Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Map of Boston 1775

A recent acquisition from a particularly exciting time on Boston's history!

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Hand Made

Up until the latter half of the 19th century a lot of bookbinding work was done by hand, folding, sewing, casing-in, etc.  Sewing was done "all-along", or in a variation such as "two-on" after a sewing channel or "kerf" has been sawed into the spine of the text-block.  As mechanization spread throughout industry eventually all of the tasks were taken over by machine.  The Smyth book-sewing machine was patented in 1868, by David Smyth and was purchased by the publishing company Appleton that had an in-house bindery.

machine sewn book on the left, hand sewn on the right
You can really see the difference between hand work and machine work in these two spines.  I was cleaning the old adhesive off the spines when my colleague Melanie looked over my shoulder and pointed it out.  The machine sewing is straight, paired lines of chain stitching while the hand made book on the right has crooked kerfs and is even missing one at the tail. 

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Finished Binding

I've published a lot of "process" posts, so it is about time that I catch up with some posts about finished treatments.  As I outlined in my "Not Too Matchy-Matchy" post, I have been working on Thomas Jefferson's original1825  list of books to be purchased for the UVa Library.  I recently finished the treatment, after washing, mending and sewing the pages.

I laced on the boards, pared and applied the leather spine as well as the marbled paper.  The final step was tooling a decorative line on the leather next to the marbled paper.
hot tool on the left, final binding in the middle, practice leather on the right
My model binding had blind lines tooled across the spine, but with such a thin book that wasn't a possibility, also I didn't want the 1825 manuscript to be a replica of my model so much as look like it would be the next notebook on the shelf in Jefferson's library. 

20th century "interim" binding on left, my conservation binding in the center, model binding on the right.
I'm really pleased with the way the binding turned out, not only is the laced-on structure stronger, but the materials are more in keeping with the time and place where the manuscript originated.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Exhibit Standards

Exhibits are great way for libraries to raise awareness about the gems in their collections.  An exhibit can showcase a little known collection of letters or highlight specific details within a well known story.

Exhibits can also be a lot of work, it is hard to pull together the right set of documents to tell a story and then write concise yet informative labels that bring everything together.  Displaying collections is also trickier than it seems.  You want to be certain that your exhibit area has good, stable environmental conditions in terms of temperature, relative humidity and lighting.  You want to be sure the cases seal so that the objects are free from dust and tampering.  There are a lot of details to address, but the good news is that there are standards available to help anyone involved in the exhibit process. 

The National Information Standards Organization publishes free technical leaflets, including "Environmental Conditions for Exhibiting Library & Archival Materials" [Z39.79-2001] which is available as a free, downloadable pdf. from their website.  The link to the pdf. is in the lower left corner of the linked NISO page.  These standards can be particularly useful for those who do not have a conservator or exhibits preparator on staff.

One commonly overlooked detail is a backing board for paper documents.  Many institutions re-use Plexiglas cradles from one exhibit to the next, and this makes a certain amount of sense as it eliminates waste and saves money.  Of course, paper documents come in many different sizes, so a cradle from a previous exhibit will often have to be modified.  Take a look at the picture below, and see how the document is taller and wider than the Plexiglas.  This may not seem like a significant amount, but this is 400 year old paper that has seen a bit of wear and tear over the years and if left on display without proper support, the letter could start to curl and droop over the edge of the Plexiglas cradle.  Why take that chance?

see how much the document hangs over on the left and at the top?

All that you need to do is take a piece of archival mat board and trim it so that it is just a few millimeters longer and wider than the original document, and then strap the document to it with polystrap so that it doesn't shift while you're opening and closing the exhibit case.  This is very easy to do and will make a tremendous difference in the long term preservation of your collections.

mat board trimmed to size
Chapter 8 of the NISO standard has all the basics for safe display of flat paper items, and the rest of the document has very useful information for bound volumes, lighting, etc.  So go ahead, check it out!

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Not Too "Matchy-Matchy"

Conservation treatment is not about recreating the original artifact, and there is no way to really turn back the clock to make an old, well-used book look new.  As I have mentioned in my posts about treating Micrgraphia or Il Quattro Libri de'll Archittetura sometimes there is not enough of the original binding to do anything but make an educated guess as to what the original binding might have been.

One of the books I'm working on now is Thomas Jefferson's 1825 catalog of books for the UVa Library, his "shopping list" that was used to create the University's first library.  The book is actually two signatures from what must have been a larger blank journal.  At some point (probably in the early 20th century) the signatures were sewn into a new binding with blank pages at the beginning and the end to bulk out the text block and a new cover of leather and marbled paper.  It probably looked really spiffy back in the day, but the "new" binding did not have nearly the strength or archival soundness of the handmade paper from Jefferson's day.  By the time I saw the book, the added blank pages were falling out and the front cover was starting to detach from the binding.

several Poe signatures!
Binding a thin book can be very tricky, but I think I've come up with a structure that works, so then the question becomes how do I want the final binding to look?  Where does this catalog fit in to our Library collection?  Since I am confident that the original signatures were once part of a blank book and I know that Charlottesville had at least one stationer (seller of blank books and stationery) in business in the 1820's, Ebenezer Watts, I was at first thinking I'd do another reverse-calf binding like I'd done for the First Minute Book.  However, I looked through the Library's archival collection of record books from the early days of UVa and noticed that a number of the record books were simple reverse calf spines with marbled paper over the boards.  So I decided that I would model the binding on the first circulation book for the library. 

The library staff agreed with my concept, so then I had to track down period-appropriate marbled paper to cover the boards, which is not as easy as it sounds.  There are many different styles of marbled paper and the brightly colored, combed and fanned types are much more popular today. But the good news is that that there are almost as many marbling nerds out there as book nerds and I was able to find a paper that fit the time period.  The vendor offered to match any one of the marbled papers in our collection, but I didn't want it match so much as "fit in". 

Given these examples:

I received these two papers:
 I've placed them next to the leather I plan to use for the reverse goat spine.  I like the one on the left, what do you think?  Tune in next month for pictures of the finished product!


Thursday, October 4, 2012

Cool Books

I often go into the stacks to review the condition of a book that is showing signs of wear and tear, but every now and then I take a little time to look at books that are just plain cool.

Cosmographia Petri Apiani [A 1550 .A75a]
This is Cosmographia Petri Apiani, printed in Antwerp in 1550 despite the date inscribed on the cover.  It caught my eye because of the alum tawed hide which is a lovely golden color.  You can really see the hair follicle pattern in the hide and the blind tooling is really nice.  It is a small book, only 23.5 cm x 17 cm and is in remarkably good condition.
 volvelle on the right-hand page
The book contains astronomical observations, and charts and tools to make your own observations. This volvelle is one of the tools you can use.  It is in it's original condition, with the different wheels and central fastener still in working order.
hand colored fold out map of the world
This hand colored map is just gorgeous. 

But my favorite image is this one which shows the earth in the center and the sun "solis" as the fourth planet!

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Desiccant Wheels

As a book conservator I was trained to dis-bind, wash, mend and re-sew books from different points in history.  However, a library's storage environment also plays a crucial role in the longevity of collections.  There's little to be gained from spending hours and hours treating a rare book if you have to send it back to a stacks area that is not up to par.
Facilities staff will always have the primary responsibility for maintaining the air handling systems, but it is important that librarians are engaged and articulate about the systems that take care of their books.  So a significant portion of my training focused on building systems, including heating, ventilating and air-conditioning (HVAC).  We had a final workshop on HVAC systems that reviewed different types of HVAC technology and concluded with a walk through of the air handlers in our classroom building. 

One of the technologies that was new at the time (1998) was using a desiccant wheel for de-humidification.  Have you noticed the little silica packets that come in boxes of shoes or electronics?  They're like that but much, much bigger.   

All of the buildings I've worked in 'til now have been older buildings with older types of HVAC systems.  My current job has been my first opportunity to see a desiccant wheel up close and I must say it was pretty exciting.  You can gete a sense of how big the wheel is from the picture above.  The yellow strap is the drive belt for the wheel, to keep it turning so that the unsaturated section of the wheel is in the airflow from the building while the saturated part is getting dried out. 

The wheels do get changed when they wear out as you can see below.  They're very, very heavy, so it is a good thing they roll.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Mathew Brady's Civil War photographs

Mathew Brady is probably the most famous photographer associated with the American Civil War.  The UVa Small Special Collections Library has a small collection of the photos, mounted on individual cards.

The photos are kept in climate controlled storage, but the box they were in was a little too big and allowed the photos to warp.

Not good.  But fixable!
First, the photographs are humidified between two layers of Gortex, to relax both the cardboard and photograph layer.
Then it is time for my old favorite technique, the "back and wrap" which is great for stabilizing individual items.  The flattened photograph is placed on a piece of mat board that is slightly larger.  Since each photograph is labeled on the back with the number and title of the photograph, plus Brady's copyright warning, I photocopied the backs of the photographs, cut out the labels and adhered them to the back of the mat board.  I also wrote the call number on each one.

The photo and mat board are placed face down on a piece of Mylar and the corners of the Mylar are trimmed away. 
The Mylar is wrapped around the edges of the board and secured with double stick tape.  A neat package that buffers the photograph from environmental shifts, provides enough stiffness to keep the cardboard from warping, and the Mylar protects the photograph from scratches, fingerprints and dust.

A neat little package that makes it possible to handle the photographs more safely!

Monday, August 6, 2012

Miniature Books-Lindemann Collection

This was one of the first projects I worked on went I arrived at the Library in 2009 although I am just now getting around to posting about it, thanks to some recent interest on a list serv.

Miniature books are a very popular collectable in the world of books, and when you see a collection like our McGehee Lindemann Miniature Book Collection it is not hard to understand why, these books are absolutely charming.  However, they do present many challenges in terms of shelving, marking and handling.  

First of all, they're tiny.  Some more tiny than others, see in the picture below the little yellow and green book in the plastic box.  

The small and variable sizes mean that the books can easily shift and fall over on the shelf or one book can get lost behind the others.  Some of the books are made of delicate cloth or are quite old so it is important to have them in a box that can take the wear and tear of handling.  We use microfiche boxes that are big enough to accommodate most sizes and also have enough room for a little padding with archival tissue.  The trip back and forth to the reading room isn't that bumpy, but why take chances with so many unique books?

Inventory control is also important and so each book is tagged with its own mini barcode.  The 'fiche boxes have enough height to accommodate the rare book tags, although when an individual book is requested, the whole box is delivered to the reading room.

This last picture may not seem so exciting, but if you are a librarian, preservation officer or conservator and  know in that your 15,000+ collection of rare and unique miniature books is this well organized and this well cared-for, you can rest so much more easily at night.


Friday, August 3, 2012

More on the History of Weebles

This trade literature collection keeps turning up more information on weebles! First the Strawbridge catalog, and now a catalog for pose-able circus toys "Schoenhut's Marvelous Toys" which has an add on the back for "Rolly-Dolly" toys.  Patented in 1909!

click for bigger!
Although if you read the fine print, you'll find out that there were weebles on Noah's Ark!

click for bigger!
I guess Noah forgot to take out a patent.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Qualifications of a Siberian Haridresser

This pamphlet was on exhibit for way too long.  Even with UV filtered light in the exhibit cases, paper documents can get bleached.  By "bleaching", I mean the yellowing apparent on the blank margin of the paper.  The white-ish stripe in the first printed column is where the Mylar strap held the pamphlet open and protected the paper from the light.  Not all of the items in the exhibit show this level of damage, so I'll be reviewing the lighting and other exhibit conditions that could be affecting this particular piece. 

Exhibits can be tricky.  They're a wonderful opportunity to showcase your collections, bringing out items that the average visitor to your institution may not know about and yet you are exposing your collections to potential damage that you may not be aware of until too late.

Friday, July 6, 2012

More Tape Progress

Another week, another Randolph letter, and yet another type of tape.  Again, I started my testing protocol, but this time, I decided to take a picture of the tape residue with my cell phone, and keep the image handy while I tested.

I often track my progress by stopping the application of solvent and lifting the piece to check for residue on the chromatography paper.  The process can be a little clumsy if you have a large piece of paper (although in this case I don't), but what can be really tricky is noticing progress, especially if the adhesive residue doesn't stain the chromatography paper.  I find myself wondering "is this acetone doing anything?"

But having this "before" picture right next to the actual piece I can look back and forth and and notice very quickly even minimal change in the adhesive residue on the letter.  Very cool.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Tape Progress!

As a book conservator, I spend almost as much time thinking about tape as I do thinking about books and paper.  Tape (or pressure-sensitive adhesive as we call it in the biz) is one of the easiest ways to mend a tear, and is a standard supply at home or at the office. 

But tape doesn't age very well.

Take a look at this before treatment (BT) photo of a letter from John Randolph of Roanoke.  A previous owner "fixed" the holes and tears in the letter with pieces of tape.  The shiny section at the top left is tape carrier (the layer of plastic that holds or carries the adhesive) that is on this (recto) side of the letter.  The dark square in the lower right of the letter is tape that is on the other (verso) side and the discoloration is a result of the adhesive in the tape sinking sinking through the paper. 

Here's the letter from the verso side, see the shiny surface of the tape carrier in the lower left corner and the translucent section in the top right.  This is a great example of highly enmeshed and cross-linked adhesive and brittle, distorted carrier!

Removing the carrier is relatively easy, but removing the adhesive from the paper can be very tricky.  Generally conservators use solvents, first testing with water and then on to stronger solvents like ethyl acetate or acetone.  If a straight solvent doesn't work, then testing begins again with a mixture.  It can take a while to find the right solvent, or right combination but if you don't find it, the adhesive won't budge; its not as though solvent  X will get it to move a little and solvent Y will move it faster. 

In this case, straight solvents didn't work and after I tried a few mixtures that didn't work, I reached out to my colleagues in other labs.  Everyone was generous with their recipes and eventually I found a mixture that fit the bill.  This is another verso shot of the letter taken just after I completed the treatment.  Note how the discoloration is gone, as though the tape had never been there in the first place.  Pretty amazing!

Sometimes even after all the meticulous work of testing and applying tiny patches of solvent with a cotton swab, conservation feels like magic!


Monday, June 18, 2012

Monday, June 11, 2012

Cross Post- AIC 40th Annual Meeting- "Mass De-Acidification Today"

The American Institute for Conservation (AIC) is the national association for conservation professionals.  We meet once a year to share information on conservation treatment, current research, or practical tips related to our work.

I attended a joint session of the Book and Paper Group/Research and Technical Studies, with the Archives Conservation Discussion Group and the Library Collections Conservation Discussion Group for a discussion of "Mass De-Acidification Today" and provided a recap for the AIC blog "Conservators Converse". So for those who were unable to attend, or who can't get enough alkaline reserve- click here!

Monday, June 4, 2012

From the Milwaukee Art Museum

Conservation treatment of a Duane Hanson sculpture, "Janitor".

Duane Hanson (American, 1925-1996), Janitor, 1973. Polyester, fiberglass, and mixed media; 65 1/2 x 28 x 22 in. Milwaukee Art Museum, Gift of Friends of Art M1973.91. Photo credit John Nienhuis. © Estate of Duane Hanson/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Fun Frontis

I have been spending more time in book repair while the Department Head is out on maternity leave.  There certainly are some fun things to see in the circulating collections...

a former president of Turkey with puppies!

Friday, April 27, 2012

Palladio - AT

Last August I had a post "Next Up" that was a preview of my treatment of Andrea Palladio's book "I qvattro libri dell'architettvra". It was part of an exhibit loan to the UVa art museum, so as soon as the
front cover of the new limp vellum binding
 treatment was done, the book was out the door to join "Variety, Archeology and Ornament". Now that the book is back from loan, I have had the opportunity to do final "after treatment" (AT) photo doc, so you can see the results.  Photographic and written documentation is a crucial part of conservation treatment, not only for the sake of documenting the "before" and "after" condition of the book, but also for documenting my working process so that I, or another conservator, years from now will be able to follow what worked well, or what didn't work well.

I'm sharing the documentation pictures that I will archive with the rest of my treatment notes.  Perhaps they look a little stiff, with the labels and the color bar?

front opening, showing how the textblock laces into the cover
 But, documentation is a formal process, capturing and communicating details for future reference.  In creating this conservation binding I consulted articles and reference books on limp velum bindings as well as a model binding I made in graduate school. 

My documentation will also describe the materials I used to create the limp vellum binding, and the sources from which I purchased them.  Alum tawed pig skin was used for the sewing supports and goat parchment was used for the cover.  Not the sort of items you find in your average corner store!

new endsheet and original title page

That said, the treatment of this Palladio volume was incredibly fun.  The research that informed my decision making process allowed me to spend time with another copy of this book, and revisit a binding structure that I had enjoyed during my graduate student days.  Conservation treatment inspires exploration through close examination of a particular artifact, but then leads you to a broader examination of books and bindings from a similar time and place.


page opening toward the center

I'll post more details in the next couple of weeks, showing some of the "during" steps and some more pictures related to my background research.  For now, take a look at the picture on the right, notice the openability of the book, there are no weights holding the book open, just the weight of the pages, draping smoothly and the vellum flexing in response.  Also notice the finger smudges halfway up the margins from more than 500 years of people flipping through the pages.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Fun Title

from the general collections...

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Geneaology of Weebles

I remember playing with Weebles, those plastic, egg-shaped toys when I was a kid.  I might have even had a play set to go with them, and I'm sure they got tossed around the house and the yard.  They were pretty much  indestructible, and sure enough you could tip them over and they would pop back up.

I never thought too deeply about them, and in a kid-centric sort of way, I guess I assumed all toys were invented in time for me to play with them.  This notion was first challenged a few years ago when I did conservation treatment on a prototype box for Lincoln Logs which was flat and rectangular, like a regular board game box instead of the cylindrical tin I was used to.

Then the other day I was looking through a recent acquisition of trade literature, doing a quick condition assessment.  I pulled out this Christmas catalog from Strawbridge & Clothier, the cover looked fine, but I wanted to check inside to make sure there weren't any hidden tears, sections repaired with scotch tape, or rusty staples. 

And I found...

Item "E-74", Rolly Poly Dolls, made of papier mache and available for 25 cents.  There you have it, the ancestors of Weebles!