Annette Steele and Professor Mark B. Pollei, Conservation Lab, Harold B. Lee Library
The two week course at the American Academy of Bookbinding at Telluride, Colorado was extremely enlightening and crucial to my study of the conservation of pre-nineteenth century books and papers. Armed with research and four books in need of treatment I attended the course entitled “Book Conservation: Treatment of textblocks and Sewing” from April 30 to May 11. The research I had done before the course was helpful and seemed to mesh well with the theory and technique taught by Don Etherington. In Colorado I learned crucial information about disbinding and washing, mending and guarding, and sewing structures for each book.
For the first half of my project Mark Pollei and I selected four books that we believed were appropriate for research and for the course at Telluride Colorado. Rather than selecting books from the Special Collections, as previously discussed in my proposal, we determined it would be wiser to select books with less value for research. These books are Theology, Letters, Queen of the Air, and a Roman history book written in Greek. Therefore the four books selected were inexpensive books from Mark Pollei’s private collection. Because they are relatively unimportant texts, research on the books significance was largely unsuccessful and unnecessary. A survey of their condition and documentary photographs of each book were taken, however, and this served as a good starting point to determine the needs of each book.
Research was conducted in four main areas: surveying, washing, mending, and sewing. My research on condition surveys proved that surveys can range from the simple to the extremely complex, as demonstrated by Nicholas Pickwood in his survey of the St. Catherine Monastery at Mt Sinai. For the small books in my research I determined to go with a very simple survey of textblock condition, supplemented with photographs. An article by Margaret Hey was the most helpful in understanding the current methods of washing using calcium hydroxide as a buffer. Julian Claire and Frederick Marsh have written useful information on repair techniques for losses and tears in damaged paper. Finally, most sources on sewing concluded that the best treatment utilizes the historical sewing if possible. If this structure has caused damage then it is up to the conservator to decide which method is best. With all of this knowledge I went to Colorado to learn more.
At the American Academy of Bookbinding we began with a condition survey and collation of our books. The survey was simple like many I had researched and included information on dimensions, page numbers, damage, etc. Collating with a light pencil was done in order to ensure that the book was rebound in the correct order. Then the books were disbound to prepare them for washing. The instructor Don Etherington determined that Queen of the Air was not in need of washing like Mark and I had previously discussed, and so this book was disbound only for repairs and rebinding.
The washing procedure was very straightforward and similar to my research. Signatures were separated between sheets of Hollytex and immersed in tubs of warm water which was changed frequently until the water ran clear. Those pages that did not wet quickly were treated with an ethanol solution to provoke quick absorption of the water. This was discussed in several articles I had read, but differed from these articles in that after wetting the pages were allowed to sit in the wash water for long periods of time. The articles had discussed wetting as a way to get the paper in and out of the water as fast as possible. Don Etherington stated that it was not damaging for these pages to be immersed in the wash water, even overnight. The prolonged washing of these books did not appear to cause any damage, and even appeared to help remove tenacious dirt and acid residue.
Mending and guarding of the signatures after they were dry was done in a manner according to those articles I had researched. Don Etherington added additional insight when he discussed the importance of choosing a Japanese paper for repair that is similar in weight, color, and texture to the paper being mended. It is also important that the mend be weaker than the original document so that if another tear were to occur, it would not be on the original.
The sewing structures taught that are appropriate for pre-nineteenth century books include: link stitch sewing, sewing on single raised chords, sewing on double cords, and sewing on alum-tawed thongs. It was determined that the best sewing is one that is closest to the original sewing that is not harmful to the book. Original holes were used if possible to minimize further alterations to the book. In the case of books sewn on single chords Don Etherington taught that it is better to sew these on double chords. This sewing structure improves the openability of the book because the sewing hole is situated between the two chords, not restricted by one on top.
From the course at Telluride I learned that the biggest issue regarding resewn books is that they often gain a certain amount of swell in the spine. Etherington taught that this can be avoided by tight sewing, and if necessary, sewing “two-on”. This technique involves sewing every other signature to reduce swell, while still maintaining a solid textblock. It was extremely useful and incorporated in sewing Theology, reducing the swell dramatically.
After the two week course in Colorado I had completed the conservation of four textblocks. The research I conducted before my course meshed well with the techniques taught at The American Academy of Bookbinding, but differed in minor points. As discussed in my proposal the notes and research I conducted have been informally compiled into a small book and research notebook that have already been of great assistance the Conservation laboratory in the Harold B. Lee Library. A formal report is still being constructed, and will be finished after further research regarding the best methods to cover and finish the conserved books. Because the conserved books do not belong to the Special Collections, they are able to stay in the lab with the notes and research and serve as a visual reference to the results of the conservation techniques.
- Nicholas Pickwood, “The Condition Survey of the Manuscripts in the Monastery of Saint Catherine on Mount Sinai.” The Paper Conservator 28 (2004): 33-60.
- Margaret Hey, “The Washing and Aqueous Deacidification of Paper.” The Paper Conservator 4 (1979): 66-79
- Julian Claire and Frederick Marsh, “A Dry Repair Method for Islamic Illuminated Manuscript Leaves.” Paper Conservator 4 (1979): 3-9.