Miniature Screens

The internet loves things in miniature, and books are no exception. We’ve previously written about miniature figurines, photo albums, and other books – but today I’d like to add miniature screens to the mix. Recently this wonderful little book came into the lab for boxing: Japanese Screens in Miniature; Six Masterpieces of the Momoyama Period.

The Momoyama Period (1573–1615) was a time of great social change and constant warfare in Japan. A growing interest in the outside world and the introduction of European firearms contributed to new styles in both architecture and art. Large folding screens, covered in gold leaf and ornately painted, became an important decorative element inside the large fortresses built during this period.

The set of six small screens (~ 6″ tall) comes in a textile-covered wrapper and includes a short introduction with some historical context.

Each screen is six panels, mounted on board and folded in accordion style. A paper label with the title, artist, and date is adhered to the verso. The hinges are a little stiff, so I had to use some small weights to hold the screens open wide enough to image.

It is such a satisfying tactile experience to open each screen and unfold these delightful images. You just get the sense of how incredible the original objects must be, standing approximately 60″ tall with so much gilding.

North Korea as Seen Through Stamps

Stamp collecting, often associated with philately (or the study of stamps), is a hobby that has been around since the first postage stamp was issued by Britain in May of 1840. Since then, stamp collecting has been one of the world’s most popular hobbies, resulting in the production of over 400,000 different types of stamp by the year 2000.

Many of the stamps produced are from smaller countries seeking to bring in much needed revenue, which they achieve through the printing of limited run stamps specifically for stamp collectors. One such country happens to be North Korea. This fact came to my attention when a collection of North Korean stamp albums arrived at our lab.

The collection of stamp albums stacked on top of one anotherThe collection consists of five stapled pamphlets and two bound books, all full of loose stamps in need of securing.

The stamp albums that are pamphlets spread out on a flat surface.

A top down view of the the stamp albums that are in book format.

I will mention that it is unclear whether these are actually functional stamps or just coated paper made to look like stamps. There is no noticeable adhesive on the backs of them, and even a UV light analysis and our ordering specialist couldn’t get us any closer to a conclusive answer.

Regardless, we couldn’t risk all of these stamps being lost or stolen. I had to find a way to contain them all so that patrons could access these albums without leaving the fate of these stamps to chance.

How do we treat these items?

Each of these albums is made up of pages containing several small slips of mylar with the bottom edge adhered to the actual page.

A hand pulls back one of the mylar slips and also bends one of the loose stamps away from the page.

Within each of these slips sits either a single stamp or multiple stamps, which varies from page to page.

A page from one of the stamp albums showing an assortment of stamps focused on North Korean fine art.

A page from one of the stamp albums showing an assortment of stamps focused on North Korean natural landmarks.

Although the stamps don’t necessarily fly about or out of the slips as you flip through the pages, it’s obvious that they aren’t exactly going to just stay in place over time.

So, what is the solution here?

Since these mylar slips were already at my disposal, it made the most sense to use them to my advantage. After applying a thin bead of wheat starch paste to the top of each stamp, I tipped each stamp into the mylar and made sure the bottom of the stamp was placed as far down into the slip as possible.

Two photos side by side. The photo on the left shows a brush being used to apply wheat starch paste to the top edge of the back of a stamp. The photo on the right shows the stamp being placed back into its mylar slip and adhered to the page.

This way the stamp is secured in place without having to glue up the entire back of the item, and the mylar acts as a catch for the bottom of the stamp so that they can’t be pulled out as easily. With the stamps now safely secured, these albums are ready for a closer look at their contents.

How do we interpret these items?

These albums seem to be geared towards foreigners and tourists. Of the seven albums here, three contain text in Korean, Chinese, and English, one contains text in just Korean and English, and the other three contain text in just Korean and Chinese. Seeing as none of these are written only in Korean, it can be assumed that these albums were not intended solely for Korean audiences.

A page from one of the stamp albums showing a larger sheet that is perforated to hold multiple stamps. The stamps depict images of Kim Il-sung, various antique cars, and a music score. There is also accompanying text in Korean and in English.

As you have also probably noticed, these stamps cover a wide variety of subjects as well. It seems as though you can find a stamp on just about anything if you really wanted to. This is probably for the benefit of appealing to as many collectors as possible who might only collect certain kinds of stamps.

A page from one of the stamp albums showing an assortment of stamps focused on Kim Jong-il meeting with various international leaders.

The world of stamps is quite intriguing, especially considering how they can become vehicles for propaganda. Are you a stamp collector or a philatelist (someone who studies stamps)? Leave a comment with your thoughts on this collection if you are, and leave a comment even if you aren’t! We’d love to hear what you think about our new addition to the Perkins Library. If you’d like to find these items in our catalog, you can click any of these links.

Our New Golden Devil

We had the opportunity to order some additional brass type for our Kwikprint hot foil stamping machine recently, thanks in huge part to donors to our Adopt-a-Book program.  The additional sizes of type will give us more options when we need to make labels for new bindings, rebacked spines, or enclosures.

Along with the type, we were also able to get a small custom die of the reading devil who adorns the roof of the von der Heyden Pavilion – and it looks pretty amazing.

Reading devil, stamped in gold. Now that it’s in the machine and heated up, I will be spending the next hour looking around the lab for anything that I can stamp. The back of my Moleskine notebook was the first thing to go.

moleskin notebook stamped with reading devil

Now no one’s office supplies are safe! What should we stamp next?

Stapled Instead of Sewn

When you look at how books are generally made, you’ll find that a majority of them are either sewn with thread, glued together as individual sheets, or occasionally bound with a combination of sewing and commercial glue.

On rarer occasions, a book will be stapled together. As luck would have it, one of these books recently came across my bench in need of a new cover. At first glance, you can’t immediately tell the difference between a stapled book and a sewn book.

It’s not until you open the book up and look at the gutter of one of the signatures that you might be able to see whether the book is stapled or not.

An opened book revealing the gutter of the pages where a staple can be seen.

It’s even easier once you’ve taken the cover off and can look directly at the spine of the textblock. As you can see in the images below, there are staples running through a significant portion of the signatures of this book.

Now, in a perfect world where I have all the time and patience I could want, I might remove the staples, mend any damage to the signatures in the process, sew the book back together, and then make a new cover. In this case, such an approach would be too labor intensive and time consuming. As the only senior conservation technician charged with maintaining the general collections, I cannot devote that much time to one book when I might have as many as 25 other books also waiting to be treated.

Considerations

With binding structures like this, the treatment decisions tend to boil down to preserving the provenance of the object vs choosing to rebind the book for greater longevity. In this blog post by Peter D. Verheyen in 2011, it’s evident that these wire bindings are a curious part of the history of bookbinding. Since they’re unusual, and since our goal is to conserve as much of the original item as possible, one might think that saving the original binding would be the obvious choice.

But how do technicians in general collections conservation (such as myself) reconcile keeping as much of the original object intact when we also have to prioritize making sure that the book can withstand regular use from patrons? If the staples in the binding had been so rusted that they were breaking whenever I opened the book, I would most likely take a more involved approach to the treatment of this book. An example of such a treatment would be adhering a cotton cambric to the spine and sewing through it along with the textblock, which you can see an example of in this paper by our very own Beth Doyle.

Luckily, in this case, both the paper and the staples were in good enough condition that a secondary treatment wasn’t necessary. However, it could be argued that perhaps I should have gone ahead with the more complex treatment just in case the staples failed in the future. In the end, these are the dilemmas we face in general collections conservation.

Treatment

I decided that the best course of action would be to clean the spine of its original lining and glue and replace it with a strong Japanese tissue adhered with wheat starch paste. By doing so, the spine is stabilized and strengthened while the staples are also given additional support. This reduces the potential damage that could occur from future use and repeated opening and closing of the book.

A picture of the stapled textblock post spine cleaning being held in a hand. The spine and staples are protected with a thin Japanese tissue, so you can still see the staples.

With the textblock now in a stable state, I could prepare a new case for the book. The original case had already failed and since the original materials were too fragile to keep using, it didn’t make sense to try and reuse the case. Instead, I made an inset on the front board in order to preserve the original cover material. If you’d like to learn more about the book, you can find the catalog record here.

Phooey Fanuly

Highlighting, underlining, sticky notes, more sticky notes.  If patrons decide to mark their place or organize their thoughts inside library books, it usually ends up coming to Conservation because it is difficult for the next patron to use without distraction.  We get these a lot.

Underline all the things!

“You Don’t Look 35, Charlie Brown” came to the lab because someone has written their notes in the book. Normally if books are heavily marked we will send them to Collection Development for evaluation. If a clean copy can be purchased, we will replace it. I decided we should keep this one, notes and all, because the commentary was sort of insightful. We did replace the cover, as the original was heavily damaged.

We hear you, Lucy.

It also made us laugh, and that counts towards wanting to keep the record of this use, right?

Cookies will ALWAYS solve problems.

Call it “provenance” and have a cookie. Happy Friday to all. May Charlie Brown finally get to kick the football this Superbowl Weekend.

The “Disaster Wiggle” Redux

Remember our post from May 2020 that introduced “The Disaster Recovery Wiggle?” The Wiggle is back for an encore!

I am working on a large collection of paper and photographic records that were recently acquired. These were stored in a wet garage and came to us damp and actively moldy. Pro tip: don’t store your papers in a wet garage.

I divided the records into packs containing 3-4 folders each, wrapped them in plastic, labeled them well, and put them in the freezer. Each package contains a group of photographs and/or documents that should fit into the fume hood for easy drying. Time warp to almost a year later and I am ready to get these thawed and cleaned.

Remember Freezer Friday? It’s also back. This project takes up the top two shelves.
Step 1: Thawing

I remove one package at a time from the freezer and spread the documents out in the fume hood to thaw. The contents are carefully spread out so that the original order can be maintained. When the pages can be carefully separated, I remove the rusty fasteners.

The metal fasteners have no structural integrity left.

This is a good time to remind conservators that they really should keep their tetanus vaccine up to date.

Step 2: Drying

Many of the packages had too many papers in them to all fit on the deck of the fume hood. I had to figure out a way to expand the available surface area for drying without inhibiting air flow. I figured there must be a way to recreate the double-decker drying we set up in May of 2020 (again with the time warp) but with more airflow.

A diffuser panel makes a great second tier drying rack.

We use diffuser panels as a base in humidity chambers because they are sturdy, but have holes in them that allow moist air to move through the paper. I thought, “Why not reverse the process?” I grabbed a panel, propped it on some supports, and voila! A double-decker fume hood drying rack.

With the double-decker drying rack in place, I needed to be sure the air flow was constant at the top and bottom. I cut two pieces of newsprint, grabbed a couple of Plexi Glas weights, and fashioned a “flag” that could wave in the breeze if it was sufficiently windy. Will it wiggle?

The top rack wiggles!

The top rack had no problem with air flow. But the space below was smaller. Will it wiggle, too?

The bottom wiggles, too!

It does! With the flags gently waving I felt that the air drying could commence.

Step 3: Vacuuming

I’m leaving each package in the fume hood for at least two days to thoroughly dry before vacuuming. Once cleaned, I will re-folder the documents and repeat with the remaining 19 packages in the freezer.

More info on preservation your collections

For more tips on preserving personal collections, see our “Preservation Week: 10 Tips for Your Collections” series.

Tips 1-2: Environment and Enclosures
Tips 3-5: Handling, Display, Facsimiles
Tips 6-7: Disasters and Non-paper collections
Tips 8-10: Preservation/Access, Informed purchasing, DIY repairs

 

 

Keeping It Together

Keeping it together can be a real challenge these days. There are many effective strategies for maintaining one’s mental health, but unfortunately this blog post isn’t about any of that. This blog is about library and archives materials. So I’m here to share a simple system for keeping it together when you are working on a textblock in need of some major intervention.

For the past several months, I’ve been working on (and writing about) a 16th century German book which has a number of problems. The textblock was already in pieces, but then it had to be taken apart completely for treatment. I was worried about keeping all the little bits organized, so that nothing would be lost or put in the wrong order as it underwent this long and multi-stage process.

As part of the pre-treatment documentation process, I collated the book using a digital copy of the same edition hosted by the Bavarian State Library. Early books are not paginated in the same way as modern ones, so you have to look for other clues to maintain the correct order. To help, I numbered each leaf in pencil before disbinding. The textblock is organized into sections of three folios. Some of the folds are intact with a little damage, but many of them have split entirely, leaving individual leaves. Each separated section was placed into a numbered paper folder, including any separated little bits of paper from that section.

Throughout the treatment, I have been trying to work on one section at a time to keep all the parts in easily manageable groups. This was true for washing, resizing, and mending.

Since all of the sections are composed of three folios, I started making marks on the outside of the paper folder to keep track of what I had finished in each packet. For example, in the mending and guarding stage it is best to work from the inside of the section to the outside. It can be a rather drawn out process of adding mends, then leaving them to dry under weight. I would cross out the number 3 as I finished the most interior folio, proceeding through the entire textblock before starting on the middle folios. Over the course of a couple of weeks doing this, it was very easy to just look through the stack of folders and see where to continue.


The first two sections have the most losses, so I’m still finishing some of the stabilization/infills on those – but overall the textblock is looking much improved!

(still in process, but you can compare to the “before” photo to see the progress)

There are probably many strategies for keeping the different parts of your treatments organized, but I have found this low-tech one to be very straightforward and helpful for books at least. What strategies/tools do you use?

Adopt A Book: The Perfect Gift

Looking for the perfect gift for the winter holidays? Look no further. Donating to the Duke Libraries Adopt-a-Book program not only helps the Library preserve its collections, it makes a great gift for family or friends. Donations are also calorie-free and don’t take up closet space! We have a few new items up for adoption, and a few other titles that are worthy of adoption that have been on the list for a bit.

These three volumes of Don Quioxte have remarkable edge paintings that are still quite vibrant.

three books with edge paintings of castles
Castles galore!

This collection of four titles are all in excellent condition but need custom enclosures to keep them that way. Matthew Alexander Henson‘s A Negro Explorer at the North Pole recounts his 1909 voyage to the North Pole with Robert Peary, where he may have been the first to reach the geographic North Pole. This voyage was one of seven voyages to the Arctic where he served as a navigator and craftsman for Peary.

A collection of classics.

Still in need of adopting are two sets of bindings by H. McLanahan. These may all be written by Bernard Shaw, but the McLanahan bindings are what make these books stunning.

These are so expertly crafted and beautiful.

If you are feeling really generous, there are the beautiful and stunning elephant folio Birds of American by John James Audubon. These bindings are huge, and three are in need of repair. A true statement gift!

Strapping a double elephant folio Audubon.

There are plenty more available for adoption. See our website for the complete list and benefits of adoption. If you can’t decide on a particular item, let us decide with a “Adopt a Box: Conservator’s Choice.” We always have great stuff in the lab that needs attention. We will choose something wonderful for you.

Preservation Underground will be on hiatus until January so that we can rest, recharge, and spend time with our families over the holidays. We hope to see you in 2022. Thanks for reading!

Duke University Libraries Preservation