Thursday, December 19, 2013

Custom button display

commemorating the War of 1812

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Library Serendipity

I was going through our stacks the other day comparing two copies of the same book, in order to make sure that the book in the best condition was used in a class.  Our library books are arranged in Library of Congress call number order for the most part, but we do have some books grouped as  collections according to the requests of the original donor.
On this particular occasion I was looking through the shelves of the typography collection which had been assembled by Edward L. Stone of  Roanoke and purchased by the University upon his death.  It is a wonderful collection with books that span the history of printing and as a happy accident for me a nice array of period bindings.  As I was looking at the books on the shelf, I noticed a Bible Typ .B37 1717C no.2 with a label on the spine that said "Popham Family".  As a fairly common practice, families used to have Bibles that were passed down through the generations, the blank pages at the front and back filled with lists of births, deaths and marriages.  I had a classmate from college whose last name was Popham so the spine label caught my eye.    

There were two genealogy pages with the usual lists of names and dates, and so I snapped a few pictures and alerted my former classmate to this little coincidence.  Thanks to the joys of social media, not only did he chime in, but so did his sister and another friend who is well versed in genealogy.  Everyone was very excited and after perusing my photographs, they did conclude that this Bible was indeed owned by their ancestors back in England.
There are no records of this particular Bible prior to its acquisition by the UVa Library, but it is not uncommon for family Bibles to wind up in the hands of book dealers, book collectors and libraries, particularly if the line of the family with the Bible dies out and the other lines have family Bibles of their own.

This particular Bible had been printed by John Baskett in London in 1717 and it is most likely for this reason that the book was purchased by Mr. Stone.  Many editions of the Bible are famous for their typos and Mr. Baskett is famous for printing an edition in which the heading for chapter 20 of Luke is printed as "parable of the vinegar" when it should be  the "parable of the vineyard".  This copy is not a "Vinegar Bible" but nonetheless it is a remarkable example of a printed Bible.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Low Relative Humidity- In Pictures!

Conservators spend a lot of time talking about how environmental conditions can affect the overall stability of an artifact.  Our training includes reading many, many articles and case studies that document how fluctuations in temperature and relative humidity (RH) can cause dimensional change in an artifact and increase the rate of chemical decay.  High RH can cause a book to expand and is an even bigger factor when it comes to the chemical reactions that cause paper to degrade.

Low relative humidity is also a concern.  If high RH can cause a book to expand, low RH can case a book to shrink and warp.  Since a book is made of several different component parts that will respond to RH fluctuations at different rates, keeping books and artifacts at a stable RH is crucial.

These facts can be a little abstract and when sharing them with colleagues as I advocate for the care of the Library's collections, it can be difficult to convince people that a book that has survived hundreds of years without environmental control is still susceptible to low RH.  So I was particularly horrified and delighted on a recent cross-country plane flight when I noticed that the book I had brought with me, Maurice Craig's "Dublin 1660-1860" had started to respond to the low RH (10-12% at best) almost two hours into my flight.  Note how the covers have warped away from the body of the text block (pages).  The book had been completely flat when I packed it that morning.  I had been reading it during the flight and only noticed the warping when the flight attendant gave me a cup and I put the book down on the tray table.  I took the picture to make sure I wasn't mis-remembering the condition of the book and resolved to compare it with the condition of the book once I had returned home and the book had a chance to re-adjust to my air-conditioned home in Charlottesville.

My flight had been on Wednesday, August 7th, leaving SFO at 1pm Pacific Time.  The picture at right was taken Friday, August 9th about 8am Eastern Time.  Note how the covers are no longer warping away from the textblock.  Remarkable!

The low relative humidity on the plane is extreme, but it isn't uncommon.  The winter time RH for the Northeastern United States is often in the mid to low teens and collections that are housed in areas that don't have supplemental humidity control are at risk.  Most libraries address the need by keeping their fragile books in boxes.  I was going to return this book, but maybe I will renew it through the winter to see whether we need to make a box.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Early TripTik

When I was young and we planned family driving vacations in the old station wagon, my parents often went to the AAA office to get maps and guidebooks and they used to get something called a "TripTik" which was a custom flip map that showed the road we planned to travel.  My parents would give our route (I-95 from DC to Maine, for example) to the person at the AAA office who would then assemble the TripTik page by page and put on a comb binding.  The maps were narrow and only showed the highway and a few features to each side but I thought they had a fun, connect-the-dots aspect to them as the road wound in various directions when you flipped the pages. 

I had always considered them an artifact of the 20th century and family vacations, so I was delighted to see this item in my queue for exhibit review: Survey of the Roads of the United States of America by Christopher Colles. This prospectus was printed in 1789 and in the same format that I remember from my family road trips.  Each page is a separate engraving, showing mileage and local features.   
This close up shows the road to Poughkeepsie, NY and includes some details, such as Wappingers Creek, that are still there today.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Found in Libraries

I was reviewing a few issues of Raw for an upcoming exhibit.  This is one of their early issues, Volume1, No. 2 from 1980.  The curator would like to display the cover but I still look through the whole magazine

 to make sure there aren't any hidden difficulties with putting the item on display.  And in this issue, I found a special prize from the publisher.

do you see it?  Take a closer look...can you guess what it is?

Yes, it's bubble gum!  Although, it is so dry and brittle that it has broken into little pieces, which in a way is a good thing too otherwise I might be a little worried about the gum attracting pests.  But I saw no signs of insect interest when looking through the magazine.  So all is well for the book to go on exhibit.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

An Expose from South Carolina

I think "exploded" had a different meaning back then...

Monday, March 11, 2013

Cradles for Miniature Books

I gave a training session to a colleague last week, she needed to know how to display a group of miniature books safely and so I showed her a very simple, cost-effective method for making custom cradles out of 20 pt. board. 

My colleague has good hand skills although hands-on is not her primary role (she talks about this in her blog post), and I felt comfortable showing her the method and then leaving her to the task.  This can be a tough choice for a conservator who, in most cases, has the primary responsibility for the physical well-being of the collection.  Should I examine and document every item that goes on exhibit? should I make every custom cradle and install every item to ensure that nothing happens to our books? Perhaps, in an ideal world yes, but those who work in libraries know that life is far from ideal.  There are many projects and exhibits that happen on short notice and the more people who can "pitch in" the better.  Being the lone book conservator at a large special collections library means I have to make strict choices about how I spend my time so that the really needy books get the treatment they need.  Having trained my colleague means I can step back from the exhibits role just a little, and knowing that I do spend a lot of time with our library collections and will see or hear about any difficulties gives me confidence in this choice. 

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Increase Mather has remarkably neat handwriting

from his manuscript "Concerning Apparitions"

click to see the manuscript on my flickr account

his father, Richard Mather, not so much

I won't bother with a flickr link for this one since his writing is truly illegible.  When you work in libraries and archives, this is more of what you're used to.  Researchers often become familiar with a given person's hand, but the cramped script of the good old days is often beyond me, which is why I was so struck my Increase Mather's neat printed hand.  Remember, they were most likely writing with a goose quill pen!

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Don't Let the Pigeon Play with Tape

There is a fabulous children's book called "Don't Let the Pigeon Stay Up Late" about a tired little pigeon that doesn't want to go to bed.  It is part of a series of books about all sorts of things you shouldn't let the Pigeon do, and after last Thursday, I want to add a new title to the series: "Don't Let the Pigeon Play with Tape".

The Special Collections Library recently acquired the archive of a bank from a small town in southern Virginia.  The staff at the bank had carefully saved many documents from the bank's founding and from important events throughout the bank's history.  This is just the sort of news that makes archivists very happy.  What the staff also did was frame a number of the documents and put them on display.

This is just the sort of news that makes archivists and conservators anxious, because where there are window mats and framed documents, there is often tape.  (Insert dramatic, horror-movie scream here.)

In a better world, the framer would have used some sort of photo corner to hold the document in place instead of taping it to the top of the window in the window mat.  Perhaps the roll of tape said "archival" on the package.  Who knows the tape may even be pH neutral, but that does not mean that directly applying tape to an artifact is ever a good idea.  With pressure sensitive tapes (the kind you pull off a roll and smush into place with your fingers) the adhesive doesn't really cure but rather becomes tangled in the fibers of the paper and that is what is holding everything together.  So removing the tape means you are trying to untangle the adhesive from the glue without tearing the surface of the paper.

This was the scariest piece since not only did I have to get the tap off the top of the document, but there were two additional sections of tape toward the bottom of the document.  It was nerve wracking work, but we were very, very, lucky.  After two hours and some very fine work with my casselli spatula I was able to liberate all of the documents from their window mats. 

So even though we had a happy ending, I would still say Don't Let the Pigeon Play with Tape!!

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Matching Colors

There are times in book conservation where you have enough of a book's original cover that you can incorporate the original pieces into the new conservation binding.  Usually, the boards are sturdy and it is the cloth of the spine that has fallen apart due to the stress of use and light damage.  The standard practice is to build a new spine out of airplane linen and adhere the remnants of the original spine over top.

In the picture below you can see the mostly re-bound book with the remnant spine to the left.  The book was originally a case binding with thin cloth over the spine and boards.  I chose a slightly different method of board attachment for the conservation binding so that the new binding would be more durable, and also so that I could address the needs of dealing with the original boards and spine separately.

The replacement spine is airplane linen that is painted with several layers of acrylic paint to match the original 19th century cloth.  The trick with matching this sort of cloth is that it is never faded to one color, since the spine of a book (as it sits on a shelf) is usually more subject to light damage than the boards.  If you look at my sample book on the left you see that the original color of the cloth was purple, but that the spine faded to  ocher.  The J.L. Mott book that I am treating has a similar color variation although the original spine is a now a darker brown.  So the linen that will show through in the joint area needs to be a faded purple-ish ocher, while the spine needs to be a darker brown.  Not only do I need to get the colors right, but I need to get the placement of the colors right as well.

 In this picture I've got my test colors up on the left, and the replacement spine cloth is on the binding to check the colors and placement.  I can fine tune the colors once the spine cloth is on the book, but it is much safer to do the majority of the paining when the linen is away from the original binding.  So I paint the replacement cloth, let it dry and hold it next to the original binding to check my progress.  When close to done, I place the painted cloth on the spine to see what is needed in the way of final touch ups.  As you can see, there is a portion of the original spine missing so I have to make sure that the color works across the width of the spine. 

This is the finished spine.  It turned out really well and only needed a little bit of re-touching when the original spine was adhered over the replacement linen spine.