Tag 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!

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.

Bill Minter on Cobden-Sanderson’s Bindings and the Taste of Leather. Additional Comments by Marianne Tidcombe

Bill Minter sent me some recollections about Cobden-Sanderson’s bindings, which raise several interesting questions.  Are bookbinders and book conservators—especially those in private practice—skewed in their appraisal of bindings since they generally deal with books that need to be fixed?  Could Cobden-Sanderson actually taste the quality of leather? Does Bill have a second wind since he took a straight job with a regular paycheck?

Before accepting the newly created position of Senior Book Conservator at The Pennsylvania State University Libraries (aka: Penn State), Bill was in private practice. While some may know of him as the developer of the ultrasonic welder for polyester film encapsulation, he has also dabbled with other ideas in book conservation. His email is: wdm14<at>psu<dot>edu

Bill is far too modest in this brief bio. Some of his “other ideas” include intact washing of water damaged books, a velcro based tying-up press, a video of how to maintain and adjust a board shear, the use of aluminum to lighten and make more rigid oversize drop spine boxes, and tips on how to quickly flatten rolled documents for digitizing. Most recently he has attempted to quantify some of the properties of teflon and bone folders. His poster should be in the poster area of the AIC website soon.

 

***

 

Bill writes (1):

I recently saw your blogpost about Cobden_Sanderson.

You wrote:  “…but his bindings are really beautiful. I’ve had the opportunity to see many of them and to work on a couple of them as well. They are quite refreshing from much of the trade work of the day. Unfortunately, many of the materials he used are often poor quality. The books I’ve been able to see the structure of have common late nineteenth century structural weaknesses: very thin slips, tissue thin leather jointed endsheets, and overly pared covering leather. Ironically…”

I would suggest that when you are in Chicago the next time that you try to see his bindings at the various libraries.

Many years ago, Marianne Tidcombe was to speak to The Caxton Club. She arrived days early to see C-S’s bindings, as well as research her next book on woman binders. I insisted that she stay with my family, so that I could be her chauffeur.

When she arrived on Saturday afternoon, I told her about my 3-volume set of signed C-S bindings in brown leather and blind tooled. After much discussion, she had me (almost) convinced that my books were not C-S, because “he never bound in brown leather”.  Upon going to my shop, indeed they were C-S. Until then, she had only seen rubbings of that particular binding.

(Teaser — the boards were detached as you might assume, but read on.)

Well, for two days we went to numerous libraries and, as I recall, every C-S binding was in excellent condition with the boards intact! AND, as I recall, there were no ‘brown’ leather bindings; most were either red, blue, green or other. After seeing maybe a dozen or more (20?) books, I asked the question, “you said that he did not bind in brown leather”. She explained that C-S knew that brown was not a good leather, for three specific reasons:  1) from working with the leather, 2) XXX?? (I do not recall the reason), and 3) (the best part) — that he could TASTE that the leather was TOO ACIDIC.

[Marianne Tidcombe writes:, “What I said in 1992 was not that C-S did not use brown leather for binding, but that he rarely used dyed pigskin – brown or any other colour – because it was acidic.  He had an instinct for judging leather, and could tell by handling, smelling, and (yes) tasting, if it was acid.  He chose goatskin, sealskin, and alum-tawed pigskin, all of exceptional quality, which is why his bindings have held up so remarkably well compared to many others bound in the same period. Your blind-tooled ‘Golden Legend’ bound at the Doves Bindery in about 1904(?) in brown dyed pigskin is an exception.  I suspect he risked using it in this case because it took the blind impressions rather better.”] (2)

Aside from him tasting that the leather was too acidic, how would he have known that that was a problem? At the same time: how did they test for acidity during that time — litmus paper?
ANYWAY:   To further enhance this story, the last stop was at the U Illinois — Chicago campus where there are approximately 19 bindings by Ellen Gates Starr of Hull House. Starr studied with C-S in the early 1900s. Her collection of bindings include, from my perspective:  one binding using C-S leather and tooled by C-S; one binding tooled by EGS on leather supplied by C-S, and the remainder were (shall I suggest) other leathers that have not survived as well as the C-S type —– again, from my perspective. The bindings using C-S leather were, as I recall, in much better condition than the others. At the same time, one would assume that all of the books have been held in the same, Chicago environment all these years.

I wish there were a way to determine whose leather C-S used and how that leather was tanned, especially compared to other tanners. AND, why is it that he rarely used brown leather? Perhaps a world-wide survey of the condition of all C-S bindings would be helpful? This story (information) is from the 1990s, though I did see the Starr bindings again in 2003.

Hope this raises some questions about the condition of Cobden-Sanderson bindings.

One other comment:   While you have done far more research than me, I would suggest that as conservators in private practice, we only see the failures and rarely get a chance to tour the stacks to examine a large number of bindings.

[Marianne Tidcombe writes: Re: Jeff Peachy, Cobden-Sanderson and leather, etc.  Some of what he says is of course true, but I’m afraid he generalizes, based on a couple of books bound at the Doves Bindery, which is rather unfair.  C-S had only a short period of training (with a trade binder), and his forwarder at the Doves Bindery was a tradesman.  However, C-S was a trailblazer in advocating sound methods and materials, and passed his ideas on to Douglas Cockerell, who in turn promoted conservation binding.  C-S had to find solutions to problems himself, and work out better methods as he went along.  See, for example, the structurally sound Kelmscott Chaucers he bound at the Doves Bindery, and the concertina sewing he devised for Doves Press books printed on vellum.”] (3)

 

***

 

Peachey responds: First, let me acknowledge I am basing my original observations on a handful of bindings brought to me for conservation work, so this may well be a self-selecting sample.  Secondly, Marianne Tidcombe, who is the world’s foremost expert on Cobden-Sanderson, and I am honored to have her comment here. She has written books on the The Doves Bindery, Cobden-Sanderson, and knows his bindings better than anyone. So in terms of the relative durability of his bindings to the general trade work of the day, I stand corrected. And I should have made it clear that I was only considering the books I have worked on, which were his tight-back tanned leather bindings.

However, another aspect to consider is the use or abuse that a book may have during its life. A high end signed Cobden-Sanderson binding likely was expensive, collected, used less, and therefore preserved better? Isn’t this also a self-selecting sample? And I would bet good money that any late nineteenth century tight-back tanned leather bindings (Cobden-Sanderson’s included) will not prove to be as durable as many other earlier bindings — both materially and structurally — though would like to learn what specifically Cobden-Sanderson did differently.

Are turn of the 20th century tight-back tanned leather bindings due a reappraisal?

 

NOTES:
__________________________________________________

  1. Email to Jeff Peachey from Bill Minter, 18 June 2016, 12:57 PM.
  2. Email to Bill Minter from Marianne Tidcombe, 22 June 2016, 2:05 PM.
  3. Email to Bill Minter from Marianne Tidcomve, 22 June 2016, 2:05 PM.

Waters Rising

Shelia Water’s Waters Rising, an epistolary record of the 1966 Florence flood, has just been published. I ordered a copy through The Legacy Press, and I am eagerly looking forward to reading it. What better way to commemorate the 50th anniversary of, arguably, the defining event in 20th century book conservation?

Many aspects of modern book conservation were formed during this time: phased conservation as a way to deal with masses of books, collegial exchange of information rather than the hoarding of craft secrets, a reconsideration of the virtues of limp vellum binding, an awareness of the problems of in-boards leather binding, and the hegemonic influence of UK based book conservation philosophy.

The book also includes a digitally remastered DVD of Roger Hill’s film, Restoration of Books, Florence, 1968, which should provide a nice macro overview of this event to accompany the micro detail found in the letters.

 
waters

 

The Blurb:

In Waters Rising, renowned calligrapher Sheila Waters recounts the story of the role that her husband Peter Waters (1930–2003) played as the person in charge of organizing the monumental efforts to save severely damaged books in the Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale di Firenze (National Library, Florence) after the devastating flood in 1966 fifty years ago. To give the most complete picture of the events that occurred initially in the recovery mission, Sheila presents nearly 50 of Peter’s letters written between the end of November 1966 and April 1967, in which he described day-to-day happenings, and her letters back, which kept him informed about things at home and boosted his confidence when problems seemed to be overwhelming.

In addition to these letters and Sheila’s narrative diary and timeline of events, Randy Silverman, Head of Preservation, University of Utah, has written a thought-provoking introduction that puts those conservation efforts into the context of today’s practices. Also, Valerii P. Leonov has written an appreciation of Peter’s assistance in the aftermath of a fire in 1988 that ravaged the Library of the Russian Academy of Sciences. The accompanying DVD features a digital remastering of Roger Hill’s film Restoration of Books, Florence, 1968.

Waters Rising is dedicated to the people whose names appear herein and to those unnamed Mud Angels who salvaged the books that the flood waters left behind.

496 pages • 283 color/black & white photographs (many of which Peter took) • hardcover • DVD • 2016 • ISBN: 978–1–940965000 • $45.00

Order your copy here

 

Tearing Up Books

A client of mine, who is a rare book dealer, pulled a paperback out of his coat pocket.  It had the covers torn off and a number of pages removed. Slightly puzzled, and before I could start my “This is going to be very expensive” speech, he explained.

“When I’m finished reading a page, I tear it off and throw it away.  The book is much lighter and easier to carry.  I just do it with worthless paperbacks. Look, it is already half the size!”

I doubt any of us would have a problem with discarding an unwanted section of a newspaper.  Or a notebook page.

But a book! Symbol of permanence, order, fixed sequence and immutable fact. His action was as strong of a comment on the nature of books as many destructive and altered artist books I’ve seen. Or is it a manifestation of our single use, disposable, throw-away culture?

I couldn’t do this to a book. Could you?