Category Archives: What’s In The Lab

Quick Pic: What a Difference a [Press] Makes

Two books side by side, one thinner and one thickerWhile these two books look very different, they are actually the exact same edition. They were both printed with the same setting of type and on the same paper. The book on the left is in a later binding than the one on the right, with some added edge gilding. But why the difference in textblock thickness?  The one on the left was pressed very hard by the binder. It’s pretty incredible how compact a textblock can become with enough pressure -and pressing is not without its downsides. These books were letterpress printed and the dimensional impression of the type, which is an artifact of the printing process, has been completely pressed out of the thinner copy.

What’s a Flap Book Without a Flap?

By Rachel Penniman, Conservation Specialist

What do you when your anatomical flap book has gone all to pieces? This book arrived with every flap piece detached from its page but all still in good condition. Having the flaps detached actually made it easier to see the usually hidden backs of those parts, but what is a flap book without a flap?

To maintain access to the individual parts but still retain the interactive and movable essence of the book, we decided not to reattach the loose parts to their pages. Instead they were put in Mylar pockets hinged to a Mylar backing sheet. So the flaps move in a way similar to what was originally intended while still allowing the back of each part to be more accessible.

 

Poster Assessment

As part of her 8 week summer internship, we’ve been trying to give Phebe some experience in the different kinds of collections care activities that Conservation Services regularly undertakes. This week, we took a break from enclosures and treatments to talk about collection assessment.

The Rubenstein Library holds a collection of papers from Bobbye S. Ortiz, which includes several folders of eye-catching 20th century activism posters from around the world. This collection has seen increased use recently from undergraduate classes and exhibits. As parts of the collection have been called down to the reading room, we have become aware of some condition and housing issues. This seemed like a good opportunity to both introduce condition assessments and prioritize the needs of an increasingly popular set of library materials.

After talking through the kinds of data that we would need to collect in order to develop treatment workflows for the collection, we built an assessment tool using Google Forms. The form feeds data into a shared spreadsheet with each submission. We have found entering information into a form to be a little more user-friendly for an item level assessment than trying to directly fill in a row on a spreadsheet. It also allows us to easily make use of controlled vocabulary, so that the data can be effectively sorted later.

With our assessment instrument in-hand, we gave it a test run through 15 or so of the posters in the collection. As part of this process, we could go through each question in-depth, and show specific examples of object characteristics that we intended to capture with the form. Pretty quickly we realized that we needed to add a field or change the format of fields, but the tool makes that very easy to do.

There are over 100 posters in this collection, but Phebe has been making good progress over the last couple of days. When the assessment is complete, we can coordinate with the curators and Rubenstein staff to plan systematic rehousing or conservation treatment for the items that need some sort of intervention.

Micro CT of Many (Mini) Manikins

 

Conservator Erin Hammeke has been working with History of Medicine Curator, Rachel Ingold and SMIF Research and Development Engineer, Justin Gladman to facilitate the scanning of our 22 ivory manikins using a High Resolution X-ray Computed Tomography Scanner (Micro CT scanner). These high resolution 3-D scans allow us to see internal components of the manikins, thoroughly document them and their component parts, and also to create 3D printed models to allow for unfettered access and handling of surrogate manikins by patrons. So far, we have imaged over half of the collection of 22 manikins to date over 7 imaging sessions.

manikin components and repairs

base of manikin with repair

Conservation’s support for this project has been a team effort. First we researched the safety of the process for ivory and component parts. Then we thought through the logistics of ensuring their physical safety and security during imaging. Over the past year, Conservation Specialist, Rachel Penniman has been carefully boxing each of the manikins in terrific custom padded artifact boxes (see Quick Pic: Boxing Near-Naked Ladies) to assist with their safe transport to the SMIF facility on campus. After transport to SMIF, Erin unpacks the manikins and removes their parts before securely wrapping them in low density material to support the manikin during the 20-30 minute scan. Thanks to Beth for sewing custom foam supports for this project!

organs separated from manikin

Smaller, removable internal organs are imaged in separate scans to enable an adjustment to the scanning resolution and isolation of the component parts in the digital scan and 3D print.

Ivory manikin on small wooden bed

This photos shows some of the ways in which Erin strapped and supported a manikin with a loose arm during scanning, as well as still images from the scan that show internal metal fasteners and repairs that are not visible upon external examination.

3D printed manikin

And here is an example of a 3D print of one of our solid manikins showing fantastic detail.

Keep an eye out for a more in depth Duke News story about the project by science writer Robin Smith, PhD.

Vibrant Parchment Repairs

A 12th century Latin manuscript was brought down to the lab yesterday and we all had to stop work for a few minutes to ogle the colorful stitching used to piece together some of the leaves.

Parchment can be oddly shaped or become damaged during production, so it was a common medieval practice to mend or patch the leaves with colorful thread.  Sometimes you can tell that the stitching was done before the scribe started writing. For example, this column of text just continues around the thread.

The colors of the thread are so intense that I began to wonder if they were original. What pigments or dyes could make such a vibrant yellow/green color? A few years ago, Beth had taken Cheryl Porter’s workshop, Recreating the Medieval Palette, and just happened to have the color swatches they made on hand. You can read some excellent reviews of that workshop here and here.

The buckthorn and cochineal are actually pretty close matches to the colors of the thread in our manuscript. Being closed inside a book would also have protected them from light exposure and potentially fading.  If you’d like to see more examples of colorful stitching in medieval books, check out this post from Erik Kwakkel or the post it inspired on Colossal.

Nothin’ But Net

by Erin Hammeke, Senior Conservator for Special Collections

We recently treated and housed a collection of 19th century photo albums documenting travels in China by Charles Davis Jameson. Most of the albums had very degraded leather covers that we treated by consolidating with Klucel G, making Mylar wrappers for some, and simply housing in protective enclosures for others. One accordion album posed a particular challenge with its shaped wooden boards and silk covering. The silk cover was shattering and had become completely detached from the front board. We decided to make a wrapper for the loose front cover and house it in an enclosure with the book.

Before treatment photo of photo album front cover.

The back cover, however, was still extant but very tenuously attached.

Before treatment photo of photo album with original silk cover cover shattered and separating from the wooden board, making it vulnerable to damage during handling. We wanted to find a quick and simple solution to stabilize the rear covering and decided to use a lightweight Nylon netting, toned with acrylic, and wrapped around the silk covering and wooden board to contain and protect it.

Photo album after treatment photo showing back cover with acrylic toned nylon netting wrapped around pillow-shaped board and adhered to material cut to the size of the inside cover.

After treatment detail image of nylon netting over album boards.

The netting was adhered to a Mylar insert, cut to the size of the front cover with 3M ATG transfer tape. A leaf of archival paper that matched the tone and quality of the album paper was adhered with double-stick tape on top, sandwiching the netting between layers of archival material and protecting the facing photograph from abrasion from the netting.

After treatment photo showing netting wrapped around back covered and adhered to a Mylar insert; a sympathetic archival paper is adhered on top of that.

The netting is stretched over the pillow-shaped wooden board and the cut end of the Nylon is left open at the board hinge. We were very happy with this quick and easy solution.

That is One Flat Hat

By Rachel Penniman, Senior Conservation Technician

Recently a researcher notified the Rubenstein Library staff that there was a hat with a pin in an envelope inside the manuscript box containing the James McGowan papers. A hat in an envelope?

Open records box with folders inside.
This box doesn’t look like it would contain a hat

Yes, a hat! Indeed there was a very smashed, Civil War era, silk hat in that box.

Before treatment image of flattened hat.
That is one flat hat

It looked more like roadkill than apparel. I found a photograph of a soldier wearing a similar looking hat in the same collection.

Portrait of Civil War soldier in uniform, wearing a hat.
This hat doesn’t look nearly as flat

I used a humidification chamber to slowly add moisture to the fabric until it became more flexible. Then I was able to add a little padding at a time to reshape the hat. Once the hat was the correct shape I removed it from the humidification chamber and let it slowly return to ambient humidity with the padding still in place.

Hat in humidity chamber
humidifying
Hat in humidity chamber, on foam support.
Reshaping
Humidification chamber sitting in sink.
Humidification chamber

In order to maintain the shape of the hat I made a pillow of non-woven, spunbound polyester fabric that will stay inside of the hat when it returns to storage. The pillow will provide support for the hat and the polyester has a very smooth surface that won’t catch on the fragile silk fibers.

After treatment photo of reshaped hat
This looks more like a hat

I made a custom box to house the hat and created more pillows to provide support and cushion.

Hat in cushioned box with reproduction of photo.

Included in the enclosure are a copy of the photograph from the collection and a pocket for the metal pin. A very special thanks to the keen researcher who noticed this item and brought it to our attention.

Rolled Textile Storage

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.

Button, Button, Who’s Got the Button?

By Rachel Penniman, Senior Conservation Technician

Not actual collection buttons, just some of the many buttons we have in the lab.

 

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.

Here is another example from the Terence Mitchell Collection of Tobacco Related Ephemera of the kind of tray we were creating for the buttons.

Mitchell Tobacco Collection

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.