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Inside Spencer: The KSRL Blog

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Welcome to the Kenneth Spencer Research Library blog! As the special collections and archives library at the University of Kansas, Spencer is home to remarkable and diverse collections of rare and unique items. Explore the blog to learn about the work we do and the materials we collect.

The Home Stretch: Wrapping up treatment of Summerfield D544

October 24th, 2016

Earlier this year, I wrote here about the treatment of Kazania na niedziele calego roku [Sermons for Sundays of the Whole Year], 1683, by Pawel Kaczyński. In those posts, I discussed the beginning and middle stages of the treatment, and at long last it is time to report on the completion of this lengthy project.

Shortly after the last post was published, I finished sewing the volume. The next steps were to round and back the book (gently hammering the book in a press to create its rounded spine and raise the shoulders along the spine), add linings to the spine, and sew endbands at the head and tail. Finally, I placed the book into a case of stiff handmade paper.

Summerfield D544 during treatment. Kenneth Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas

Clockwise from upper left: Completed sewing; rounding and backing the volume; a completed endband; the volume in its paper case, under weight. Click image to enlarge.

Just to rewind a little, here’s what the book looked like a year ago when it was brought to the lab:

Summerfield D544 before treatment. Kenneth Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas

Summerfield D544 before treatment. This is a view of the back of the volume, which had no binding, showing the fragment of manuscript pasted to the cords. The fragment is mostly concealed by layers of delaminated board.

In addition to treating the volume itself, I also cleaned, mended, and housed the manuscript fragment, written in what is thought to be Old Church Slavic, that had been used as binder’s waste on the back of the book. I did minimal stabilizing mends to this piece; the paper is fairly strong, but the media on this fragment is highly water-soluble, so I was careful to place mends very selectively so as not to disturb the fragile media. I mounted the fragment in a double-window mat, which in turn sits inside a simple mat board folio. In this folio I also included before-treatment images of the volume for researchers’ and curators’ reference, and for use in teaching.

Summerfield D544 after treatment. Kenneth Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas

Manuscript fragment after treatment.

The new binding for this volume is a conservation paper case. It is not intended to be a historical reproduction – for we have no way of knowing how the book was originally bound – but rather an aesthetically sympathetic binding that will integrate well with its mates in the Summerfield collection, and, most importantly, can be safely handled.

Summerfield D544 after treatment. Kenneth Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas

Summerfield D544 after treatment, in a handmade paper case.

The finished volume and the manuscript fragment are housed together in a cloth-covered drop-spine box. It is one of the great rewards of this job to be able to return to the stacks an item that had once been inaccessible, knowing that it can now be used and enjoyed by visitors to Spencer.

Summerfield D544 after treatment. Kenneth Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas

Item in box.

Angela Andres
Special Collections Conservator
Conservation Services

Workshop Recap: Parchment Conservation

September 26th, 2016

Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to travel to the International Preservation Studies Center (IPSC, formerly known as the Campbell Center for Historic Preservation Studies) to participate in a 4-day workshop on the conservation of parchment. My nine classmates and I – conservators from a variety of institutions around the country – stayed in IPSC’s dormitory housing in the tiny town of Mount Carroll, Illinois (read about the interesting history of the IPSC campus here) and immersed ourselves in the subject under the guidance of instructor Sheila Siegler, a chemist and conservator with many years of experience treating parchment documents.

From her long experience working with parchment, Sheila brings a wealth of knowledge and a set of strong opinions, but also a refreshing lack of fussiness when it comes to working with a material that has a reputation for being difficult. Along the way she was always very encouraging, reminding us that parchment can be tamed as long as you know what you’re dealing with and accept its quirks and imperfections as par for the course.

We began on the first day with a morning lecture on the history of the use of parchment and how parchment is made. This part is not for the squeamish – the process of turning sheep or calf skin into parchment is a messy business! We also spent some time learning about the chemical structure of parchment and how it deteriorates; as a chemist, Sheila wanted us to understand how and why the parchment would respond to the treatments we performed in class.

We spent the afternoon of Day 1 trying out different ways of examining parchment – under various types of illumination and under different levels of magnification – and comparing the ways that parchment and “parchment paper” behaved under different kinds of stress. Using scraps of historic parchment, modern parchment, and modern parchment paper, we soaked, boiled, and burned samples and recorded the results. Some students had the idea to intentionally disfigure their samples quite severely so that later in the workshop they would have the fun challenge of trying to undo the damage. At the end of Day 1 we broke into pairs and were assigned a large folded historic parchment document (reportedly purchased on eBay) that it would be our responsibility to examine and treat over the rest of the workshop.

Examination of parchment under ultraviolet light.

Examining a parchment document under ultraviolet illumination. Photo by Kyle Clark.

On the morning of Day 2, we worked on cleaning our parchments and preparing adhesives to use in the afternoon session on parchment repair. Sheila’s preferred cleaning technique is simple – a plain cotton ball, slowly and gently brushed over the parchment surface. Very grimy areas could be cleaned with a swab moistened in water if necessary, but Sheila’s no-fuss approach calls for only as much intervention as is needed; after all, very old documents are bound to show their age, and the idea is not to make them look brand new again, but, for those of us who work in research institutions, to make their contents accessible to researchers.

The adhesive we made is called parchment size and is prepared very simply by slowly heating bits of parchment cuttings in water until the mixture thickens into a mild gelatinous adhesive. We put it to use in the afternoon session, experimenting with it and other adhesives (wheat starch paste and methylcellulose) and different kinds of repair tissues (Japanese paper and a material called goldbeater’s skin, made from ox intestines) to mend tears in parchment. We mixed and matched adhesives and repair materials and made notes on the effectiveness of each combination. We also discussed the types of historic stitched or embroidered repairs that are sometimes seen on parchment, and some students experimented with replicating this type of repair on our sample scraps.

Conservation tools and storeroom

The storerooms at IPSC are a little like a candy store to conservators.

On Day 3 it was time for the most harrowing part of our treatment – humidification and flattening of our parchment documents. Students traded horror stories – their own or second-hand – of parchment treatments gone awry, but in her easy way Sheila urged us to jump in and be brave. We laid down plastic on the table, then moistened absorbent material, then a layer of Tyvek (yes, that Tyvek that you see at construction sites – it protects the document from being saturated but allows water vapor through to gently humidify the object) followed by the parchment and then more Tyvek, another moistened layer, and finally more plastic. After around 30 to 60 minutes, most documents were humidified enough to be ready for flattening, a process that involves placing padded clips close together around the parchment edges and pinning them down (we pinned our to sheets of stiff foam insulation) so that the skin is pulled flat. As it dries, it will “remember” its new flat shape.

Parchment workshop

Sheila demonstrating how to flatten parchment with the assistance of students. Photo courtesy IPSC.

Sheila was right – it really wasn’t so scary after all, nor quite as time-consuming as it’s sometimes made out to be. The clips can leave some minor distortions along the parchment edges, but those can either be removed through a second, shorter humidification followed by flattening under weight, or they can simply be left alone if one is satisfied with just having removed the major folds. As for the scraps that had been intentionally damaged earlier in the workshop, we tried the same humidification and flattening technique on them and were surprised at how well it worked.

Parchment workshop

Sheila assessing a student’s flattened parchment. Photo courtesy IPSC.

During the periods of waiting for parchment to humidify or to dry, we did more experimenting, this time with various surface preparations such as those that scribes would have used to prepare parchment for writing upon. We tried an assortment of mild abrasives, liquids, oils, eggs, and combinations thereof to see how they affected the quality of the parchment surface. Someone even found a feather and carved its tip into a nib to make a pen for testing the writing surfaces.

And finally we came to Day 4, when we marveled at our nice flat parchments and did still more experimenting, this time with hinging and matting techniques. Sheila’s preferred method is characteristically simple: a fringe of closely-spaced Japanese tissue hinges all around the document, adhered with wheat starch paste. Using many small hinges (rather than one long one to a side, another common hinging method) allows the skin more room to flex with changes in environmental conditions, which parchment is apt to do.

This workshop was a great experience, and I certainly came away with a better understanding of parchment, as well as the confidence to approach treatment of parchment items in Spencer’s collections.

Angela Andres
Special Collections Conservator
Conservation Services



In the Thick of It: Part 2 in a series on the treatment of Summerfield D544

August 15th, 2016

Back in February, I wrote about undertaking the treatment of the 1683 volume Kazania na niedziele calego roku [Sermons for Sundays of the Whole Year] by Pawel Kaczyński (call number: Summerfield D544). At the time of that writing, I’d gotten as far as disbinding, cleaning, and mending the folios before it was necessary to put the treatment aside for a while to focus on other things. This summer I’ve brought the book out again to tackle the next phase of its treatment, preparation for rebinding.

I had already mended most of the folios along the inner spine folds, but they still needed reinforcement, or guarding, along the outer spine folds in order to be strong enough for sewing. Because there are exactly 100 single-folio sections in this volume, I chose a tissue for the guards that was as thin as possible to minimize added bulk while also providing the needed strength to the folds.

Conservation treatment of Summerfield D544, Spencer Research Library

Guarding of folios in progress. Note the smooth spine folds on the guarded folios, left, and the more ragged edges of the unguarded folios on the right. Click image to enlarge.

Conservation treatment of Summerfield D544, Spencer Research Library

The text block with guarding completed.

The amount of damage to this volume was so significant that for the sake of efficiency it was necessary to keep the mending fairly minimal, adding stabilizing mends with very thin tissue where it was most needed, rather than filling in every loss with color-matched tissue. However, there was a very large loss to the lower portion of the title page, so I chose to fill in that area; the page was physically stable, but a fill greatly improves it aesthetically. I selected a Japanese paper of about the same weight as the text paper and toned it with diluted watercolors to achieve a color that is sympathetic to the color of the text paper.

Conservation treatment of Summerfield D544, Spencer Research Library

Title page of Summerfield D544 with toned Japanese paper compensation along lower edge.

With the mending and guarding completed, the next step is sewing. The text block was originally sewn two-on, which means that two gatherings are sewn on at once with a single pass of thread, rather than sewing the gatherings one at a time. This method of sewing reduces the swell of the spine that occurs when thread is introduced; with 100 gatherings in this text block, it makes sense that the original binder chose to sew it this way, and I decided to re-sew it in the same manner. To further reduce bulking (in addition to sewing two-on), I chose a thinner thread than I’d normally use. The last step before sewing was to select endpapers for the volume; I opted for Nideggen, a paper whose tan color and subtle texture go very well with that particular warm, grimy tone of old paper. Once the endpapers were cut, I lined up the text block on the sewing frame to mark the positions of the cords, strung the cords onto the frame, and at long last, started sewing.

Conservation treatment of Summerfield D544, Spencer Research Library

Stringing up the cords on the sewing frame.

Conservation treatment of Summerfield D544, Spencer Research Library

Beginning to sew – three sections down and only 97 to go!

Conservation treatment of Summerfield D544, Spencer Research Library

About one-quarter of the way through sewing.

Conservation treatment of Summerfield D544, Spencer Research Library

Detail of double cords and kettle stitch at tail end of text block.

Sewing multiple gatherings at a time can be a little awkward at the outset, but now that I’ve found a rhythm to it, the sewing is progressing at a nice pace. Soon all that will be left to do will be to put the book into a new paper case. I look forward to presenting the finished volume in one last installment of this series later this fall!

Angela Andres
Special Collections Conservator
Conservation Services

Housing Historic Photographs in the Kansas Collection

July 22nd, 2016

Around the time of our Care and Identification of Photographs workshop here at Spencer, I had four photographs from the John W. Temple Family Papers on my bench in the lab for cleaning and rehousing. The timing was fortunate for me, because from the workshop I picked up some tips for housing these items, and I also learned about the unique process by which two of the prints were created.

The photographs arrived, as so many of their age and type do, in precarious condition: two medium-format portraits were housed in heavy, dusty frames that were held together with brittle nails, and two military panoramic photographs were mounted to brittle, acidic boards. All of the photographs had varying degrees of surface dirt and apparent water staining, and had sustained some amount of physical damage caused by their housings and mounts. Before they could be safely handled and described by processing archivists, it was necessary to stabilize their condition and provide them with protective housings.

The two panoramas, which depict Troop D of the 9th Cavalry during the time of John Temple’s service in the Spanish-American War, were mounted to boards about two inches larger on all sides than the prints themselves. One board had a large loss along one edge and the other had a long vertical break in it that was causing the photograph to tear. Rather than removing the photographs from the backing entirely (a time-consuming and rather harrowing process), I trimmed the mounting board close to the edges of the photographs to reduce the potential for further breakage. I also cleaned the photographs with polyurethane cosmetic wedge sponges, which are gentle on the delicate emulsion surface. I then created a folder of archival corrugated board fitted with pieces of 1/8” archival foam to hold the photographs snugly in place, leaving spaces to allow them to be removed if necessary. The foam is firm enough to support the photographs but will not abrade the fragile edges.

Panoramic photographs of 9th Cavalry, Troop D, circa 1898

Panoramic photographs of 9th Cavalry, Troop D, circa 1898.
John William Temple served in this unit during the Spanish-American War.
Photographs shown in housing with foam inserts.
John W. Temple Family Papers. Call Number: RH MS-P 1387 (f).
Click image to enlarge.

Detail of panoramic photograph of 9th Cavalry, Troop D, circa 1898

Detail of panoramic group portrait of Troop D of the 9th Cavalry
(with adorable canine companion), circa 1898. John W. Temple Family Papers.
Call Number: RH MS-P 1387 (f). Click image to enlarge.

The two portraits were in more fragile condition and therefore needed a few more layers of protection than the panoramas. They depict Fred Thompson, and a young Pearl Temple, wife of John W. Temple. With the curator’s and archivist’s consent, I removed the frames; the frames’ backings were loose and unsealed, which made removal easy, but the portraits were covered in surface dirt that had made its way in through the unsealed backings. I cleaned the portraits as I had the panoramas, with soft cosmetic sponges. Each portrait is mounted to a thin board, and I again considered but ultimately rejected the idea of removing the mounts. Even though past water damage has caused the portraits to warp slightly, they were stable enough once removed from the frames.

To house the portraits, I first affixed the portraits to sheets of mat board using large archival paper corners as shown in the photos below. The corners gently hold the photographs in place to prevent shifting, and they can be easily unfolded to allow for viewing or removing the items. Such corners are often used in photograph and art conservation and framing, but they are usually small and discreet and not as generously sized as these. Because the main purpose of this housing is to protect the portraits, I made these corners extra-large to distribute any stress on the photograph edges. Next I hinged window mats to the lower mat boards and lined the inside of the window mats with the same thin foam I used in the panorama housing, again to prevent abrasion of the photograph surfaces. Finally I added a front cover of mat board, and placed all three of the housings together in a flat archival box.

Portraits of Fred Thompson and Pearl Temple, undated

Two undated historic portraits in their new housings:
Fred Thompson (left) and Pearl Temple (right).
John W. Temple Family Papers. Call Number: RH MS-P 1387 (f).
Click image to enlarge.

Detail of paper corners, Pearl Temple portrait, undated

Detail of paper corners, closed to secure photograph (left) and
open to allow access (right). Pearl Temple portrait, undated.
John W. Temple Family Papers.
Call Number: RH MS-P 1387 (f). Click image to enlarge.

Photograph of Fred Thompson, housing with foam-lined window mat, undated

Photograph housing with foam-lined window mat.
Fred Thompson portrait, undated. John W. Temple Family Papers.
Call Number: RH MS-P 1387 (f). Click image to enlarge.

Completed photograph housings in a flat archival storage box

Completed photograph housings in a flat archival storage box.
John W. Temple Family Papers. Call Number: RH MS-P 1387 (f). Click image to enlarge.

When I first began working on the portraits, I noticed evidence of retouching on the images – a common practice. During the photograph identification workshop, I learned that this type of portrait is called a crayon enlargement, and that they were popular in the early twentieth century. In a crayon enlargement, the photographer uses a smaller photograph, often a cabinet card, to make an enlarged print that is usually slightly underexposed, and then adds hand-drawn or painted touches to the enlargement. The result can be subtle, as in our two portraits here, or so heavily augmented as to be difficult to identify as a photograph.

Both of these portraits are probably gelatin silver prints; the neutral tone and silver mirroring on Fred’s photograph point to that process (Pearl’s photograph was probably sepia toned to give it its warm color). In Pearl’s portrait, the embellishments are limited to a few brushstrokes accentuating features of her face and ruffles in her dress. There is also a patterned background that was probably created with an airbrush and stencil. To the naked eye these are the only additions, but under magnification (our workshop fee included a super handy handheld microscope) it’s possible to see pigment droplets throughout the image, indicating more airbrushing.

Detail of Pearl Temple portrait, undated

Detail of hand-drawn embellishments on the portrait of Pearl Temple.
Note the brushstrokes under mouth and nose and along ruffles in clothing.
John W. Temple Family Papers. Call Number: RH MS-P 1387 (f). Click image to enlarge.

The accents made to Fred’s portrait are more extensive. Because the enlargement would have been underexposed, the details in light areas would have been lost, so the photographer has used airbrush and stencil to recreate the washed-out tie and collar, and also to darken the background. As in Pearl’s portrait, pigment drops are visible throughout the image under magnification, even where it doesn’t appear at first look.

Detail of Fred Thompson portrait, undated

Detail of airbrush accents to shirt and tie on portrait of Fred Thompson.
John W. Temple Family Papers. Call Number: RH MS-P 1387 (f). Click image to enlarge.

With the housing complete, these photographs are ready for processing and will soon be added to the finding aid for the collection. It was such a pleasure to work on these wonderful portraits; not only are they lovely objects, but I always love a good housing challenge, and seeing examples of this historical photographic process so soon after learning about it was a happy and instructive coincidence.

Angela Andres
Special Collections Conservator
Conservation Services

Workshop Recap: Care and Identification of Photographs with Gawain Weaver

June 20th, 2016

Last week Spencer Research Library hosted a workshop on the care and identification of photographs, taught by photograph conservator Gawain Weaver. I was fortunate to attend the four-day workshop along with three other fellow Spencer staff members from Conservation, Public Services, and Processing, as well as archivists and conservators from Missouri, Texas, and elsewhere in Kansas.

Our group met in Spencer’s Johnson Room and jumped right into things on day one by preparing paper to make our own salt prints. We coated paper first in a sodium chloride solution and, once dry, in a silver nitrate solution, then we placed leaves on the coated paper and exposed them in the sunlight over our lunch break. This simple exercise was a fun and engaging way to demonstrate the fundamentals of photographic chemistry.

Salt print (photograph)

The salt print I made in the workshop…it isn’t pretty, but the exercise was very useful!

Over the four days, we divided our time between Gawain’s incredibly information-packed lectures on the history of photographic and photomechanical processes, and lively hands-on sessions examining examples of many of the processes we’d learned about. The workshop fee included a small 60x-100x handheld microscope and a binder filled with the lecture slides, reference guides for identifying various processes, articles and recommended reading lists, and lots more useful information. Participants also had the option to purchase a sample set of photographic and photomechanical prints – a great addition to an archivist’s or conservator’s reference library.

Hand-held microscope

This microscope is small, inexpensive, and very handy for identifying photographic & printmaking processes.

Photographic sample set provided by Gawain Weaver

Photograph sample set of eighteen different photographic and photomechanical prints.

In addition to covering photographic history and technique, Gawain also discussed digital prints and issues of photograph deterioration, storage conditions, and proper housings. I enjoyed this workshop a great deal, and I came away with a clearer understanding of how photographs are made as well as greater confidence in my ability to identify photographic processes and to better address the particular preservation needs of photographs in the collections I work on. Many of the guides and resources in the workshop packet are available for purchase or to download for free from Gawain’s website, along with links to many more resources and information about this and other workshops that Gawain offers.

Angela Andres
Special Collections Conservator
Conservation Services