Category Archives: What’s In The Lab

Adam Smith’s Invisible Hand

This coming summer Duke will host a 2016 NEH Summer Institute, titled “The History of Political Economy”. In preparation, the library is putting together a small exhibit of complementary materials from our collection. One of the items that will be on display is our first edition set of what is widely considered to be Adam Smith’s magnum opus,  An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of NationsSmith’s 1776 text is most commonly known for coining the phrase “the invisible hand” to describe forces which guide free markets.

I am a big fan of the NPR podcast Planet Money, and over the years I have learned quite a bit about the significance of Smith (and this work in particular) through the show. Therefore, I was very excited to for the opportunity to examine this item and address some of the condition issues for each volume.  While Smith is mentioned frequently on Planet Money, two episodes explore the man and his work in greater depth:  “Adam Smith, Mama’s Boy” and “Adam Smith and the Not So Invisible Hand“.

The two volumes of this edition are in matching tightback bindings with single raised sewing supports. The spine and corners are covered in green goatskin with green marbled paper siding-up the boards. The spines are extensively decorated with gold tooling and there is some blind tooling on the faces of the boards. While I cannot determine if these are the original bindings, they appear to be contemporary to the text. The goal of this treatment was to stabilize each book, reattaching any loose pieces and making the bindings functional for safe display or use in the reading room. My repairs attempt to satisfy this goal with minimal alteration to the appearance of the books.

The first volume was in better condition, but had been damaged at the tail of the spine. The joints were splitting along this panel, the tailcap was missing entirely, and the leather was continuing to lift where the damage had occurred.

Volume 1 -Before and After Treatment
Volume 1 -Before and After Treatment (click image to enlarge)

While the sewing supports all remained intact and the boards were securely attached, the splitting along the tail end joints and the risk of additional loss was a concern. After fully lifting the leather away from the tail panel of the spine, the textblock spine was lined with thin Japanese paper and wheat starch paste. An extended lining of bias-cut airplane linen was then adhered on top. The extended pieces of this lining were split and adhered on either side of the board using David Brock’s board reattachment method. Finally, the volume was rebacked with a thick Kozo fiber Japanese paper, toned to match the original leather. All original covering materials were readhered.

The front board of the second volume was nearly detached, hanging on by just a single thread! I began by carefully lifting the leather at the boards and spine to gain access to the textblock.

Volume 2 - Before and After
Volume 2 – Before and After

As with the first volume, new structural board attachment was created with bias-cut linen transverse spine linings. The spine was rebacked with toned Kozo paper and the original covering materials were re-adhered. The edges of the reback material were lined up with the edges of the existing leather, to visually blend the repair materials with the original covering.

Repairs to the interior of the text were kept to a minimum as well.

Volume 1 front endsheets - Before and After
Volume 1 front endsheets – Before and After

It appears that the endsheets of both volumes had been replaced at some point with a thin wove paper. These new endsheets had become creased and were developing cracks and tears along the folds. Using local humidification techniques, the creases were flattened and tears were mended with thin Korean papers, toned to match.

The second volume features an interesting blank leaf with a large bookplate adhered to the recto.

Volume 2 bookplate - Before and After
Volume 2 bookplate – Before and After

The catalog record indicates that this item once belonged to Prince Lieven, the Russian ambassador to London from 1812-1834. This leaf is currently around 1/4″ shorter than the rest of the textblock and had a very poorly repaired tear along the head edge near the spine. During treatment, I was able to release this repaired piece and reattach it correctly along the tear. Strangely, when the torn corner was put back into place, the height of the leaf matched the rest of the textblock. My best guess is that the top edge of this leaf had become damaged at some point. Possibly when the new endsheets were added, this leaf was hastily repaired and trimmed down to have straight edges.

The last issue for me to deal with was the somewhat awkward enclosure. In more recent years, someone had constructed a double slipcase for the two volumes.

Double Slipcase: Before Treatment:
Double Slipcase: Before Treatment:

Each volume was also placed inside a cloth-covered 4-flap enclosure. 201516_107a_bt02

This was actually an enclosure solution that I had not seen before, and is a nice addition to my post about restraining enclosures. While the 4-flap does mitigate some of the dangers of a slipcase that a standard chemise cannot cover, having two books in one slipcase makes handling much more difficult. The case doesn’t have pull tabs or an easy way to extract a single book. The user must tip the entire set forward so that both books will slide out simultaneously. As you can imagine, this can be quite dangerous if the user isn’t being observant. Additionally, the 4-flap creates a very large footprint when open (see above).  As these enclosures were made fairly recently and not artifactually significant, we discussed with the curator the option of replacing them with standard cloth-covered clamshell boxes.


With the new board attachment, consolidated covering materials, and simpler enclosures, Mr. Smith is ready for engagement with human hands again. Check back with our Exhibits Page to see when this and other exciting items from the collection go on display.


Quick Pic: A 17th Century Fart Joke


Last week a rather strange and amusing item came in for rehousing, prompting me to do a little research about its origin. This satirical engraving by Stephen College, fittingly titled Strange’s Case, Strangely Altered, was printed in 1680. The dog represents Robert L’Estrange, an English pamphleteer, fleeing the gallows from his alleged involvement in the “Popish Plot“. “Crack-Fart” is one of the many names given to L’Estrange.  The British Museum has digitized their copy, which includes extensive contemporary annotations on the characters involved. Ironically, the printer was hanged and quartered for sedition a year later, while L’Estrange returned and was knighted in 1685 for helping to discredit the plot.

Quick Pic: Big Hair Never Goes Out of Style

Big Hair
Paul Rycaut, circa 1685, and Sasha, circa 1991.

With the incredible diversity of Duke’s collections, you never know what will come through the conservation lab. For example, some of my recent treatments included a 17th century printed book and a photograph album from the early 1990s.  Despite the differences in format, materials, and subject matter between these two items, one common thread persists: big hair never goes out of style.


What’s In The Lab: Long Civil Rights Digitization Project

Written by Erin Hammeke, Senior Conservator

The Content, Context and Capacity Project (CCC) was a multi-year collaborative digitization project of archival collections that documented the civil rights movement in North Carolina and the triangle. Josh Hager of Duke University Libraries’ Digital Production Center scanned several collections and approximately 66,000 individual items to contribute to this important project.

Some materials required minor repair before digitization, but since they are relatively modern, most of the materials were in stable condition and could be safely handled for scanning. There were some instances when items weren’t fragile, but because of format issues they needed attention before they could be imaged. These items included documents with attachments or bindings with restricted openings.

Before treatment: Heavy staples in side of publication.

The Basil Lee Whitener Papers, 1889-1968 contains several government issued documents that were side stapled to form quick bindings. These bindings didn’t open freely and some had text positioned so far into the gutter that they could not be scanned as they were. In some cases the staples were rusting and damaging the paper as well. With input from curatorial staff, we decided to alter the bindings in order to better capture the content and to ensure their long term preservation.

This process involved Conservation staff removing the heavy duty metal staples — sometimes with a microspatula, and sometimes with every tool we could get our hands on — from wire clippers to vise grips. We then replaced the metal staple with a loop of linen thread that was tied very loosely to allow for unrestricted opening during scanning. After scanning, we cinched and tightened the loop of thread to form a linen “staple.”

Before treatment: Staples restricted the opening and information was hard to read.
After treatment: Metal staples replaced with thread.

Quick Pic: Beautiful Books In The Lab

photo 2
This kozo paper has gold leaf and ferns imbedded in the delicate fibers.

We received a 12-volume set of books on the history of Washi. Each page has a description of the paper and includes a large (approx. 8″x10″) swatch. They are bound in a traditional side-sewn binding with each volume in a separate slip case. The set is amazing and beautiful.

Would it be wrong to keep them?

photo 1
Minowashi is a decorative paper with ferns and leaves in it. This version also has pressed butterflies. The butterfly bodies appear to be printed, but the wings are real.


What’s In The Lab: Duke And Sons Tobacco Album

By Erin Hammeke, Senior Conservator

The Duke and Sons tobacco album (see earlier post) had interesting structural features that presented challenges for a successful treatment. When the cash book was made into a scrapbook, the owner glued facing pages together to form stiff leaves. The two-ply pages held up well to all of the heavy attachments, but the structure made resewing the text difficult since I couldn’t get access to the center folio. The addition of all of the tobacco cards to the binding swelled the textblock to twice the size of the spine and blew out the sewing.

It’s not every day that we get an item like this in the lab and I wanted to do it justice with a repair that retained its features as a ledger book while allowing it to safely function as a scrapbook. You can see additional images of this treatment on Flickr.

Scrapbook before treatment.

Scrapbook before treatment.

Scrapbook after treatment.
Scrapbook after treatment.

What’s In The Lab: Duke Tobacco Cards

By Erin Hammeke, Senior Conservator

Tobacco card album.
Tobacco card album.

I’ve just finished the most challenging and enjoyable treatment of the year for me: a ledger book from the 1880’s that was later repurposed as a scrapbook for a Duke Tobacco card collection. The collectors cards were included in packs of Duke Tobacco and most of this collection appears to date to the late 19th Century. The cards were issued in various topical series: international costumes, historical figures, great ships, flags, and writers, among others. They range in physical format, from chromolithographs, to tiny booklets and even albumen photographic prints.

The most interesting thing to me about the cards are the different portrayals of women. There are cartoonish representations of women fishing, colorful illustrations of women bicycling and exercising, and of course some early pin-up type photographs of actresses and performers of the era. Look for this album and other Duke and Sons Tobacco materials in an upcoming Duke University Libraries Digital Collection. Here are some of my favorite pages.

Smoke rings.
Women on bikes.
Women on bikes.

What’s In The Lab: Revolutionary War Medicine

Written by Grace White, Special Collections Conservator

I recently had the pleasure of treating a group of the Philip Turner Papers from the History of Medicine collection held in the Rubenstein Library.  Philip Turner was a Surgeon General for the Continental Army during the American Revolution, and this particular bundle of papers contained military hospital returns for 1778.  The 30 papers record soldiers’ injuries and illnesses such as dysentery, fever, scurvy, rheumatism, inoculations for smallpox and occasional battle wounds.

21 before after

The papers had been crudely stitched together with thread, making it nearly impossible to lift and read any one page.  The bundle had also been folded and creased, and there was evidence of water damage with stains, mold and many tears and losses.

I removed and saved the thread and began my treatment of the individual papers.  I surface cleaned them all to remove dirt and loose mold spores, and then I washed them with water and solvents to kill any remaining mold and to reduce staining and acidity.  Finally I mended and flattened the papers and housed them in a folder.  They are much safer for researchers to use now, and their visual appearance is also much improved.  These kinds of projects are so rewarding.

before and after

As a side note, one interesting discovery I made was that several of the papers are watermarked with a crowned “GR” for George Rex, the king of Great Britain and Ireland.  Using imported British paper was probably not uncommon in the colonies, but the Georgian watermark is an irony for papers of the revolutionary army.

GR watermark

It’s Been A Busy Week!

Is it just me or does this papyrus look like Bart Simpson?

It has been a very busy week in Conservation. We are neck-deep in helping with the move of the special collections to swing space. The flat files moved this week, which was a very big job indeed. Everyone in the lab has been helping either with the physical move, preparing materials for transport, or providing security as the materials are shifted to swing space.

The last complicated portion of the move project for us is to finish preparing the newspapers in both the special collections stacks as well as the older Perkins stacks. Erin is the project manager for the Rubenstein newspapers and has been working closely with Tedd, our student assistant Kelly Noel, and with Rubenstein staff to get the fragile volumes ready to move. Tedd just surpassed his 3,200th box! Considering how big some of these newspaper boxes are it is a testament to his ability to “get it done!”

The papyri project is moving forward. We have almost finished boxing the “regular sized” items. This week we pulled the oversized papyri. Everyone in the lab has been helping to create new enclosures for this collection. It is hard to believe this project started one year ago this month. We have already received very positive feedback on our housing strategy, and that always feels good.

tape removal
Meg works on tape removal in the fume hood.

Meg has been working on getting the next batch of items ready for exhibit. Her projects involve a lot of tape removal and subsequent stain removal. This is a fairly laborious process. Not only will these materials be more aesthetically pleasing for the exhibit, they will be repaired in a much more sympathetic and stable manner.

Grace has been working on a lot of scrapbooks lately. The one she finished this week had a lot of fold-outs that were mis-folded and damaged. It took a lot of patience to get through it, but it is now ready for its binding to be repaired. She finished several projects last week, so this week she is starting on new ones. One is particularly fabulous, but we will save that for future post.

Jennifer has been working double time pulling materials for Tedd and keeping track of all the work we are doing for the renovation project. As our registrar she keeps our lab log accurate, and for that we are all eternally grateful. We also got a batch of materials in from the Digital Production Center (DPC) that needed attention, so she has been doing a lot of paper repair this week. Erin has also been repairing items and getting them ready for digitization. She has been working closely with Josh Hager, who works on the Content, Context and Capacity project, to repair some manuscripts that were stuck together. They now look great and are ready for imaging.

French serial
Want to read a play in French?

Mary completed this really interesting serial set of circa 1830-40’s French plays. They were in terrible shape when they came in. She rebound them using the Princeton 305 technique, which is fantastic option for tight-joint bindings. Mary also presented two Care and Handling training sessions to student assistants in Circulation. She trained about two dozen students on proper handling methods and what materials they should set aside for Conservation.

Me? I’ve been helping move the flat files, I finished prepping the Gothic Reading Room materials, I’ve worked on all sorts of “management-y” things (emails, paperwork, receipts, etc.). I did some mold removal on one box of J.B. Matthews papers and have four more to go (in this batch…there are dozens to do). Basically I tried to keep the wheels on the conservation bus turning for one more week as my staff gets all this amazing work done. I am very lucky to be surrounded by such talented and dedicated people.

Happy Friday everyone!






















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