Cooked Books

In preparation for an upcoming lecture on book boxes (May 23, 2013, 6:30) and workshop on drop spine cradle boxes (May 24-25, 2013) at Columbia College in Chicago, I’ve run across some crazy ideas on how to protect a book.  The housing system below is noteworthy. Over 200 books at an NYC Institution were treated this way.

Crazy Housing

The outer shell is an acidic marbled paper and a laser printed paper label.  As you can see, it is difficult to unwrap the book without tearing the deteriorated paper. The laser printed label seems to date this treatment after the early 1990’s. Is it my imagination, an accident, or did the person who wrapped this book take extreme care to try and match the marbled patterns at the join of the paper?

Crazy Housing

The next layer is the big surprise: aluminum foil. At the moment, I can only think of one reason for wrapping a book in foil, to prepare it for baking. I’m not sure what the Interactions between the aluminum and leather might be, but the mechanical problems are quite apparent, since the extra aluminum is rolled up and pushed onto the head and tail of the text block causing uneven stresses when the book is shelved upright. Again, it is unwieldy to unwrap.

Crazy Housing 3

These books were also given an marinade of potassium lactate according to the treatment records. I think this must have caused some of the blackening and changes to the surface texture of the leather—they do look a little like they have been baked. Potassium lactate is used as an antimicrobial preservative in Hot Dogs.

Putting potassium lactate on leather books is a very bad idea, though. Even though it is discussed in some older book restoration manuals, it has been discontinued because of the damage it can cause. Tom Conroy (in the first comment) dates this treatment to 1984. At least one conservation vendor in the US still sells it, though.

The best way to preserve leather bindings is to put nothing on them. If there is already red rot, you should consult with a book conservator. Pass the ketchup.