When I was a kid, my mother would recite this poem in the springtime when all the new plants and birds started emerging:
“Spring has sprung
The grass is riz
I wonder where the birdies is…”
I don’t know where the birdies are, but we know where our brand new freezer is. It’s been delivered to the disaster supply room. Happy Preservation Week to us!
Today is Good Friday and we happen to have our three-volume octavo edition of Audubon‘s Quadrupeds of North America in the lab to get some stabilizing repairs and enclosures. The first volume of the set is absolutely teeming with prints of hares and rabbits and this seems like an auspicious day to share them. Audubon’s Quadrupeds first appeared in three folio volumes (under the title “The Vivaparous Quadrupeds of North America”) between 1845 and 1848. The first octavo edition was published by John James Audubon’s sons (John W. and Victor) following his death in 1851. Initially both editions were issued in parts. You can view full a full digitized version of this book here.
Today was a busy day in the lab. We had 25 people come through on three tours, and we had to help set up for a tour in another department. Today is also the due-date for our performance evaluations. When life gives you a Friday like that, finding a beautiful illustration of cephalopods is a gift. I especially like the center illustration of the eyeballs.
This is one book in a serial on biodiversity. It is French, dated 1889, and beautifully illustrated. Some volumes in this series are available in Hathi Trust. I also found the page on mollusks, which was equally beautiful. This one is getting a custom box to keep it safe.
On a recent rainy Saturday afternoon, eight Cadette-level Girl Scouts from three troops around Durham traveled to the Rubenstein Library on West Campus to complete the requirements for their book arts merit badge. The idea for this workshop was given to me by Todd Pattison, a conservator at the Northeast Document Conservation Center, who has been organizing a similar workshop with other Boston-area conservators for several years.
Staff from Conservation Services took turns leading instruction for three different book structures, including a single-section sewn pamphlet, a 4-hole stab binding, and a flag book. To streamline the instruction time, we had assembled kits ahead of time for each student. These included all the materials for each book, pre-cut to size, and the various tools that they would need. We also developed a few simple jigs to make some complicated tasks, like scoring accordion folds or marking sewing stations, a little easier.
As the scouts used simple hand tools to make each binding, they learned the names of each part of the book and how printed pages can be folded down and trimmed to make the book pages.
The highlight of the workshop was the time at the end, in which each girl could decorate her flag book with colored paper, stickers, and markers.
We used the occasion to tour the group around the building and talk about the mission and daily operations of a special collections library. We also brought them down to the conservation lab, so they could learn more about how our department supports the various libraries on campus and to see some of the specialized equipment that we use. This workshop provided a good outreach opportunity for an age group that we rarely see on a college campus. In addition to providing a welcoming introduction to special collections, hopefully the experience also brought some awareness to the possibilities of a career in librarianship or conservation.
We’ve written about the life of a library collections conservator and how you are often required to know about more than just book conservation. Today was no different.
I talked with one of the Music Library staff this week. They had a damaged microfilm and wondered if we could fix it. The film had lost its reel, and someone in the past folded it into about six sections and stuffed it back in the box. This caused it to crack at the folds. Luckily we have the terrific Sonya in Microforms who is an expert in microfilm. I asked if she had some splicing tape, and indeed she did. She gave me a tutorial on how to use it along with a roll of splicing tape. Until today, I had never spliced microfilm, nor did I know the sprockets on 35mm microfilm don’t really matter in terms of how the film physically runs the through the machine (unlike motion picture film–the things you learn!).
I came back to the lab and carefully eased out the folded sections (who said being a photo major in the ’80’s would never prove useful?). I then matched the pieces and spliced it together at the broken folds. I put the roll on a new reel and sent it back to the Music Library. Hopefully it will run through the reader now without further damage.
The other day a pretty somber, but intriguing little book came into the lab.
Just from the decoration, the subject is pretty apparent.
It turns out this is the first authorized edition in Italian of the Dance of Death, printed in 1549 (the binding is from a later period). The book is just one example of a long-standing artistic genre which seeks to remind the reader or viewer that no matter one’s station in life, death comes to us all. The wonderfully detailed woodcuts, designed by Hans Holbein the Younger, depict a personified Death interacting with kings, the clergy, and commoners alike.
This particular volume is interesting because it has been extra-illustrated. Probably at the time it was put in it’s current binding, leaves of thicker wove paper were added to the textblock and engraved copies of the woodcuts were tipped to them. While the designs are sometimes mirrored, it is interesting how faithful the engravings are to Holbein’s original composition.
If you would like to see more of the images, you can view a digitized copy of this book online here. This item will get a few straightforward stabilizing repairs so that it is safe to handle in the reading room. This seems like a good candidate for Rubenstein’s annual Screamfest event in the Fall.
Our new exhibit focuses on how a book is made “from the ground up.” In the exhibit you will see examples of binding structures dating from the 4th Century C.E. to the 21st Century C.E. Also in the display is a selection of tools used by bookbinders, and an overview of how a book is made.
The exhibit is open during regular library hours. It is located on the first lower level of Perkins Library, just outside the Verne and Tanya Roberts Conservation Lab (Perkins Library 023). Please stop by and let us know what you think.
An upcoming exhibit at the North Carolina Museum of Art, titled The Glory of Venice: Renaissance Painting 1470-1520, will include some really beautiful examples of early printed books from The Rubenstein Library here at Duke and Wilson Library at UNC Chapel Hill. Earlier this week, our conservator colleagues at UNC and I traveled to Raleigh to install the volumes.
The installation was very similar to our workflow here at Duke. We had already constructed custom book supports for each volume using a clear, inert plastic resin called PETG. After unpacking everything, I was able to simply position each volume on its cradle and secure the pages at the opening with clear polyester strapping.
Once the books and labels were all correctly placed inside, museum staff stepped in to install the vitrines.
The curators and museum staff at NCMA were so great to work with and I really enjoyed being part of a collaborative effort between cultural institutions from around The Triangle. I haven’t shared any images of the paintings that will also be on display, but I was able to get a peek at many of them. They are absolutely incredible! The show will be on display from March 4th – June 18th and I would encourage you to go visit if you are in the area.
Sometimes I get a wonderful surprise when I’m doing the final quality check for items leaving the lab. This item that Mary recently finished is a good example of the value added that an in-house conservation lab provides. By repairing these in the lab, we can be much more thoughtful about saving unique and interesting bindings. The book is now headed back to the shelf and ready for its next reader.
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Readers who celebrated Chinese New Year just a few weeks ago will know that 2017 is the Year of the Rooster. Fittingly, this wonderful painted scrapbook from the Charles Bailey Reed Collection recently came into the lab. Reed served as a radiologist in the U.S. Medical Reserve Corps in France during World War I. This scrapbook contains postcards, newspaper articles, photographs, and other ephemera from various cities in France, dated between 1914 and 1924. I just really love the image of the rooster crowing atop a discarded Pickelhaube, signalling the return to regular life after the war.
Last month, Senior Conservator Erin Hammeke shared her treatment of a caoutchouc binding, which incorporated a clamshell enclosure with integrated cradle. There are many items in the collection that can benefit from an enclosure like this (henceforth referred to simply as a “cradle box”): books which require a restricted opening to reduce the risk of further damage, collection material that is used frequently, or items that are exhibited at library events outside the reading room. Our History of Medicine Collection has several items which meet these criteria and everyone in the lab was interested in learning how to make a cradle box. This week we dedicated a boxing day to this project, which served both as a training exercise and supports use of the collection.
While several variations on structure are described in publicly available resources (see the AIC Wiki), we decided to all just stick with Jeff Peachey’s design. The benefits to this design are that the cradle fits the book very well and is attached to the box, so you don’t have to worry about it being removed and getting lost. We could also rely on Erin’s previous experience and help each other through the more complicated steps!
Construction begins by measuring the book at the intended opening angles to determine the sizes of the individual parts of the cradle. As with measuring for exhibit cradles, it’s much easier to prop the boards up with cushioned weights before taking measurements.(Photo by Rachel Penniman)
Then those pieces are cut from Davey board…(Photo by Rachel Penniman)
… and covered in book cloth. The cradle is essentially constructed in two pieces, which are attached by a cloth spine piece. The image below shows the interior of one cradle side during covering (left), including the adhered ends of cloth tape that allow the user to lift up the cradle (right).(Photos by Rachel Penniman)
Once the cradle is complete, the book is placed inside and the entire sandwich is measured for the clamshell box. The box is constructed in the usual way, but the right side of the cradle is attached to the interior of the smaller tray near the spine.
It was a lot of fun to approach learning this enclosure design as a group. If one of us hit a roadblock or did not quite understand the next step in the instructions, we could all talk it through together. Over the course of the day, we developed new techniques for completing steps or learned from each other’s mistakes. And, more importantly, now six more books from the collection will have cradles with them wherever they go!
We are in the midst of preparing for an upcoming exhibit on the Haggadah, a text that describes the order of the Passover Seder. When examining a book, I really enjoy coming across signs that it was well used by previous owners. This Amsterdam Haggadah from 1695 was repaired several times and it is clear that was used at many Passover meals from the extensive staining from food or wine at specific page openings.