Category Archives: In the Conservation Lab

A Home for our Dragons (and Ghosts, and Bunnies…)

One of my ongoing processing projects for the past year was to arrange and describe the Edwin and Terry Murray Collection of Role-Playing Games, a vast collection with thousands of books, boxed games, miniature pieces, card sets, magazines — all relating to the world of RPGs. Most of these items received individual attention. For example, each volume in the collection has been described at an item level, including its title, publisher, and year, to better help our patrons browse across the various game worlds and decades of RPG publishing. Users can download a spreadsheet from the finding aid and search and sort the materials to their heart’s content. Since these materials are all stored offsite, I also included each box or volume’s barcode to speed the recall of these materials to the reading room.

Cart of RPG books, ready to go offsite
Cart of RPG books, ready to go offsite

One of the best parts of working with RPGs was the fact that they contain such colorful and imaginative artwork. Even if I didn’t have any interest in playing the game, the covers of the many volumes or boxes easily grabbed my attention. Some of the highlights? For me, the movie-based games were always fun to find.

Who You Gonna Call? Ghostbusters!
Who Ya Gonna Call? Ghostbusters, of course.

I also enjoyed learning more about the many, many variants and knock-offs of Dungeons and Dragons — why reinvent the wheel when you can just change the words around a bit? But the funniest, in my opinion, were the games that clearly tried to reach new audiences — like these two games aimed at people who liked bunnies.

Wabbit Wampage RPG
Wabbit Wampage and Bunnies and Burrows: 2 different RPGs featuring scary smart rabbits.

You may remember our blog posts about the Rubenstein Game Night, celebrating the opening of the collection last winter. Since then, we received another very large addition, and we needed to work closely with our Conservation Department to figure out how to house the hundreds of hand-painted figurines and miniatures that arrived with the collection. I think they had as much fun as I did down in the lab. Check out this post from Preservation Underground to learn more about stabilizing and housing the tiny dragons and other creatures that make up the Miniatures, Props, and Pieces Series. And, be sure to view the photo essay on Flickr for detailed shots of the pretty and gruesome monsters in the collection.

Post contributed by Meghan Lyon, Accessioning Associate in the Technical Services Dept.

The Mystery of Emily Johnson’s Headstone

Close-Up of Emily Johnson's HeadstoneAccording to oral tradition, Emily Johnson’s headstone was discovered in the 1960s at the construction site of the Divinity School addition.  It remained in a closet there until 1993, when it was transferred to the custody of the Duke University Archives.   How the headstone ended up on campus and where it originally resided remain a mystery to this day.

Over the years, several attempts were made by William King, University Archivist Emeritus, to locate information about Johnson and or her descendants in an effort to relocate the headstone to its appropriate resting place.   He found no record of any real estate transaction between the University and the Johnson family, indicating that it’s likely the headstone did not originally reside on West Campus land, most of which had been family farmsteads.

There are also no listings for Emily Johnson in nearby Durham cemeteries, such as Maplewood.  While death certificates usually provide burial location for the decedent, they were not regularly issued in North Carolina until 1913, eighteen years after Johnson’s death.

Duke University Archives staff would love to know where Emily Johnson’s headstone belongs.  If any blog readers would like to help take up the cause, your efforts would be most appreciated (contact us!).  Until such time as the headstone can be returned to its rightful place, Duke University Archives will continue to serve as its custodian.

Emily Johnson's Headstone in its Box

Special thanks to Jennifer Blomberg, Senior Conservation Technician in the Conservation Services Department, for making a custom box for the headstone.  To read more about the construction of the box, please check out Preservation Underground’s related blog post.

Post contributed by Kim Sims, Technical Services Archivist for the Duke University Archives.

Robert Burns, Unglued

The Rubenstein Library owns a well-worn copy of Robert Burns’ Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect that was selected for conservation treatment in October of 2010. The full sheepskin binding was in fair condition and broken at the board hinges.  A previous spine repair attempt with what appeared to be Elmer’s glue left the leather on the spine looking, shall we say,… shiny? The glue coating also resulted in irreparable damage to the fragile sheepskin covering and caused the outer layer of the leather to separate and peel.

Spine of Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect , before treatment
Spine of Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect , before treatment

In addition, the pages were fairly dirty and, at the front of the text, were tipped to one another in ways that made it difficult to turn them safely.

Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect before treatment
Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect before treatment
Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect before treatment
Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect before treatment

In consultation with curators, conservators from the Conservation Services Department decided on a treatment that involved surface cleaning the text; removing damaging previous repairs; page mending and hinging in loose pages; reinforcing the board attachments; and recovering the spine with leather dyed to match the original sheepskin covering.  The treatment resulted in a binding that retains the character and evidence of use of the original but is much more stable and functional.

Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect after treatment
Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect after treatment
Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect after treatment
Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect after treatment

Post contributed by Erin Hammeke, Conservator for Special Collections. Thanks Erin! Visit the Conservation blog, Preservation Underground, for more from our friends in the lab!

It Takes a Village to House a Village

Sorting through the unprocessed contents of an archival collection can be compared to a treasure hunt – sometimes you find an unexpected gem that produces an impromptu “ooh,” but then after the initial excitement wears off, you have to figure out what you’re actually looking at and then decide what to do with it.

Box of "Foundation Models"
A mystery box of Foundation Models (100 scale)

A small box marked “Foundation Models (100 scale)” found in one of the unprocessed boxes of the Foundation for Southeast Asian Art and Culture (SEAAC) records was one of those discoveries. Inside the box were fourteen miniature buildings, ranging from about ½ inch to 1¼ inches in size and elaborately constructed from a thin cardboard material. After a bit of investigative work using the other records in the collection, I found that the miniatures were part of a model of a Thai Village Complex that Doris Duke planned to build in Hawaii during the 1960s. The set of miniatures were quickly dubbed the “Tiny Thai Village.”

3 pieces from the Tiny Thai Village

An avid world traveler, Doris Duke fell in love with the art and culture of Thailand during a trip to the country in 1957. It is likely that this visit inspired her to create a Thai village in Hawaii with houses similar to those she had seen. The establishment of SEAAC in June of 1961 resulted in a project that Doris Duke saw as a gift to the people of Hawaii, and one that occupied her for many years. At least five sites in Hawaii were considered for the Thai Village and it was the choice of an appropriate location that ultimately proved the stumbling block to completion of the project. Her dream of a Thai Village was never realized, however Doris Duke’s interest in Asia continued and she purchased art objects right up until her death in 1993.

Now that I knew what these miniatures were, I needed to determine how to make them accessible to researchers. As both the size and delicacy of the objects were obvious barriers, the need for expertise help in creating practical housing for the Tiny Thai Village was essential. Fortunately for the Rubenstein Library, we have a crack team of conservators who like a good challenge. To read how the puzzle of the Tiny Thai Village was resolved, see the Preservation Underground blog.

Post contributed by Mary Samouelian, Doris Duke Collection Archivist.

In the Lab: Scrapbooking for Victory, Part Two

In 1918, the week of November 11-18 was not only a celebration of the end of World War I, but was coincidentally also a week of massive fundraising by the United War Work Campaign to support troops and boost morale until their work was done.  The scrapbook of posters and pamphlets from the campaign was described previously in the post “Scrapbooking for Victory.”

The scrapbook has been undergoing treatment in the conservation lab for the last couple of months.  As a paper conservator, I’ve been collaborating with book conservator Meg Brown to treat the album’s myriad problems, from the damaged binding to the fragile items glued to the pages.  The scrapbook has been a challenge because of its large size and the awkward folding items it contains.  The conservation problems have required hands-on treatment, lots of brainstorming sessions, and ongoing dialogue with curators to understand how the scrapbook will be used.  It’s a popular item with librarians, professors and researchers, and it’s no surprise; it’s a wonderful book!

Before Treatment: Tears to a Poster in the United War Work Campaign Scrapbook

Meg cleaned, consolidated and relined the spine to make the text block stronger, and she used the spine lining to securely attach the text block to the cover.  I’ve been mending tears and flattening creases in the posters and leaflets, many of which have broken at the folds from handling and from insect attack.  A few of the damaged booklets will be lifted from the pages and housed in pockets for easier, safer access.  The largest poster in the book unfolds to 82 x 41 inches (208 x 104 cm), so I’ve had to commandeer extra table space.  It’s especially useful at times like this to have a table on wheels that adjusts in height!

Grace and a Very Large Poster

When the treatment is finished, a storage box will be made, and the scrapbook will be sent back upstairs to the Rubenstein Library for all to enjoy.

For more photos of the scrapbook, and its restorative sojourn in the Conservation Lab, visit the “United War Work Campaign Scrapbook” set on the Rubenstein Library’s Flickr photostream.

Post contributed by Grace White, Conservator for Special Collections, as part of our ongoing “In the Conservation Lab” series.

Medical Move Mondays: Conserving the Collections

It’s week three of our series on the History of Medicine Collections‘ move from the Medical Center Library on Duke’s medical campus to the RBMSCL on West Campus.

Wrapping Materials before MovingLast week, I mentioned that Jessica found the occasional book with the cover falling off of it. Enter Conservation! The staff of the Duke University Libraries’ Conservation Services Department (all six of them!) have been spending a good deal of time with the History of Medicine Collections assessing materials and making protective enclosures for items that are too damaged to move in their current state. They have been quite busy placing items in protective envelopes, measuring books for protective enclosures, and creating lots of custom-made enclosures.

The Conservation Services Department has provided over 2,217 enclosures in five weeks for the History of Medicine Collections. Along with protective envelopes, Conservation has custom-made tuxedo boxes, blue clamshell enclosures, phase boxes, and even a cloth-covered clamshell box for an extremely brittle, unique Sanskrit book. This is quite a feat—considering they did not have much time and made the enclosures at a different location than the books!

Measuring Items for EnclosuresMeasurements were made at the History of Medicine Collections’ former space, located in the Medical Center Library. Boxes were then constructed in Conservation’s beautiful lab space in Perkins Library. Once enclosures were complete, the boxes were brought to the books at the History of Medicine for their fitting. Their hard work and dedication have ensured that the damaged and fragile items in this collection will withstand the move. Thank you, Conservation!

For photos of the move from start to finish, visit the “HOM Collections Move” set on the Duke University Libraries’ Flickr photostream.

Next week: Shipping and Receiving moves some very carefully-packed book trucks.

Post contributed by Rachel Ingold, Curator for the History of Medicine Collections.

In the Lab: Boxing the Blue Devil

I love the sort of projects that start with a co-worker saying, “We have something special we want you to box,” because I always know it’ll be anything but a regular book. When I saw this little Blue Devil Doll, I knew a fun project lay ahead.

This doll was donated to the Duke University Archives this spring. It was purchased on campus in 1938 and is made of straw with a wax (I think) head and dressed in a smart blue felt outfit. The devil’s tail has floral wire wrapped around it to provide stiffness. The doll itself is in fair condition but, as you can see below, it has sustained some damage to the felt, most likely from insect activity.

Because of its condition, I wanted to make a sturdy box that had a cushioned interior to protect the fragile doll. The end result would be a drop-spine box, also called a cloth-covered clamshell. Before constructing the outer box, I would have to make an inner box with a cushioned interior.

The inner box is constructed of buffered corrugated board, lined with polyester quilt batting with a cotton fabric liner. The fun part was making the side bolsters to keep the doll from rolling around. These are made from rolled up polyester batting and then encased in a polyethylene pocket using our CoLibri book cover machine to make tubes. These provide enough structure to hold their shape but are still soft should the doll shift. Who knew that all my sewing experience would come in handy this way?

Blue Devil Doll in His Box

Once done with the inner tray, I constructed a clamshell box around it. The final enclosure is sturdy and keeps the doll firmly in place. The creative use of the CoLibri pockets worked really well. I’ll remember that should another devil cross my path.

For more photos of the Blue Devil Doll in his new home, visit the Conservation Lab’s “Boxing the Devil” set on Flickr!

Post contributed by Beth Doyle, Collections Conservator, as part of our ongoing “In the Conservation Lab” series.

RBMSCL Photos: It’s MayDay!

Today, archives and other cultural heritage institutions across the country will be celebrating MayDay, our annual reminder to re-examine our strategies for protecting our valuable collections in the event of an emergency. To honor the day, we’re posting this picture of a range of pH-neutral archival boxes and papers, just waiting to house our new acquisitions. Proper housing is one of the many steps that the RBMSCL takes to ensure that our collections will be around for generations.

Over at Preservation Underground, our colleagues in the Preservation department have prepared a handy list of online resources on library emergency planning.

Join the Preservation Underground

When they’re not busy discovering moldy bananas in books, building storage boxes for pink dragons, or digitizing somewhere around 5,000 broadsides, the Preservation Department here at the Duke University Libraries is going to be keeping us up-to-date on their work through their new blog, Preservation Underground. We hope they have as much fun with theirs as we have with The Devil’s Tale—and we really hope the bananas keep to the produce section from now on.

And yes, they’ll still be writing the occasional guest post for us about RBMSCL materials in the conservation lab. Take a look at their fine work on the Theatrum Orbis Terrarum.

In the Lab: The Theatrum Orbis Terrarum

We’re going to be teaming up with our friends in the Verne and Tanya Roberts Conservation Lab here at the Duke University Libraries for a regular series of posts on RBMSCL materials in the lab for conservation treatment. We’ll start with a look at the Dutch-language edition of the Theatrum Orbis Terrarum.

A Little History

This six-volume world atlas was created and published between 1648 and 1655 by Willem Janszoon Blaeu and his son, Joan Blaeu, two of the finest map makers of the 17th century.

Dutch cartographer and publisher Willem Blaeu (1571-1638) studied astronomy and cartography under the well-known astronomer and alchemist Tycho Brahe. In 1633, he was appointed the official cartographer of the Dutch East India Company. Joan Blaeu (1596-1673), himself an accomplished cartographer, took over the press after his father’s death in 1638. Under his supervision, they became the largest publisher of their kind in 17th century Europe.

These folio volumes are full of engraved maps and vignettes that were hand-colored with a strikingly vibrant palette. They are bound in gold-tooled stiff-board vellum bindings.

Conservation Work

The atlases arrived in the lab in fairly good condition considering their age. Still, due to their size, it will take Erin Hammeke, Special Collections Conservator, many hours to complete the necessary repairs.

The texts and maps are printed on a good quality rag paper that is still quite strong. There are minor paper tears, badly folded maps, and some insect holes in all of the volumes which make safe handling difficult. The vellum bindings also exhibit small tears that need to be mended.

Each atlas requires surface cleaning to remove dirt and debris from the covers and individual pages. Erin will use soft brushes, special erasers, and a museum vacuum, all of which are designed to remove debris while reducing potential damage to the paper’s surface. Wheat starch paste and strong but thin Japanese and Korean tissues are used for the paper repairs. When the conservation is complete, Erin will construct a custom fitted enclosure for each volume.

Post contributed by Beth Doyle, Collections Conservator, and Erin Hammeke, Conservator for Special Collections

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