Category Archives: What’s In The Lab

What’s In The Lab: A Magical And Foreboding Book

Written by Erin Hammeke, Special Collections Conservator

I was sorry to see this item go back to the stacks last week! A German book of magical secrets, Clandestine Hausvaterliteratur (Jacob Biernauer; 1818) is a recent acquisition to the History of Medicine Collection. It contains information on astrology, superstitions, ghosts, spells, and recipes for poisons, gunpowder, and blond hair dye, amongst others.

The vellum cover was likely added by a previous owner of the text who may have inscribed the cover with a foreboding skull image. The cover was quite animated when it first came to us and, reacting to a dry climate, the skin contracted and became wildly distorted. Additionally, its corners had been chewed, likely by rodents. Here it is, before and after treatment.

Before Treatment

After Treatment


Quick Pic: Before There Was Power Point

audio visual materialsNow ubiquitous, presentations that combined audio, images and text were once revolutionary and cutting edge.

Before we could do it all on a computer, multi-media presentations were put together with a mixture of photographic slides, a script, and audio tapes that contained not only the taped narration but cues to advance the slide tray. The best systems did this automatically with the inclusion of magnetic blips that “talked” to the slide projector to make it advance by itself…it was magic!

We recently got this kit into the lab for boxing. As someone who once created presentations like this, I can tell you Power Point is so much easier to use (some would say too easy…blinking cartoons flying in from stage left, anyone?).

Pumpkinhead Bears, Dragons and Dracula – Oh My!

Murray Ghost Waiter
Are you being served?

The Edwin and Terry Murray Collection of miniatures, aka The Most Fun Project In The Lab Ever, came in recently for enclosures. These lead figurines come from various role-playing games including Dungeons and Dragons. Over on Devil’s Tale you can read more about the processing of this collection.

The miniatures arrived in a variety of boxes as if the boys and girls had just finished playing with them. Opening the boxes felt like Christmas morning, I couldn’t wait to see what was inside. I think everyone in the lab got tired of me saying “Look at this one!” every five minutes but I couldn’t help it.

Murray original boxes
Murray miniatures as they came to the lab.

The figurines range in size from less than an inch to ten or more inches. You would think that these would be fairly robust being metal, but lead is soft and a lot of them are very fragile. Many have been painted and we know for sure some were painted by the Murray brothers themselves.

The figurines needed protection from rubbing against each other and plenty of cushioning to keep them from jostling around. They are also very heavy as a collection, so they needed to be boxed in a way that they could be lifted without throwing out your back.

Murray figurine
Wrapping each figurine.

My strategy was to wrap each in tissue and place them in modular artifact boxes. Each tray has twelve compartments, and each compartment holds on average four to six figurines depending on their size. The very large figurines were put into custom-built trays. I did my best to keep like-themed characters together so people interested in animals or dragons or warriors should be able to find what they are looking for. Admittedly, users may find this system cumbersome but if these start receiving very high use, I can revisit my boxing decision in consultation with Research Services.

There are many, many pictures on our Flickr site that shows more of the boxing process and some of my favorite characters including the above mentioned Pumpkinhead Bear and many, many dragons (my favorite creatures of all). Be sure to check out the skeletal dragon, she has amazing detail and is so very fragile. She also has a broken wing but it is there with her in her box.

After boxing (left) and before (right).

I’m a little sad to see these leave the lab because it was so much fun to work on. But I know that they are now well protected and will be there for anyone to use in the future, maybe even me.




Quick Pic: President Few’s Death Mask

William Preston Few death mask
Death Mask of William Preston Few from the collections of the Duke Unviersity Archives.

Here lies the death mask of Duke University President William Preston Few (1910-1940).

His head is in the lab having recently been on exhibit. It’s existing enclosure wasn’t providing adequate protection for the delicate plaster, so Jennifer is building an enclosure for it.

It’s creeping us all out.


It Takes A Village To House A Village

The Doris Duke Archives recently sent us this “Tiny Thai Village” for boxing. Read about its history on The Devil’s Tale.

The TTV came in a small box with all of the models inside. Obviously a box half the size of a Twinkie would disappear in the stacks and make access difficult. While these models aren’t fragile per se, they are delicate and the little houses had no real protection.

Our goals for the final housing were three-fold

  • The new enclosure had to be big enough to go to the stacks
  • Each little house needed its own compartment for safety and security
  • You needed to be able to lift out each model with your giant fingers

Experimental Box-making
I thought this would be easy, but it took a lot of trial and error to figure it out. I grabbed a standard Metal-Edge box meant to house cabinet cards and started experimenting. Here’s what I did:

  • Created a tray with a compartment for each house
  • Built up the inside so that the models would be level with the top of the box
  • Inset the original box so it was at the same level as the models
  • Lined the lid with Volara to provide a cushion should they get shaken
  • Labeled the box with big “Fragile-Do Not Tilt” labels

The Final Box
While each model can still move around in its compartment, they don’t knock into each other and you can still get your fingers in to take them out. You can also quickly tell if one is missing since each compartment should be occupied.

Although I would likely do something a bit different if I were asked to house this again, I think this enclosure achieves the goals and will provide more protection than the original box.

What’s In The Lab: Peeling Eyeballs!

By Erin Hammeke, Conservator for Special Collections

The History of Medicine collections continue to delight us in Conservation as we work to stabilize some of the most-used items. I just finished repairing Bartisch’s Ophthalmodouleia, das ist Augendienst:…, a work on Ophthalmology printed in 1583.

This item was recently featured in the exhibit, Anamated Anatomies. In addition to depicting some interesting and seemingly painful eye treatments and surgeries of the 16th century, the book contains two pages of hand-colored anatomical flaps.

I repaired a page that depicts the anatomy of the eye in layers. Like many of the flap books we have examined, the flaps were fragile and showed signs of damage from use. The eyeball flaps had received several previous repairs, including a fairly early shellac seal repair.

For this treatment, I removed one of the previous repairs that was poorly placed and causing damage to the outer flap, and I re-repaired it using tissue and wheat starch paste. I also stabilized the remaining flaps and flattened mis-folds using a light application of wheat starch paste.

Beef Wine For Your Health

Duke was giving out H1N1 flu shots today and quite by coincidence I found this ad in a bound set of Women’s Penny Papers (1889-1890). This book is going into the British Women Writers exhibit that is being installed on Monday afternoon. Since the paper and binding are fairly fragile, I’m making a custom-fit book cradle so it can be exhibited safely.
It’s also serves as a good reminder to take care of yourself as the semester winds down and the holidays begin. Get plenty of rest, eat right and stay healthy over the break. Otherwise you will be having beef wine for your holiday meal.