Category Archives: What’s In The Lab

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.

What’s In The Lab: Thursday Edition

Things have been quiet this week as we await the upcoming move-in day. The camps have ended, there are fewer tours happening on the quad. It’s been nice to just get some work done.

We like big books and we cannot lie. Especially History of Medicine items. Tabulae arteriarum corporis humani (1822)
Charming Chinese pamphlet. 陈梦海写 ; 韩敏画 (1966)
removing glue
Removing glue from spines is a great way to spend your afternoon.
book truck with a lot of boxes
Books with enclosures, ready to go to the Library Service Center.

Blast From the Past

Twenty years ago when I started working at Duke we had a “morgue” of broken books. This is where damaged books came, and sat, until they could be repaired. Most of these were very brittle or nearly so. To clear the space for work benches and tables, we decided to tie books up with cotton tying tape and insert a flag requesting the book back if it was used.

Today, we got one back!

book tied with string
The Methodist Hymn Book

The flag is two sided. The front alerts the patron to the fact that the binding is fragile. It also asks Circulation to return to book to Conservation after use.

The back explains how to photocopy a fragile book. I created this flag using images from our colleagues at the University of Kansas libraries. Unfortunately the link to that page no longer exists.

It’s fun to see a 20-year-old, low cost and easy solution actually working. The book came back and now we will address it either by repairing the brittle leather cover, or boxing it to keep the detached covers with the text block. This item has been scanned by the Internet Archive, so boxing may be the answer since there will be digital access to it.

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.

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!

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.

North Korea as Seen Through Stamps

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 of stamp albums stacked on top of one anotherThe collection consists of five stapled pamphlets and two bound books, all full of loose stamps in need of securing.

The stamp albums that are pamphlets spread out on a flat surface.

A top down view of the the stamp albums that are in book format.

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.

A hand pulls back one of the mylar slips and also bends one of the loose stamps away from the page.

Within each of these slips sits either a single stamp or multiple stamps, which varies from page to page.

A page from one of the stamp albums showing an assortment of stamps focused on North Korean fine art.

A page from one of the stamp albums showing an assortment of stamps focused on North Korean natural landmarks.

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.

Two photos side by side. The photo on the left shows a brush being used to apply wheat starch paste to the top edge of the back of a stamp. The photo on the right shows the stamp being placed back into its mylar slip and adhered to the page.

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.

A page from one of the stamp albums showing a larger sheet that is perforated to hold multiple stamps. The stamps depict images of Kim Il-sung, various antique cars, and a music score. There is also accompanying text in Korean and in English.

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.

A page from one of the stamp albums showing an assortment of stamps focused on Kim Jong-il meeting with various international leaders.

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, you can click any of these links.

Stapled Instead of Sewn

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.

An opened book revealing the gutter of the pages where a staple can be seen.

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.

Considerations

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.

Treatment

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.

A picture of the stapled textblock post spine cleaning being held in a hand. The spine and staples are protected with a thin Japanese tissue, so you can still see the staples.

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.

Phooey Fanuly

Highlighting, underlining, sticky notes, more sticky notes.  If patrons decide to mark their place or organize their thoughts inside library books, it usually ends up coming to Conservation because it is difficult for the next patron to use without distraction.  We get these a lot.

Underline all the things!

“You Don’t Look 35, Charlie Brown” came to the lab because someone has written their notes in the book. Normally if books are heavily marked we will send them to Collection Development for evaluation. If a clean copy can be purchased, we will replace it. I decided we should keep this one, notes and all, because the commentary was sort of insightful. We did replace the cover, as the original was heavily damaged.

We hear you, Lucy.

It also made us laugh, and that counts towards wanting to keep the record of this use, right?

Cookies will ALWAYS solve problems.

Call it “provenance” and have a cookie. Happy Friday to all. May Charlie Brown finally get to kick the football this Superbowl Weekend.

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?