Category Archives: book conservation

Conserving a Nineteenth Century Family Photo Album is Quite Boring Until You Notice an Image of Someone Dressed as a Chicken, Wearing Ice Skates, and Dancing

Private Collection. The back:  James Inglis / Photographer / Montreal.

 

Laura Cunningham, Assistant Conservator, Economic Development & Culture, Museums & Heritage Services, City of Toronto, found some other dancing chicken images from the same shoot:

 

And she found another skater on the same backdrop:

http://collections.musee-mccord.qc.ca/scripts/large.php?accessnumber=MP-1978.134.1&zoomify=true&Lang=1&imageID=154314

And the same image I saw in this composite image, middle of the lower left quarter:

http://collections.musee-mccord.qc.ca/scripts/large.php?accessnumber=MP-0000.210&zoomify=true&Lang=1&imageID=150544

 

Thanks Laura!

Vesalius, Sixteenth Century German Bookbinding Thread and Dissection Tools

Vesalius, De humani corporis fabrica libri septem, 1543, 235. Source: https://www.nlm.nih.gov/exhibition/historicalanatomies/Images/1200_pixels/Vesalius_Pg_235.jpg

While looking at the surgical tools in De Humani Corporis, I ran across an interesting bit of information from a Cambridge University Online Exhibition. The image is huge, and can be examined in detail. In the text, Vesalius mentions that either silk threads or bookbinder’s threads could be used to prepare a cadaver. In his opinion, German bookbinding thread is the best quality, since it is stronger, thinner, and more well-twisted than thread from other countries. I haven’t noticed this about German 16th C. sewing thread (in large part due to the inflexible spines, see the post below) but it is certainly true for their typically tightly cabled sewing supports. One takeaway is that the thread bookbinders used was the best quality available. Vesalius also describes heating a needle  in order to bend it into a “C” or parenthesis shape, a practice bookbinders still perform today. I’m assuming these bent needles, labeled “N” are stuck in bookbinding thread wrapped up in a bun shape.  This is likely the earliest image of bookbinding thread.

Anthropodermic bibliopegy, or the binding of books in human skin, has a lurid and enduring fascination. Here; however, we have the cadaver fabricated using a bookbinding material and borrowed or shared tools: Bibliodermic anthropegy???

***

More tools appear on the title page of this book, where a man is stropping or sharpening his razor under the dissection table. The portrait of Vesalius also contains a partially hidden razor lying on the table as he holds body parts of a cadaver. In this case, the razor represents his practical knowledge and experience. His intellectual and theoretical prowess is symbolized by the inkwell and manuscript page on the table behind arm.

The Cambridge exhibition considers that these are ordinary tools, altered by Vesalius, a testament to his manual dexterity. He didn’t need “fancy” instruments, but could use commonly available ones. I wonder about this interpretation, though. Given how many tools even today are shared — and altered — by many crafts, I wonder how many specialist instruments were made only for surgeons. There is no mention of this kind of specialization in J.B. Himsworth’s 1953 The Story of Cutlery, Although it is an excellent resource, it is far from comprehensive.

 

Detail: Title page, Vesalius, De humani corporis fabrica libri septem, 1543. Source:https://www.nlm.nih.gov/exhibition/historicalanatomies/Images/1200_pixels/Vesalius_TitlePg.jpg

 

Vesalius, De humani corporis fabrica libri septem, 1543, xii. Source:https://www.nlm.nih.gov/exhibition/historicalanatomies/Images/1200_pixels/Vesalius_Portrait.jpg

 

 

 

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.