This 1546 German translation of Pedanius Dioscorides‘ pharmacopeia, titled Kreutterbuch (literally “plant book”), has been through quite a lot.
The sewing of the existing binding was broken, the extensive paper repairs at the gutter have been eaten through by insects, many of the leaves are detached, and it has extensive staining from water damage. Pictured above is the pulled textblock, with each section separated by wide paper flags to help me keep everything organized.
Washing can be beneficial for paper in this condition by reducing staining, removing harmful products of degradation, and improving pliability of the sheet. The benefits of aqueous treatment come with a lot of risks, though. In addition to removing unwanted substances, washing can extract the original sizing. The sheet’s dimensions, surface texture, and color can be altered as well. Washing can adversely affect the inks and other applied media, so extensive testing ahead of time is essential for determining what will and won’t come out in the wash.
After lots of discussion with the curators and spot testing, the decision was made to move forward with washing this book. The pages were vacuumed and surface cleaned to remove any soiling on the surface. After a series of baths in preconditioned deionized water, there is a significant reduction in staining and much improved legibility of the text. While in the bath, it is also very easy to remove the broken paper guards at the spine edges/folds to allow for new paper guards prior to rebinding.
The ghostly, rhythmic creased pattern in the leather covering this volume caught my eye when the set came through the lab for boxing. I wondered how it was done and if the technique had a name. I consulted with coworkers, but no one had seen anything quite like it. This first suggestion of the rarity of the technique was born out by additional efforts to share this image on social media and search down any leads in the literature on leather decoration. I was invited to compose a blog post about this unanswered question, which we present as an invitation to any of our followers who could shed light on the subject.
For lack of a known and accepted, term, I am calling the leather effect ‘crazed,’ indicating it’s similarity to finishes seen in ceramics and paint finishes. Inside the volume, the leather around the paste down and the leather hinge material are dark green, so this was presumably the original color of the leather, difficult to determine on the more degraded exterior. The leather must have been given this crazing prior to application to the structure.
The book is in Russian, v. 3 of an 8 volume set of Works of Pushkin published in St. Petersburg from 1903-1905. Oddly, only this one volume is full leather with ‘made’ end sheets using an inner hinge of the same leather and paste paper—the volumes before and after v. 3 are quarter bindings using the same leather on the spine and corners with book cloth sides and standard printed end sheets.
A member of a group to which I posted the image shared a photo revealing similar creasing in the leather covering a Spanish binding (Rosy Gray, on Bookbinding Art and Conservation on Facebook). The image she shared was of a much more colorful leather volume, and from an earlier historical period, but looking closely I could see that creasing was indeed part of the effect. She was experimenting to create the effect but had found little to guide her in the available literature.
Most embellishments of leather in binding (such as tree calf) occur after binding, but the crazing of this leather must have occurred prior to the application of the leather. If the methods used in Spanish Calf Marbling of the 17th-18th came more fully to light I suspect this would be true of it as well. Without knowing if I was getting warmer or colder I took the time to track down what information I could find about what is variously termed Pasta Espanola, Spanish Marbling, and Spanish Calf Marbling. English language materials on Spanish bookbinding history are scarce, with just a few examples of this style available for view online and no concrete descriptions of methods.
So the question remains. Has anyone seen this form of leather decoration before? Do you know of a term for it or how it was executed? An interesting question that might follow a definite identification of the technique as Spanish in origin would be how it happened to be used in Russia in the early 20th Century. Dissemination of a technique isn’t always how things come about—sometimes we are seeing completely separate iterations of an idea. It could be worth considering the fact that this volume was bound in a historical period that hosted the International Workingmen’s Association (Second) and various experiments in organizing industrial and trade work across borders, as well as significant industrial strikes.
Mary Yordy, Senior Conservation Technician, is retiring after over 30 years of service to the Libraries, almost 20 of those in Conservation. She leaves us with this unanswered question, and tens of thousands of items that have been repaired or boxed by her hands. You can see the impact of her work on every floor of the library. We will miss her presence in the lab. Thanks Mary! –Beth
Another very exciting and very large book arrived in the lab this week: a volume of the Sanborn fire insurance maps for the city of Durham.
The Sanborn maps were used as a reference by insurance underwriters to assess risk and determine how much insurance to offer without having to physically travel to the location. Originally published in 1913, the contents of this book were continually updated until 1931 to accurately reflect changes in buildings throughout the city. Rather than reprint the maps annually with updates, corrections were just pasted in. You can see the evidence of these corrections everywhere. For example, the endsheets are covered in additional indexes:
Looking closely, you can see printed instructions to the corrector for which indexes to paste over with the update. Small cutouts of updated maps are also pasted, layer after layer, throughout the interior. The binding is reflective of common ledger bindings from the late 19th and early 20th century, which feature a number of structural components designed to allow such a large and heavy book to function. These include both leather and heavy cloth spine linings, a shaped rigid spine piece, and cloth reinforced hinges. Despite the added strength from those materials, they have not been able to withstand the stresses that this book places on them when opening – particularly as they have aged and weakened. Large portions of leather and the “hubs” (raised bands) are missing from the spine. The leather joints have completely split and the spine piece is just hanging on by a thread now. Fortunately the sewing and spine linings remain intact and functional.
Luckily, most of the stamped leather tabs remain.
While examining the book, I was keeping an eye out for some of Durham’s more notable landmarks. The Erwin Cotton Mill, located at the corner of 9th and Main street, was easy to spot.
I also found the oldest operating business on 9th street, the White Star Laundry. That corner looks a little different these days. The building in yellow was demolished in the 1950s.
When I came across the Liberty Warehouse, it looked like it was in the wrong place. But the building that I have always known as the Liberty Warehouse (now the site of an apartment building by the same name) was actually the third iteration of the warehouse, built in 1940.
I even found the infamous “Canopener” bridge on Gregson St!
The Sanborn maps contain a wealth of information about the cities they describe and are an important resource for scholarship. We will be working with the curators at the Rubenstein Library to determine the best treatment plan for stabilizing and housing this volume so that it can be safely accessed by patrons.
Duke Libraries lost a beloved colleague yesterday. Sam Hammond passed away Thursday at the age of 73. Sam was many things. He worked in the library for 41 years including as a music librarian, and as a librarian in the Rubenstein Rare Books and Manuscripts Library. Sam was also a campus carillonneur for over 50 years. He started playing the carillon as a first year Duke student in 1964. He retired from that job in 2018. He also walked to work, and used those walks to pick up litter from the roadside. With every step he made the world just a little bit better.
Sam was a kind soul who always had time to help you when you needed information. When I would visit his office to review something, he would share some of the other wondrous things he was working on. I learned a lot from him. Sam had a sharp wit, and when he told a joke his eyes would shine. He was a true gentleman. But above all, he would routinely tell me how much he appreciated Conservation’s work, and that he was happy I was here at Duke . That always made me feel good, and it was a master class in how to treat your colleagues.
To honor Sam and his contributions to campus, Carillonneur Joey Fala played a variety of Sam’s favorites yesterday at 5pm. You can see the full recital online at Duke Today. Recordings of Sam playing the carillon, and more information on his life can be found online here and here.
As I was contemplating this blog post, I looked for items in the lab that would resonate. Flowers are often given to the family after they lose a loved one. This wonderful book on flowers is on our repair shelf. Tulips have many meanings, love, loyalty, peace and forgiveness. Plus, spring is just around the corner, and after the year we have had, who doesn’t need some cheerful spring blooms?
Thank you Sam. You have left your mark on Duke in ways too numerous to count. We will miss you immensely.
This one came to us from Circulation this week. Fido is either anxious because her person went back to work, or is upset because her person is spending too much time on Zoom and not enough time on belly rubs.
Both are half leather volumes. Maybe the leather just tasted good? We may never know.
This tip is shamelessly stolen from a blog post by Satomi Sasaki Verhagen on The Book & Paper Gathering and I cannot thank them enough for writing about this wonderful tool.
It’s a mini, handheld humidifier that creates a very fine mist (click here for a short video) perfect for localized humidification. It looked so useful in their blog post I ordered one right away and had fun playing around with it when it arrived.
Now over a year later I’ve finally had a chance to use it on a treatment project. I blame working from home for not finding a use for it earlier.
We recently got a large vellum binding with many creased and torn fold outs that needed flattening and mending. The binding was stiff and allowed for only a very small opening angle. Mini-humidifier to the rescue. I was able to very lightly humidify just the localized areas of creasing to flatten and realign them before mending. It worked beautifully. Because the little humidifier doesn’t create a very large spray of mist it was easy to direct and keep only in the areas I wanted. Also, it creates such a small amount of moisture that it worked very slowly so it was easy to control how humid each area got.
It wasn’t perfect though. If left running it could build up condensation around the nozzle especially when held at an angle. I found I had to hold a paper towel around the base to prevent any of these drops of condensation from falling on the page I was humidifying. Regularly turning the humidifier off and blotting drops of water off from around the nozzle helped manage condensation build up. The battery didn’t last very long but it is rechargeable and charged very quickly while I was at lunch.
Overall I was so happy with how this tool works and will definitely be using it again.
Normally I don’t like to point fingers, but this item came into the lab and I really cannot NOT comment. I don’t know if this is a standard binding method for oversized music scores, but it certainly is a terrible binding for one. “Troubled Island” by William Grant Still is printed in single sheets on 11×17 inch paper and with 339 pages ends up about two inches thick. But the binding…
The cataloging record does say “bound with tape,” so warning number one that this is as issued. What the record doesn’t say is that this is bound with strapping tape, the kind with the glass yarn filament embedded in it.
But wait! There’s more! To create folios the publisher/printer placed three pieces of tape between each single sheet. One at the head, tail, and center of the sheet.
This is bound for failure on so many levels. And it does not disappoint.
I wish I could have a conversation with the publisher about this. Is there a reason this score is bound the way it is? Was the binding meant to be temporary? I really don’t understand any of it, but there must be a reason why they chose to bind this score in this way, right? If anyone knows, please leave the answer in the comments because I am stumped.
End Note 1: “Bound to Fail” would be a great bookbinding contest theme. Or has that been done already?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
Color matching is a trial and error process. We make up a color mixture, paint it onto little scraps of the paper we’re toning, and let them dry (or you can use a blow dryer to dry them) before making adjustments to the color mixture. In this case, the waste paper was a work of art unto itself.