Category Archives: book conservation

Upcoming Workshop: The Conservation of Leather Bookbindings

I’m excited to be teaching this one week workshop in the fall.  It is based on the types of treatments for leather bookbindings that I use most in my own book conservation business. Emory University, the site host, has a board slotting machine which participants will be able to try out. Atlanta is a hopping city, inexpensive to fly to, great food, and the weather is usually pleasant in early November.  I will also be giving a lecture on the history of book boxes Friday November 2, if you want to spend the weekend. Please join us!

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The Conservation of Leather Bookbindings

Emory University Libraries, Atlanta, Georgia

November 5 – 9, 2018

Sponsored by the Southeast Regional Conservation Association.

In this week-long intensive workshop, students will be introduced to a wide variety of current techniques used to conserve leather bookbindings. Bookbinders, technicians, and conservators who wish to learn, expand, or refresh their treatment skills are all welcome. Previous bookbinding or conservation experience is required.

Detached boards are the most common place leather bookbindings fail, and all five primary methods of treating this will be taught: mechanical sewing extensions and tacketing, inner hinge repairs, interior-board repairs (both splitting and slotting), outer joint repairs, and several styles of rebacking. Many treatments involve a combination of these techniques. Questions concerning methods of consolidating older leather, the archival qualities of modern leather, and leather dyes will be discussed. A variety of methods to pare, consolidate, and lift leather will be introduced. Since a sharp knife is crucial to success in any leather work, sharpening will also be taught.

Students should bring six to eight non-valuable leather bound books to work on, though there will be additional books provided to practice with. Participants will be taught how to pare leather with a knife, use a board slotting machine, a modified 151 spokeshave, a variety of lifting knives and tools, and a double edge razor blade paring machine. There will be individual consultations with students before the workshop to discuss treatment goals for their chosen books, and determine if extra materials or tools might be required. Decision making based on the actual books will be discussed. The primary goal of this workshop is to equip participants with a more nuanced understanding of the pros and cons of currently practiced leather conservation techniques, gain supervised experience while performing them, and feedback when they are completed.

Application: Registration is limited. Participant selections will be made by the SERCA Board of Directors via the following order: SERCA members (new or renewing), practicing conservators in the Southeast, and other qualified applicants. Applications are due Friday September 14th, 2018.

Please send your resume and one paragraph stating why this workshop would be useful in your conservation career to: Kim Norman, Head of Library Conservation at Emory University (kim.norman@emory.edu)

Cost: $900 for existing SERCA members, $925 (including $25.00 SERCA annual membership fee https://sercaconservation.org/membership/) for new and renewing SERCA members. Payment taken after review of applications.

Whatsit #4

I’m hoping a reader can identify this unusual tool or jig.

The legs are about 3 inches long and 1 inch wide. The inner edge has a 45 degree bevel.  The medallion has a large “Burroughs” in the center,  “Adding, Bookkeeping, Calculating” on the top, and “Machines” on the bottom. The entire medallion is suspended on a bent piece of steel about .75 of an inch above the legs. Burroughs adding machines were quite popular in the early twentieth century, and the company was founded by beat writer William S. Burroughs’s grandfather.

Any guesses what is this device was for?

Jonathan Ashley-Smith on Hand Skill Pedagogy

The most recent Journal of the Institute of Conservation (Vol. 41, No. 1, 2018) is a Festschrift for Dr. Jonathan Ashley-Smith. Ralph Steadman drew the cover, especially for this issue. Ashley-Smith is officially a conservation rock star!

The coolest conservation journal cover EVER. Journal of the Institute of Conservation (Vol. 41, No. 1, 2018)

You need to be a member of ICON to read the whole journal on-line. So join.

Selected articles from other issues are open access, including Ashley-Smith’s important 2016 article,  “Losing the Edge: The Risk of a Decline in Practical Conservation Skills.”  Although the title implies a depressing state of affairs (losing, declining) it is actually filled with empowering techniques to reverse some of the trends he anecdotally observes. There is much worth reading and discussing in this article: he considers a broad swath of issues surrounding conservation, handwork, craft, how we learn hand skills, and even how we loose them. Some of my own thoughts about losing hand skills are here.

At the risk of overusing the comparison between conservators and surgeons, I’ll offer an example of my own then one from Ashley-Smith. When teaching a sharpening workshop, we look at the first two plates from Joseph Pancoast’s Operative Surgery. They are great reminder for the students that hand skills need to be learned, and for me to make the subtleties explicit. Many students pick up a tool, turn it over a few times in their hand, hesitantly try it out, find it doesn’t seem to work, and set it down, convinced that they don’t have good hand skills. But hand skills need to be learned, and there are easier and more difficult ways of manipulating tools.

Learning traditional techniques of tools use are often easier than trying to figure it out on your own, which is why they became traditional in the first place. Just consider the variety of hand positions Pancoast instructs the surgeon to learn in order to control the bistoury, pictured below. There is a following plate of even more advanced moves. I doubt many of us could come up with these on our own. Even though I have not used a bistoury, the hand positions make sense for the tasks I can figure out, like depth control (Fig. 2) and extra power to make an incision (Fig. 3). Perhaps it is better not to interpret all of them.

Pancoast, A Treatise on Operative Surgery, 1844. archive.org/stream/66850890R.nlm.nih.gov/66850890R#page/n21/mode/2up

In “Losing the Edge”, Ashley-Smith describes an even more relevant surgical analogy to conservation, found in  J.W. Peyton’s 1998 “Teaching and Learning in Medical Practice”. Peyton offers a pedagogical model for learning hand skills. I will try it out on the graduate students enrolled in the Historical Book Structures Practicum this summer. Traditionally, hand skills are taught by the monkey see, monkey do  approach: the instructor demonstrates (sometimes with verbal descriptions of what their hands are doing), then the students copy what was done, often with little understanding why.

Ashley-Smith observed that surgeons are not ashamed to use the word “craft” in the context of their work, instead they are proud of it. Peyton presents a refined method of teaching craft skills: not only does the instructor demonstrate three times, but before the students perform the action, they are required to describe each step in advance. Another advantage of this method is that the student is exposed to seeing the action performed at real speed. Old timer conservators sometimes complain about how slowly younger conservators work: could part of it be they were never exposed to work done at real speed, only the slower, linguistic heavy, demonstration speed?

These are Peyton’s four steps:

1. Demonstration of the skill at full speed with little or no explanation.
2.  Repetition of that skill with full explanation, encouraging the learner to ask questions.
3.  The demonstrator performs the skill for a third time, with the learner providing the explanation at each step and being questioned on key issues … the demonstrator provides necessary corrections. This step may need to be repeated several times until the demonstrator is satisfied that the learner fully understands the skill.
4.  The learner carries out the skill under close supervision describing each step before it is taken.

— J. W. Rodney Peyton, Teaching and Learning in Medical Practice (Rickmans- Worth: Manticore Europe, 1998), 174–7.

Excessive? Maybe for most bookbinding operations, but certainly not for medical operations. His model really forces the student to observe what they are doing and why they are doing it, and to think ahead to the next step. Ironically, it is all to easy for students to gloss over important aspects of hand movements during a demonstration. This is understandable, since most of the motions are not all that interesting, or even important. Invariably, they miss the most important part.

Sometimes in step 3, it is more relevant for the student to draw or diagram the process, if it is cumbersome to verbally describe. I doubt Peyton’s pedagogy can be adapted for every stage in bookbinding, but some steps — like sewing, forming headcaps, cutting corners — lend themselves easily to his procedure. Since many specific operations in bookbinding are similar, this method could be spread across a longer format workshop.

Using a Cigar Press for Bookbinding

Cigar presses are usually smaller than book presses, and often just half-arch, rather than full-arch.  As such, they cannot generate as much pressure as a real book press. The one I purchased seems to have the compressional force of a typical copy press, which is adequate for the most common bookbinding tasks: firm adhesion of pastedowns, casing-in, and tray attachment when boxmaking. It wouldn’t be too difficult to modify a large C – clamp to make something similar.

Since they are lightweight, this one is about 30 lbs, they are great for teaching and travel.  They usually have much more daylight than copy presses, again, useful when teaching, or for a secondary press. The main disadvantage is they only can be used for small format books.

Since cigar presses were originally used for pressing hand rolled cigars in long wooden molds, they often don’t have a top platen.  I made a 7 x 9.5 inch aluminum one for this machine.  Will I end up in conservation purgatory for drilling two holes in a historic machine?

Unmarked half-arch cigar press. I mounted a 7 x 9.5 inch aluminum platen on it.

Japanese Burnishers, Part Two

Part One of my investigation into Japanese Burnishers concluded by mentioning the next step would be to make a larger version with a Delrin sole.

After testing this new iteration for a couple of weeks, I find the larger size much more useful for the way I work, perfect for high pressure/ low friction applications. Paper conservators may find the smaller, more precise tool desirable. Both sizes have a plum wood handle which is attractive and has a silky smooth feel. They are easy to make in five steps.

The sequence of making a Japanese style burnisher.

The basic premise is simple: all you have to do is remove everything that is not the final shape of your burnisher.

  1. Rough out the wood with a bandsaw, a turning saw, or coping saw using the template below, or one of your own choosing. Fruitwood is ideal for this, at least 5/4 thick.
  2. Refine the basic shape using a carving axe.
  3. Smooth the axe work with a spokeshave and define the inner curve with a half-round rasp.
  4. Sand everything smooth and add a Delrin (or material of your choice) sole. Screw into place.  Tips on shaping Delrin.
  5. Finally, apply a coat of your favorite wood finish. I like Watco Danish oil finish for this purpose, which in this case darkens the plum wood beautifully.

The template shape I like to begin with. Make it comfortable for your own hand!

I keep finding more uses for this tool, most recently while laminating museum board to make wooden board thickness boards for a rebinding. It is also great for smoothing linings on the inner trays of drop spine boxes, or other operations where a lot of pressure is necessary. The heel of the sold is rounded in order to apply extreme pressure. The raised handle makes it easy to pick up, and it looks quite attractive sitting on my work surface. Even a client has commented on it.

 

 

Peachey Tools in May 2018 National Geographic

National Geographic, May 2018. “Explore” section.

The May 2018 National Geographic Magazine “Explore” section has a gorgeous two page spread of Yasmeen Kahn’s book conservation tools. Kahn is a rare book conservator at the Library of Congress. Both my  A2 leather handle paring knife  (#10) and  two inch brass triangle (#5) are included!

Many of her tools are quite interesting. She mentions the unusually shaped bamboo tool (#7) is useful for cleaning spines. Was it originally intended to be some kind of pen? I can easily imagine how the chunk of Lapis Lazuli (#2) would fit into my hand for burnishing. This also explains why the majority of Islamic manuscripts at LC have blue streaks on the repair paper (just kidding!!!). She made a very nice looking paring knife out of a hacksaw blade (#10). I’m really into this hybrid blade shape.

Depicting tools out of their working context by carefully arranging them emphasizes their aesthetic qualities. This begins ca. 1690 in bookbinding with the engravings that ended up in Dudin’s Art du Relieur. Some of my own tool collection hangs on a wall in my studio, again, for the aesthetics. But they are easily removable in case duty calls, mounted with magnets or between finishing nails.

Can you identify these tools? Hint: most are not bookbinding tools, and I won’t argue if someone opines #1 is not technically a tool.

A Japanese Burnisher

This week I am guest blogging on the The Book and Paper Gathering, a site which delivers conservation information in a light-hearted, easy-to-digest manor.  A conservation magazine, rather than a peer reviewed journal. It is well worth spending some time reviewing their previous posts.

The Most Beautiful Tool in the World: A Japanese Burnisher

Exactly twice in my life I’ve seen a tool and immediately felt such a keen a desire to possess it that my secular observance of the eighth commandment was severely tested.

Drooling over Robert Minte’s collection of Japanese hera at the Bodelian Library in 2010 was the first time. They were so elegant, simple, beautiful — perfect tools, I thought. It was the longest flight of my life back to New York City, my fingers itching to make some for myself. Over time, I learned more about bamboo, shaping bamboo, and continue to keep making them today

The object of desire the second time was also a Japanese tool, though in this case a burnisher, and…  READ THE REST AT THE GATHERING