Category Archives: book conservation

The Battle of 1667 Physica Curiosa and the Book Conservation Fixture

Nice to see my Book Fixture getting a workout at the UCLA Library Conservation Center, battling all 1,389 pages of Gasper Schott’s 1667 Physica Curiosa. Typical of alum tawed books from this time, the spine is now very inflexible; note that the leaves start to drape about 2cm from the folds. These books are a bear trap, err, make that an elephant trap in this case.

Thanks to Chela Metzger, Library Conservator at UCLA, for initial impetus for the fixture.  And she is now Tweeting!

Peachey Book Fixture battling Physica Curiosa. Photo Chela Metzger, UCLA Library Conservation Center.

Peachey Book Fixture battling Physica Curiosa. Photo Chela Metzger, UCLA Library Conservation Center.

 

The 1564 Ausbund in the News

Top: Before, Bottom: After. The only known copy of the first printing of the Ausbund, an Amish Hymnal. Mennonite Historical Library, Goshen College, Goshen, IN.

My recent treatment of the only known copy of the 1564 Ausbund has been getting some press from my hometown area and in Mennonite publications. The Ausbund is one of the earliest Protestant songbooks, still in use by the Old Order Amish.

The treatment is especially interesting since two parts of the book were rejoined after being separated for almost 90 years, and the treatment also involved a textblock infill to deal with the missing leaves, while preserving all the extant spine. The book is a Sammelband, so contains the Ausbund and a number of other texts. The history and provenance of this book are a fascinating story. Reportedly, a dealer tore the book in half in 1928 so that a Goshen College professor H. S. Bender could purchase only the most “valuable” half for $10.00.

Ervin Beck (a former English Professor of mine) wrote a short version of the story for The Goshen College News (3 April 2017), then the story was picked up by the Goshen News (4 April 2017, though behind a paywall), The Elkhart Truth (8 April 2017) , The South Bend Tribune (9 April 2017) and Mennonite World Review (p. 19).

If you are interested in a longer, detailed history and description of the treatment, Ervin and I wrote an article:  “Ausbund 1564: The History and Conservation of an Anabaptist Icon.” Pennsylvania Mennonite Heritage, October 2016. (pp. 128-135) You can read it here.

Ausbundmania?

Or just a small pond?

 

The Earliest Description of Paper Splitting?

The Official Descriptive and Illustrated Catalogue of the Great Exhibition, Vol. 2, 1851 (p. 538)

This is the earliest description of paper splitting I’ve seen. It is also the earliest mention of splitting as a means preservation that I have found, though it does not specify why splitting a piece of paper into two might aid in its preservation. It suggests it can double your paper money, though.

An early attempt to monetize paper splitting comes from a bookbinder in England in the late nineteenth century. Kennington’s secret of paper splitting must have been quite simple since he required a non-disclosure agreement. This broadside is not dated, but looks ca. 1870-1880.

As recently as 15 years ago, machine paper splitting was still being actively researched, practiced, and machines developed. It is quite likely the last mass attempt to preserve brittle paper. Now we digitize.

splitting-paper

Splitting Paper Broadside, n.d. Cary Graphic Arts Collection, Bernard C. Middleton Collection, Rochester Institute of Technology.

Improved Corner Cutting Jig and Loaded Stick!

Bookbindings are often judged by a quick check of their corners and headcaps. There is no shortcut to making a great headcap, but this corner jig will allow you to make perfect corners every time, in leather, paper, cloth or vellum.

The Peachey Corner Cutting Jig

 

Corner cutting jig adjusted for the thickness of the board

 

A perfectly mitered corner

Earlier versions of this jig had a wood or brass body, I realized Delrin would be the perfect material, since it is dimensionally stable and it is easy to clean PVA off. Why did this take 15 years to figure out?! This jig is adjustable for any board thickness between 20 and 200 point. Perfect for one-off and essential for edition work.

$150.00  Purchase here.

TIP: To make an neater standard 45 degree corner, make an extra cut as shown by the dotted line in the diagram. This little triangle is then adhered to the edge (thickness) of the board. This eliminates a double fold of cloth, resulting in a more seamless corner.

This small extra cut creates a neater corner

 

*****

I’ve also improved the loaded stick, by making the head out of stainless steel so there is no danger of marking the pages. The latest batch has mahogany handles, though this will change. Comfortable hand carved handle, all are slightly different. Around 10 inches long, the stainless steel head is 2 x .5 inches, which gives it a pleasing heft, but not too heavy.

$150.00  Purchase here.

A selection of loaded sticks with stainless steel heads and mahogany handles

Vertigo, the Suit

As a book conservator in private practice, I’m sometimes a bit envious of my colleagues who work in libraries. They often deal with a wide variety of objects other than books. So I’m excited to start planning a housing for Kim Novak’s grey suit that she wore in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1958 classic Vertigo. This is for a private client who collects movie related items. As she pointed out to me, this suit is more than a costume, but an essential part of the storyline, much like Judy Garland’s ruby slippers from the Wizard of Oz.

grey-suit

Kim Novak’s grey suit worn in Vertigo. Made by Edith Head. My Photo.

 

Conservation Police

police

Photo: Shannon Zachary

It’s hard to know where to start.

“But, but, Officer, I wasn’t putting PVA directly on the spine….”

Others?

Review of 18th Century French Bookbinding Workshop

Constant Lem, Book Conservator at the National Library of the Netherlands, reviewed my 18th century French Bookbinding Workshop from last summer, which I taught in the Netherlands. Constant studied Medieval History at the University of Amsterdam. In the 1980s and 1990s he worked as a bookbinder. Since 2004 he is a book conservator at the Koninklijke Bibliotheek in The Hague (The National Library of the Netherlands). Constant is very interested in historic bookbinding manuals and has long been intrigued by the peculiarities of the special French tradition of leather binding.

Translation by Herre de Vries.

***

The reconstruction of an eighteenth century leather ‘French’ binding with Jeff Peachey
Workshop organized by Restauratoren Nederland, May 2016
Constant Lem

Making models of historical binding structures is a source of knowledge about the old book. The best way to make such a model is by working from contemporary manuals. The oldest known sources have a Dutch origin: Beschrijvinghe des Boeckbinders Hantwerck [Description of the bookbinder’s handcraft] by Anshelmus Faust (1612) and Kort Onderweijs van het Boeckenbinden [A short instruction in the binding of books] by Dirc de Bray (1658). These manuals however are written in such a manner that they contain many unclarities to the modern reader. These can be somewhat clarified by repeated empathic reading and by studying the historical examples of the described bindings: historical bookbinding manuals are a wealthy source of knowledge about the old and rare book, but these bookbinding manuals only allow for a good and thorough understanding through the study of actual books.

The most fruitful recreation of an historical model from an historical manual can be done under the guidance of a tutor who has profound knowledge of the manual and who has come across many of its unclarities before, who has solved some, but is continuously open to solutions seen and understood by others, people who have also dug into the subject or people who are completely oblivious yet and can approach it in open-minded fashion.

This type of workshop is exactly what the American bookbinder, conservator and tool maker Jeff Peachey offered. The subject of the workshop was the type of tight-back full leather binding which has been employed so ubiquitously on books in eighteenth century France. The place of action was Wytze Fopma’s studio in the Frisian town of Wier, the Netherlands. It was fascinating and instructional from day 1 through to 5.

Working in the company of book conservators — professionals from library, archive or private practice,  and bookbinders  — to construct a tight-back full leather binding, with raised sewing supports and a flush joint was recreated following the eighteenth century French manuals by Dudin, de Gauffecourt, and the plates accompanying Diderot. During the course long forgotten, unused techniques were employed, like the beating of text block and boards with a 4 kilo hammer and trimming the edges using a plough. One not only understands the nature of the work of the bookbinders of let’s say 1750, but one also gains insight into how different materials and a different way of processing them results in a different book. The tactility of the book is remarkably different compared to the models made without the use of mock old materials and without resorting to those obsolete techniques. You understand why boards are being laced on prior to backing and trimming and what is the consequence of backing a book in-boards. You get to understand how the final result contains closely observable and for this binding type very characteristic, but detailed differences. Some of those are described explicitly in the manuals, others can be deduced from what can be seen manifold on the historical examples.

Jeff’s teaching method is different to what particularly modern bookbinders will be used to. A cover’s square for many a modern-day trained bookbinder should be exactly 3 and not 2.5 mm, and a 90 degree backing shoulder is 90 degrees, and that’s just the way it is. While Jeff knows his sources damn well and he knows what he is doing, he seldomly gave clear, complete and compulsory instructions. He was well aware of the incomplete, sometimes deficient descriptions in the manuals and invited us continuously to ask questions — without necessarily always being able to answer them — and to make remarks and attempt to clarify up to a point, unclear parts of the descriptions. This ‘open’ approach and the pre-final result — the bound and covered, but unfinished book — seemed to bewilder some of the participants,  probably used to clearer guidelines, more stringent instructions and straight lines. This bewilderment evaporated abruptly when the book underwent its final treatments and by applying a simple dotted-pattern surface decoration with iron gall ink and a finish of glaire and paste-wash it suddenly transformed into a historical binding quite convincingly. It suddenly looked all too familiar and many of its previous deficiencies seemed to have disappeared. In reality though they had contributed largely to the satisfying final result!

The point being that while making historical models you should avoid observing with the modern eye and from modern concepts. You should put aside — nearly impossible — all you know and can do, the result of two centuries of a bookbinding tradition constantly working more set and more straight, and to try and settle into the old knowledge, attitude and methods with an unencumbered mind and let it work from within you. With his experience and knowledge Jeff Peachey has given us access to that knowledge, learned how to interpret sources and to work according to methods of that period and as a result of that process has given us moments of great satisfaction.