Category Archives: book conservation

Calf, sheep, goat, or pig. And deerskin?

deer

An advertisement on the back cover of  “A Treatise on internal navigation.” Ballston Spa [N.Y.]: : Printed by U.F. Doubleday., 1817. Image courtesy The Library Company of Philadelphia.

Calf, sheep, goat or pig. It seems 99.9% of leather books are made with one of these these. But other types of leather are always a possibility. For example, deerskin was commercially available for bookbinders in the early 19th century North America. The above advertisement, from D.K. Van Veghten, implies it is a new innovation he is introducing to the market. Given the large numbers of deer — even now — I wonder if this it was all that new. After all,  muskrat or beaver are  not unheard of in the 18th century. It is best not to become blasé with leather identification.

Below is a vegetable tanned deerskin, with two bullet holes. It was shot by my Grandfather between 1946 – 1954, and he had it vegetable tanned. He also had a couple of heads mounted on the wall of his living room.  Deerskin is softer and stretchier than sheepskin, and the grain is more pronounced in this example. Because of the stretch, it is difficult to pare, even with the best paring knife in the world. Possibly different vegetable tanning methods would have made it look more like calf. Most of the examples I’ve seen on books are very similar to calf, and a delaminating grain layer is often a clue that it is in fact sheep. D.K. Van Veghten’s advertisment also mentions it is quite similar to calf, but 25% cheaper.

I don’t think of the deer when I look at the deerskin below, but of my Grandfather. The bond between things and memories is strong. I can’t bring myself to use this partial skin. The familiar curse of a precious material; it’s too nice to use. So it languishes, only to be written about.

Sample of tanned deerskin shot by my Grandfather. Note the two bullet holes.

 

Microfiber. Horsebutt. Bluefin Tuna. Poinsettia.

 

Nothing quite sums up the Holiday season for me like a poinsettia and hunks of raw blue fin tuna. Stressed? Too much to do before the end of the year? Feeling overwhelmed? Me too. I coped yesterday by playing hooky and indulging in arguably the best chirashi deal in Manhattan at Yuba for $15. Yuba was founded by a couple of ex-Masa employees: $15 there would get you exactly 11 grains of rice.

Other coping mechanisms include buying stuff.

 

The Peachey Branded Microfiber Towels are in stock! A great stocking stuffer, or you could even make a stocking out of it. I made to logo by having a steel stamp made from my handwriting, then stamped it onto a piece of horsebutt, then had it dye sublimation printed onto the towel. Genuine Horsebutt Strops are always popular.

To be safe, order soon, although the post office estimates December 17 as the deadline.

Five Inexpensive Holiday Gift Ideas for Bookbinders and Conservators, 2018

Peachey branded microfiber towel. $5.00. My first foray into merch! A stylish and practical way to show your support for Peachey Tools. This is a heavy duty, professional grade microfiber towel: 16 x 16 inches, 300+ gsm, 4-thread edge stitching, .1-.2 denier microfibers,  80% Polyester/ 20% Polyamide blend. Perfect for cleaning your knife and microfinishing film during sharpening, the floor, your cutting mat, and even removing excess grease from your nose. The dye sublimation printed logo seems durable on my sample, but it is not possible to have a super dense image on the three dimensional microfiber surface. The fibers fluff up over time: the towel in the image above was washed seven times. The great thing about microfibers is that they trap everything. The terrible thing about microfibers is that they trap everything, so the towel will turn grey over time, likely obscuring the logo anyway. But you will still know it is there! What could be a nicer gift for all your staff members, as well as a gentle reminder to keep things clean? They should be in stock December 11 at Peachey Tools.

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Seal Skin Thimble. You can cut the strap a bit more to fit larger fingers.

Seal Skin Thimble.  $5.00.  A fantastic tool. Much more comfortable than a metal thimble. I purchased this one in an antique store in Adamstown, Pennsylvania, then a quick google search confirmed it is a traditional Indigenous Peoples of the Arctic craft object. The images of them are remarkably consistent, almost identical. For example, they all have a length of thread holding the crimping in place at the tip, and a clever slit that functions as a finger attachment. The seal skin is rawhide (?), stiff enough to resist a needle head puncture, and the fur is a comforting joy to stroke if your sewing is not going well. It also makes a great finger puppet, though this can be a warning sign you have been working alone a bit too long. Available from Quilted Raven Alaska.

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Londonderry Linen Lacing Thread. Wonderfully soft and not tightly twisted, just like older threads.

Londonderry Lacing Linen Thread, Size 4.  $7.00.  I love this thread. Seriously. I can sew *almost* everything with it. it is perfect for joint tacketing or sewing extensions during board reattachment. Since it is loosely plied, it is easy to flatten it out inside a gathering to minimize swell. Check out this naturally packed sewing.  A loaded stick also helps to control sewing. The soft thickness of this thread gently supports weak or brittle paper. Mary Uthuppuru, proprietor of Colophon Book Arts Supply, is a wonderful, kind, knowledgeable supplier, a true pleasure to do business with. Available in from Colophon Book Arts Supply.

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Shop Knife. I’ve used this one for a number of years and altered the handle for comfort.

Shop Knife Style “F”. $13.84. This is a knife that I use dull. It is a perfect size and shape right out of the box for cleaning spines and other general scraping tasks. Where it really excels is for marking binders board for boxmaking: the tip is just the right angle, and a knife mark is much more accurate than even a .3mm mechanical pencil. It is easy to carve the handle a bit to make it more comfortable, especially where the blade transitions to the handle. Available from McMaster-Carr.

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Delrin Hera. $40.00.  I know what you are thinking. $40? Inexpensive? Please allow me to explain. This tool is so useful that you will end up using it constantly. For example, it is great to gently pry some material for lifting, lift a page to turn it, insert adhesive under a detaching fragment, hold down something for photography, score tissue before dry tearing, and so on. You might like it so much you will keep it with you even when you are not working. Seriously, I use this tool at least an hour a day when doing conservation work. Therefore if you use it an hour a day, for 300 days a year, for 30 years, it only costs 4 thousandths of a cent per hour. Inexpensive or dirt cheap?!  Available from Peachey Tools.

 

Exhibition Review: Armenia. Art, Objects, Body Parts, and Books

Armenia!“, now on view at the Met, is one of the largest Armenian art shows ever in North America, containing more than 140 works of art, objects, body parts (in reliquaries), and books. It is not only a great art exhibition, but a great show for bibliophiles: roughly half the items on view are books. The show spreads calmly over seven galleries, with no videos or recorded sounds playing, and ample space between the objects. Even though it was packed with viewers the Sunday afternoon I visited, there weren’t lines in front of any particular object. The minimal gallery introductions and short captions reinforced a direct engagement with the objects, rather than reading about them. Interspersing the books with other objects initiated a dialogue between them.

Gospel Book with Gilded-Silver Covers and Embroidered Pouch. J. P. Morgan MS M.621. I’ve never seen another binding that has just one spine strap, like this one. Did it serve as a means of attachment to something else?

The craft similarities between reliquaries and full-metal books were hard to miss. For example, the 17th century gilded silver covers on the Gospel Book above, and the Hand Reliquary of Saint Abulmuse (L.1988.63) have a very similar construction. The stunning covers of both signal their importance as objects of veneration, and at the same time hide their inner contents. The insides of these objects are deeply personal, and almost at odds with the elaborately decorated exterior.  The reliquary houses body parts of someone, the book houses the thoughts of someone. Is there an object that does both?

Expositionitis. n. [ek-spuh-zish-uhn-ahy-tis] : A horrible desease that temporarily blinds museum professionals to the actual objects in an exhibition. Instead, the afflicted spend all their time looking at a crooked frame, an over cut mat, how a particular object was repaired or strapped, prominent shadows, a dust bunny in the corner of a case, etc…  “I didn’t even notice the carved ivory elephant in the corner, my expositionitis was so bad!”

I must have had a mild attack, since I am still thinking about a number of books open to a full 180 degrees, which can cause stress to the binding. A more restricted opening is generally better, and it is still relatively easy to view a two page spread. It also sets a poor precedent for the display of books in such a pre-eminant institution.

Alexander Romance, Sulu Manastir, 1544. Copied and illuminated by Zak’ariay of Gnunik’; d. 1576. John Rylands Library, University of Manchester, UK. Kasemake cradle by Mark Furness.

Mark Furness, Senior Conservator at the University of Manchester, designed and made an interesting cradle. He and Elaine Sheldon have been working for a number of years on museum board cradles cut on a Kasemake boxmaking machine. I like the softness of museum board when making contact with leather. Some might find the aesthetics slightly distracting, though I’m sure this is something that is evolving. Mark also did a great job of strapping: note the zero textblock sag. An advantage is it ships completely flat for easy transport, and assembles without any adhesives. This version is quite strong and easily supports a heavy parchment textblook/ wooden board book easily. These cradles are inexpensive and easy to recycle.

I’m glad to see someone experimenting with something other than acrylic. Acrylic is so hard and flat, it rarely conforms closely with the undulations of hand made book boards and hand pared leather, let alone metal furniture. This can result in the weight of a book being concentrated in a few small areas.

Grakal, Liturgical Book Stand , 1272 with modern additions. History Museum of Armenia, Yerevan (171).

The most interesting cradle, technically a book stand, was this 13th century grakal, a liturgical book stand. Although it is similar to an Islamic rehal, there are important differences. A traditional rehal is cut from a single piece of wood. The grakel was made of two seporate pieces. How they hinge together is also quite different.

A modern rehal, which I purchased in Turkey, 2009. This is one plank that has been partially cut into two.

To make a rehal, holes are drilled, as you can see in the image below. Then a thin sawblade, like a coping or turning saw, is inserted and the joints cut, and the plank cut in two. The ways a book sits in a rehal or grakal are also quite different. A book in a rehal sits in this cut out hinge, which also flattens out, creating a space for the spine. A book in a grakal sits on top of the leather sling, and has a metal rod that the two sides hinge from. Both, however, are lightweight, collapsable, portable, and support a book in use.

Detail of the hinge of a modern rehal, which I purchased in Turkey, 2009. A small saw blade was inserted into the drilled holes to begin the cuts. Making a model of one of these is on my to do list.

Detail of hinge area of the Grakal. Note the seam from the two pieces of wood.

I’m almost certain the top and bottom parts of this grakal are made from separate pieces of wood and glued together. The book rests on a leather top piece which lessens the stress on the hinge. Given the fact it has held up for nine centuries, the construction is more than adequate!

Gospel Book, Monastery of Manuk Surb Nshan, K’ajberunik’, 1386. J. Paul Getty Museum (MS Ludwig II 6).

My favorite piece in the show is this page from a Gospel Book, 1386. On the top are two scribes, and under them are two students burnishing the paper in preparation for writing, with extremely tall burnishers. Stylistically, they look quite similar to smaller, one handed Western glass mullers. The scribe mentions, in the text, he wanted to thank the students  (“his angels”) for this generally thankless, but important task. Paper was burnished to make it smoother for painting and writing on, and more parchment-like in appearance.

The last gallery of the show included a number of highly skilled manuscripts made in the 17th century. It surprised me to see the skilled transmission of craft skills persisting so late into what we in the West consider print culture. One of the primary takeaways from the show was how Armenia does not fit neatly into the Eastern-Western culture divisions many of us still regularly invoke, as well as challenging our notion of when Medieval culture ended.

If you can’t make it to the show, which closes January 13, 2019, the catalog is very informative, with all 143 objects described in text and photographs, and several longer essays. NY TImes review of Armenia!

A Very Long Tool Roll. And Fantastic Students at The Conservation of Leather Bookbindings Workshop, Emory University.

A very, very, very long tool.

Soyeon Choi, aka. Cat Lady, brought the longest tool roll I’ve ever seen to The Conservation of Leather Bindings Workshop last week at Emory University. It is over 42 inches long and has 16 pockets, each of them stuffed full. Soyeon made it out of cotton fabric. Yet it was not large enough to house all her travel tools, so she brought an additional smaller red one, which is partially visible in the image above. It is always fun to geek out over the tools everyone brings.

In contrast, a “large” tool roll from Highland Hardware of Atlanta is a modest 21 inches in length. It was great to finally visit Highland, BTW, and I bought a gorgeous Auriou hand-cut woodworking rasp there.

Kim Norman, Head of Conservation, and the consummate Emory Conservation Lab crew made this workshop fly. But the best thing about it were the students. Because everyone came with substantial experience in bookbinding, and brought different books with different problems, the discussions were amazing, thoughtful, informative, and filled with practical information. Everyone benifited from thinking about the books others brought, as well as working on their own.

Plans are already in the works to repeat this workshop, which will be announced here.

At the end of week long workshops, I ask the students to vote for a class member who they feel deserves a prize, and explain why. Soyeon Choi won overwhelmingly, for asking pertinent questions, and she added a pair of small bone folders designed for making headcaps to her already overstuffed tool roll.

Upcoming Public Lecture at Emory University, Atlanta. The Conservation of Dante’s La Commedia

Please join us at Emory University for this event, free and open to the public—

The Conservation of Dante’s 1477 La Commedia:  an illustrated talk by Jeffrey S. Peachey
Tuesday, November 6, 2018
4:00pm Talk and Q&A
5:00pm Reception

Jones Room
Robert W. Woodruff Library
540 Asbury Circle  Atlanta, GA 30322

Registration available here:  http://emorylib.info/peachey
Please feel free to share this information with others.

Heat Treated Tonkin Bamboo Hera Blanks for Sale

Tonkin Bamboo. Note the large areas of black power fibers. Compare this to the endgrain of a chopstick.

Hera are small Japanese tools useful for a variety of scraping, lifting, and delaminating tasks. They are common in paper conservation. Tonkin is a dense, flexible and strong type of bamboo that handmade fishing rods are made from. More about Tonkin.  Heat treating increases the elasticity of the bamboo.

Even so, hera with very thin and flexible tips can wear and can crack, so they need to be maintained by sanding, carving, reducing the width, or even shortening.  Once you have the skills to make a hera, they are easy to maintain. If you want to keep things simple, shape it with your Olfa knife, sand it with 220 grit, then finish it with 600 grit.  More tips on shaping bamboo.

These blanks are roughly 6 inches long, and 1/4 – 3/8 inch wide.  If you want to make two narrow hera, you could split a wider blank.  Just ask me for the widest one I have. Making your own tools to the exact size and shape you need is rewarding and satisfying.

Purchase heat treated Tonkin hera blanks here, only $10.00/ each!

Top, bottom, and side views of a typical blank.

A finished hera. This is not difficult to do, but takes a bit of time.