than half of that price. Cruises (at least to Bermuda) have beat inflation!

I’m sure the accommodations on the modern vessels are a lot more comfortable than a hundred year old steam ship, too. In reading about the ships listed in the advertisement, I discovered that they both ended up sinking. The Fort St. George was destroyed by British aircraft during WWII, while the Fort Victoria only sailed another 5 years from the date of this ad before being struck by another ship and sinking in New York Harbor. The wreckage was later dynamited to prevent it damaging to other boats. Luckily all of the Victoria’s passengers were rescued by the Coast Guard before she sank.

Quick Pic: Matching Outfits

We just love this illustration of a Dacian warrior and his horse in armor from Thomas Hope’s Costumes of the Greeks and Romans (1962 edition).

Illustration of Dacian warrior riding a horse, both in chainmail armor

At first glance, though, it kind of looks like they were wearing matching crocheted outfits. I don’t know that such a thing has been done before, but based on the number of images I can find of crocheted chainmail and horses in sweaters, it seems entirely possible.

Crochet armor, horses in sweaters

Hidden Print Waste

A lot of different materials go into producing a book’s binding and for centuries bookbinders have used pieces of broken or discarded books to produce new ones. We often find scraps of manuscript or print, on either paper or parchment, used as spine linings, as endsheets, or even as full covers for bindings (see images from the collections of Princeton or Library of Congress here). We often describe this practice as waste (manuscript waste, printer’s waste, binding waste, etc.). Some important texts have only survived because they were reused in this way.

While some examples of binding waste (like covers or endleaves) are immediately obvious, others are only revealed by damage. This early 18th century printed book came in for rehousing recently and shows some of the fascinating things that can be hidden beneath the surface.

In areas where leather corners have come off or the sprinkled brown paper sides have lifted you can see some text peaking through. The book itself is printed in Latin, but the waste used in the binding is in German. This edition was printed in Munich, so it makes sense that a contemporary binding would also include waste in German.

In addition to the mechanical damage to the paper covering material along the board corners and edges, there is also some insect damage along the faces of both boards.

The insects have eaten away at the first several layers of binding material, revealing many layers of print – sometimes in different orientations. It seems our print waste was not just used as a board lining, but the boards themselves are composed of many layers of print laminated together.

I am usually not excited to encounter an insect-damaged book, but in this case the bugs have created a rather beautiful object – almost like a typographic topographical map – and have revealed useful information about its production.

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.

When the Paper is too Nice

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.

Books Can be Deceiving

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 Problem

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.

The Solution

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!