Category Archives: What’s In The Lab

Revisiting a Big Challenge

The Rubenstein Library recently acquired another large Torah scroll. Measuring 40″ in length, these scrolls can be quite heavy and difficult to move safely. The support on which the scroll arrived was minimal and inventive.

The scroll was wrapped in layers of cotton muslin, with cotton twill tape laced through honeycomb board to secure it. Honeycomb board is light enough for two people to easily lift, but rigid enough that it doesn’t bow or cause the scroll to shift. At the time of acquisition, we discussed keeping this support. After considering the necessary handling and pathway through the building to serve the scroll in the reading room, however, it was decided that a full enclosure would offer more protection.

Longtime readers may remember when Beth boxed a similar scroll a few years ago, and more recently you might have seen Tedd’s series on Extreme Enclosures. Each of these large enclosures employs double layers of corrugated board, covered in buckram, to cut down on weight while remaining durable enough for long term handling. Beth’s Torah enclosure is nearing its seventh birthday, so I thought this would be a good opportunity to see how it has aged. Can the double-wall corrugated board really stand up to the abuse of regular handling and re-shelving?

It turns out the box (pictured above without its telescoping lid) is still in very good shape. Despite many trips to the reading room and all the activity of the Rubenstein Renovation, the enclosure shows no wear or distortion from the weight of the contents. Research Services staff report that the lighter weight makes re-shelving (with two people) quite easy and the drop-wall design allows for convenient removal of the heavy scroll from the box.

Considering the success of the first box, I decided to adopt the popular idiom of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” and duplicated the design for the recently acquired Torah.

Library conservators are often called upon to creatively engineer solutions to unique preservation problems. With ever growing and diversifying collections, it sometimes feels like all our attention is pulled toward the next object coming through the door. It’s nice to have the opportunity to go back and critically review some of those solutions, but nicer still to see that, years later, they are still working as they should.

All Done

When I shared an image of a tape-laden document last month, I was still in the process of treatment. That treatment wrapped up a few weeks ago and here are the final results:

While the results are not that aesthetically pleasing, the document is now stable. All the oxidized tape is off and the staining has been significantly reduced. I knew there were several significant losses going in, but I did not realize  just how much of the center fold was gone until all of the tape was removed. Rather than attempting to infill the areas of loss with shaped pieces of toned Japanese paper, the entire sheet was encapsulated in clear polyester.  This reduced the overall treatment time, while still allowing the item to be used and handled safely.

The tape saga continues…

Last month I posted a picture of a tape-laden item from the NC Mutual Life Insurance Company Archives. Progress on this collection is slow and steady, but I thought it would be fun to share a during treatment photo of tape removal and stain reduction.

Tape Removal (During Treatment)

Pressure sensitive tape had been applied over this horizontal tear. Above the tear, the tape carrier has been removed. The paper below the tear has been treated with solvent and washed to remove the remaining adhesive and staining. Treatment has greatly improved the text legibility and will prevent further darkening of the paper support. Next, thin Japanese paper mends will be applied to rejoin the pieces.

Quick Pic: Tape!

(Before treatment)

This week I’m working on a small collection of newsprint and other printed publications from the NC Mutual Life Insurance Company Archives. This set of materials has been closed to patrons due to some pretty obvious condition issues that make handling risky, but represent some of the few remaining copies of publications from this important organization. This issue of The North Carolina Mutual from August 1903 is, by far, the worst in regard to the amount of pressure sensitive tape that has been applied. I’ve spent the last couple of days just removing tape carriers and reducing adhesive. So far I’ve encountered five (!!) different kinds of tape, all layered on top of one another, in what I’ve started calling a “tape lasagna”.  In some places, the original paper support is gone – there is only a hardened bundle of tape.

I’m assuming this item once lived in a 3-ring binder and over time became more and more damaged at the vertical fold and horizontally across the sheet as the pages were turned. I can imagine that over the last 100 years many different custodians took it upon themselves to repair this document and just reached for whatever tapes they had nearby. The earliest (i.e. lowest) tape layer has a glassine carrier, which has darkened a little. Fabric tape was then applied over this to reinforce the binder holes punched along the spine fold. The third layer is tape with a cellophane carrier, which has oxidized and turned dark yellow. Here and there I have found what appears to be a polyvinylchloride film tape and, finally, some more modern cellulose acetate tape at the very top of the heap. I have had to employ a number of different techniques to release each kind of tape, including heated tools, poultices, and solvent chambers. Removing those repairs will take a considerable chunk of time, and some yellow staining still remain. For now, at least, this project feels like a combination of an archaeological dig of office supplies and a jigsaw puzzle.

Quick Pic: When Life Gives You Watermarks

I’m always amazed at what our library collections hold. This absolute gem of a book came to the lab for repair from the general collections,  Watermarks In Paper in Holland, England, France, etc., by William Algernon Churchill (reprint of 1st edition; 1967).

Aren’t these watermarks terrific? I love the elephants with their trunks coming out of the top of their heads.

from rags to riches to rags
Flyleaf
watermark of two elephants on either side of an elaborate letter R
1786, Map engraved in Amsterdam, w/m of Adriaan Rogge.
watermark of a beehive with four bees flying around, centered inside a wreath of flowers
1683-1902 [C & I Honig]

Happy Little Skeleton

Regular readers of this blog may remember when I shared some photos of a fun little copy of the Dance of Death a few weeks ago. The front board had come off, so it was looking a little sad.

It felt a little strange to leave the treatment story of this item unresolved, though. Here are a few more images of the book after treatment.

After firmly re-attaching the front board, I covered the split leather along that joint with a thin, flexible overlay of toned Japanese paper. The leather had been very heavily dressed at some point, and that coating had become quite dark over time. I was able to remove the coating during treatment, which brightened up some of the tooling on the boards and spine.

This little Dance of Death is now ready to head back to its home in the stacks… or to the reading room to remind researchers of their own mortality.

Easter Bunnies

Today is Good Friday and we happen to have our three-volume octavo edition of Audubon‘s Quadrupeds of North America in the lab to get some stabilizing repairs and enclosures. The first volume of the set is absolutely teeming with prints of hares and rabbits and this seems like an auspicious day to share them. Audubon’s Quadrupeds first appeared in three folio volumes (under the title “The Vivaparous Quadrupeds of North America”) between 1845 and 1848. The first octavo edition was published by John James Audubon’s sons (John W. and Victor) following his death in 1851. Initially both editions were issued in parts. You can view full a full digitized version of this book here.

Quick Pic: When Life Gives You Cephalopods

cephalopod illustrationToday was a busy day in the lab. We had 25 people come through on three tours, and we had to help set up for a tour in another department. Today is also the due-date for our performance evaluations. When life gives you a Friday like that, finding a beautiful illustration of cephalopods is a gift. I especially like the center illustration of the eyeballs.

This is one book in a serial on biodiversity. It is French, dated 1889, and beautifully illustrated. Some volumes in this series are available in Hathi Trust. I also found the page on mollusks, which was equally beautiful. This one is getting a custom box to keep it safe.

Book Macabre

The other day a pretty somber, but intriguing little book came into the lab.

Just from the decoration, the subject is pretty apparent.

It turns out this is the first authorized edition in Italian of the Dance of Death, printed in 1549 (the binding is from a later period). The book is just one example of a long-standing artistic genre which seeks to remind the reader or viewer that no matter one’s station in life, death comes to us all. The wonderfully detailed woodcuts, designed by Hans Holbein the Younger, depict a personified Death interacting with kings, the clergy, and commoners alike.

This particular volume is interesting because it has been extra-illustrated. Probably at the time it was put in it’s current binding, leaves of thicker wove paper were added to the textblock and engraved copies of the woodcuts were tipped to them. While the designs are sometimes mirrored, it is interesting how faithful the engravings are to Holbein’s original composition.

If you would like to see more of the images, you can view a digitized copy of this book online here. This item will get a few straightforward stabilizing repairs so that it is safe to handle in the reading room. This seems like a good candidate for Rubenstein’s annual Screamfest event in the Fall.

Quick Pic: Year of the Rooster

Charles Bailey Reed Scrapbook Cover

Readers who celebrated Chinese New Year just a few weeks ago will know that 2017 is the Year of the Rooster. Fittingly, this wonderful painted scrapbook from the Charles Bailey Reed Collection recently came into the lab. Reed served as a radiologist in the U.S. Medical Reserve Corps in France during World War I.  This scrapbook contains postcards, newspaper articles, photographs, and other ephemera from various cities in France, dated between 1914 and 1924. I just really love the image of the rooster crowing atop a discarded Pickelhaube, signalling the return to regular life after the war.