Category Archives: What’s In The Lab

Visions of the Alhambra

by Erin Hammeke, Senior Conservator

Title page of Alhambra

I recently finished repair on these two double folio volumes, concluding a multi-year project. I performed dry cleaning and page repair, in- situ sewing repair, board reattachment, leather rebacking, and leather corner repair. Working on two volumes this size and weight (35lbs each) proved to be both an engineering challenge and a physically demanding project. I came up with some solutions for a few of the challenges presented while treating these very large volumes that I’ll share here.

This two volume set by the architect Owen Jones documents the decorative surfaces at the Alhambra Palace in Grenada. The texts are most well-known for their beautiful, large-scale color lithographic plates.

Color lithograph Plate 1 in Alhambra

Front board with leather spine and corners and marbled paper over the boards.

The volumes were bound in half-style bindings with green sheepskin covering and marbled paper sides and endleaves. The boards were detached and the sheepskin was in poor condition, with many tears and large losses. We decided to remove all of the leather up to the gold tooled areas. After attaching the boards with the use of many clamps (my favorite tools!), and prepping the spine with sufficient linings and sham bands, it was ready for covering.

Large clamps affixed to the book's boards at the spine.

Relined textblock spine and book boards without leather.

I selected goatskins for the new leather and calculated that I would need three skins to cover both volumes’ spines and large corners. I dyed them to match the original – another challenge when working at this scale!

The sheepskin remnants were very thick, and did not take well to paring down and thinning. I was worried about having a smooth transition between the old and new leathers where they overlap. I realized I needed to pare the new leather to accommodate the old, but I didn’t want to lose the strength or dyed color of the hair side of the new goatskin. A piece from our Scharf-Fix that I’ve never used before provided the perfect solution. The kit comes with assorted roller sizes and we’ve only really ever used the full size (28mm) for edge paring.

Using one of the smaller rollers (13mm) along the meeting edges of the leather allowed me to take a step out of the flesh side that could accommodate the thick sheepskin remnants. I used the full-sized roller to clean up the stepped bevel by working it perpendicularly and off the edge.

Pared edge of leather, from the suede side.

Leather in the Scharffix paring machine

During covering, I worked this bevel in with my bone folder creating a precise step for the original leather to sit into and making for a flush transition.

New leather inserted under the original.

After adding new stamped leather spine labels, I created sleds that the heavy bindings can be moved on, hopefully protecting the covers from damage from being dragged across reading room table tops.

Finished book inside enclosure

Have you discovered other uses for the variously sized Scharf-Fix rollers? What are your tips for repairing oversized and heavy bindings? We’d love to know!

What (Was Once) in the Lab

by Erin Hammeke, Senior Conservator

Even though we’re working from home right now, we thought we’d add to our What’s in the Lab series with some pictures of neat items from the past that we never got a chance to share. It’s nice to revisit these pictures during this time so we can fondly remember all of the cool things that pass through the Conservation lab on a regular basis.

WHAT (WAS ONCE) IN THE LAB: ELECTRICAL HANDBOOK FOR WOMEN

front cover of electrical handbook for women

Acquired as a part of the Lisa Unger Baskin Collection, we found this Electrical Handbook for Women from 1934 as it was awaiting cataloging. We love the art deco cover illustration.

Frontispiece and title page

Photomechanical print of a woman repairing a fuse box.

Chance Encounters in the Lab

Yesterday, I was going through some collection material from the Duke family that had been transferred to the conservation lab for review and noticed an image of a very familiar-looking building. I knew I had seen it before, but I couldn’t remember where.

1009 5th Ave
1009 5th Ave, circa 1927

It turns out, I had been looking at it for several weeks. Rachel Penniman has been treating architectural drawings of the same building!

1009 Architectural Drawings

And not only that – I had seen it in real life just a few months ago. Known as the Benjamin N. Duke House, this property is located at 1009 Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, just across from The Metropolitan Museum of Art. I had stopped by The Met after we finished our exhibit installation at the Grolier Club back in December. I stared right at it as I was leaving the museum and didn’t know what I was seeing.

Built in 1901 and designed by the firm of Welch, Smith, and Provot, the building is a splendid example of the Beaux-Arts style of architecture, rising eight stories and measuring approximately 20,000 square feet. Ownership of the property has changed hands many times over the years, but stayed in the Duke family until 2006.  After Benjamin, his brother, James,  lived in the house until his own residence was completed just a few blocks away in 1912. His son, Angier Buchanan Duke, then took up residence until 1919, when Mary Lillian Duke (Angier’s sister) and her husband A. J. Drexel Biddle, Jr. moved in. Later, their daughter, Mary Semans, took over ownership and you can hear her recount some memories of living there. It was designated a New York City Landmark in 1974, and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1989.  Mary’s son, James, lead a renovation of the building in 1985 and you can also see him speak about the project.

The photograph and drawings that we have in the lab depict the matching limestone and red-brick facades of two other buildings along fifth avenue. Sadly, those structures have not survived.

1009 Today
1009 5th Ave, Today

A few years ago, the mansion received considerable attention when Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim listed it through Sotheby’s for $80 million and it became one of the most expensive public listings in New York.

Don’t Do Crimes in Front of Monkeys

For a more adept criminal, it is probably obvious not to commit a crime in front of another person, as they can be called as a witness in court. Thanks to the scrapbooking efforts of Virginia Clay-Clopton in the late 1800s, today we learned that animals can be witnesses, too!

This scrapbook of Virginia’s (included in the C. C. Clay Papers, 1811-1925) came into the lab the other day for rehousing. It mostly includes correspondence from members of the Clay family in the post-Reconstruction period, but one little newspaper clipping caught our eye.

The clipping describes the murder of a traveling showman in India, which was apparently witnessed by one of his monkeys. I could not determine what eventually happened in this particular case, but the monkey was being detained as a witness.

The clipping’s mention of the Dog of Montargis lead us down a rabbit hole of stories about animal witnesses, historical and contemporary. In addition to monkeys and dogs, we read about legal proceedings involving a parrot named Echo, and a cat named Sal Esposito.

Here at the library, our primary position is that you shouldn’t commit crimes. I will leave it to experts in animal law to debate the admissibility of an animal witness – but if you are going to do some crimes, at least make sure there aren’t any monkeys around.

Hidden Hornbooks

The humble hornbook:

Margarita Philosophica by Gregorius Ileisch (1504), depicting a hornbook

Long used as a primer in children’s education, the hornbook originated in England in the 15th century. The books commonly take the form of a wooden paddle inscribed with the alphabet or a piece of text, which is protected with a transparent sheet of horn. The materials of construction can vary, with the paddle made of wood, bone, leather, or stone. The text can be printed or in manuscript, on parchment or on paper. The protective transparent sheet might also be made from mica. The hornbook is referenced in literature as early as Shakespeare’s Love’s Labour’s Lost  and is a format that was often used in both English and the American education until the late 18th century.

Woodcut vignette from the title page of Hornbyes Hornbook by William Hornby (1622)

We learned all this and more when a special edition of Andrew Tuer’s History of the Horn-Book came through the lab recently for boxing. The publisher’s use of the hornbook’s iconic shape in the decoration on the front cover and the spine label is quite appropriate.

Front cover of parchment covered book.

But while this parchment case binding looks fairly ordinary, it contains quite a surprise. The front section of the book has been glued into a solid block, which is quite heavy.

Adhered section at the front of the book

The blocked section features a textile flap along the tail edge of the front flyleaf.

cover of the hidden compartment with a label describing the contents.Opening the flaps reveals a hidden compartment with three facsimile hornbooks!

Small facsimile hornbooks in the hidden compartment.Don’t you wish every history book you picked up included little artifacts hidden inside a secret compartment? Thanks to Rachel Penniman for snapping some photos of this amazing object before it returned to the stacks in its new enclosure.

Quick Pic: Tips!

Erin Hammeke describes a wooden board repair to Mary Yordy and Rachel Penniman.

Caring for library collections often requires experimentation and ingenuity. In supporting the needs of library programs or researcher requests, we are regularly confronted with unusual objects or condition issues that have no obvious treatment solution. When you happen upon a novel or particularly effective approach to these complex treatments, it’s always nice to share what you have learned with your colleagues!

This week, the Conservation Services staff were treated to some tips in treating very large books and broken wooden boards by senior conservator Erin Hammeke. Hint: Both involve the liberal and creative application of clamps.

LIFE WITH CIPE

By Rachel Penniman, Conservation Specialist

Occasionally an item will arrive in the lab that is so intriguing that I just have to know the story behind it. These five miniature photograph albums titled “LIFE WITH CIPE” caught my eye. The photographs were tiny but beautiful and I was curious about the meaning of the title. What is CIPE?

One book in hand, opened to show a small black and white photograph of a woman. to

The photographs mostly look like candid vacation snapshots but there are also some still life and city scenes.

Image of page with black and white image of woman and large desert plant. Page of album with black and white photo of woman walking through a doorway. Image of album page with black and white photo of a woman sitting in a chair on a beach, reading a book.

They are all so small and regular in size and proportion that they must have been printed from negatives as a contact sheet. One print even shows the holes from the film.

Image of album page with black and white photograph, featuring film holes in the print.

The images show a great sense of design and there is an eye to composition significantly better than your average family snapshots. They really felt more like an artist’s portfolio than a typical vacation album.

Image of album page with black and white photo of man at breakfast table, reading a book.

Image of album page with black and white photo of woman at outdoor market.

So it was no surprise when I heard back from archivist Rick Collier and Hartman Center Director Jackie Reid Wachholz that these are photographs from the personal collection of graphic design power couple Cipe Pineles and William Golden.

Portrait of man in a suit, leaning against a wall patterned with CBS logo.

While the Creative Director at CBS in the 1950’s William Golden designed the eye logo still used by the broadcaster today.

Image of album page with black and white photo of woman at work at a desk.

Cipe Pineles (pronounced Cee-Pee) was the first female art director of a major magazine and the first female member of the Art Director’s Club of New York in 1943. Working at big name publications like Glamour, Seventeen, and Mademoiselle she created magazines directed at young working women that appealed to their intelligence and independence. She is also credited as being the first to commission fine artists like Ad Reinhardt and Andy Warhol for work in mass media publications.

Front cover of "Cipe Pineles: A Life of Design"

In order to learn more about Cipe Pineles I borrowed a biography from Perkins Library and discovered it was written by none other than our very own conservation department volunteer Martha Scotford. Before becoming a volunteer in our lab, Martha was a professor of graphic design at North Carolina State University and is the reigning expert on Cipe Pineles. What a small world! I was so happy to be able to share this addition with Martha who recognized these albums from her visits to the Golden’s home when she was writing Cipe’s biography.

Duke Rubenstein Library also holds a collection of William Golden’s papers that I looked through for more insight into William and Cipe’s lives. One of my favorite discoveries in that collection was a letter with attached photographs that William sent to Cipe. The photos are from his time in Paris during WWII and illustrate the events he saw on VE day. The photos are the same size as the ones in LIFE WITH CIPE and I wonder if this was a precursor to the albums.

Two page layout with manuscript in ink and small mounted black and white photographs.

Rubenstein Library has also recently acquired a collection of Cipe’s papers too. I wonder if there are more tiny photographs there.