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!