The University of Kansas

Inside Spencer: The KSRL Blog

Books on a shelf

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.

Separated at Birth: The lives of three copies of the True Account of the Horrid Conspiracy

April 18th, 2016

A true account and declaration of the horrid conspiracy against the late king, His present Majesty, and the government: as it was order’d to be published by His late Majesty – Thomas Sprat’s official account of the failed 1683 Rye House Plot to assassinate King Charles II of England and his brother (and successor) James, Duke of York – is no doubt a fascinating and dramatic tale of intrigue. As a conservator, however, I’m interested in the stories that Spencer Research Library’s three different first-edition copies of this title tell through their physical condition and bindings.

Two of the three copies recently crossed my bench in need of treatment, and when I looked up their catalog record I noticed that there was a third copy at Spencer, so I pulled that one from the stacks in order to examine them one next to the other. It was so much fun to compare the three volumes and to imagine how they’d begun their lives all together in the same place – Thomas Newcomb’s print shop – before being sold and going out into the world on their various journeys, only to arrive back together again in our stacks over three hundred years later, each bearing the distinct marks of its own life of use. I’ll refer to them as Copy 1 (E242), Copy 2 (E242a) and Copy 3 (E3324). Let’s do some wild comparatively tame speculation about the life stories of these books.

E242, E242a and E3324 pic 1

Spencer Research Library’s three copies of the True account of the horrid conspiracy: E242 (left), E242a (center), and E3324 (right). Click image to enlarge.

E242, E242a and E3324 pic 2

View of the spines of the three volumes: E242 (top), E242a (middle), and E3324 (bottom). Click image to enlarge.

According to the practice common at the time, it is likely that all three of these copies left the printer, and maybe even the bookseller, in an unbound or partially-bound state, or possibly in temporary bindings; the buyer would then take the book to a bindery to be properly bound in his preferred style. Of Spencer’s three copies, only Copy 2 is in a binding roughly contemporary to the time of the book’s printing, though it’s hard to say if it truly is its original binding. It is a full leather binding with minimal decoration – a single tooled line along the edges of the boards – and it has obviously been heavily used; there is a good deal of general wear and tear to the text block and leather, and the front board was detached, held in place with gummed cloth tape. On the inside, the absence of pastedowns allows us to see the irregular turn-ins, the texture of the board, and the laced-in cords that all indicate the binding’s age.

E242a pic 3
Front board and front inside cover of E242a after treatment. Click image to enlarge.

The historic repair on this volume is cringe-inducing, in the way that all tape is offensive to conservators, but I admit to finding it somewhat charming as well, with its hand-scrawled title and date. This volume also had gummed cloth tape along the inner hinge; that tape was removed because it was causing damage to the paper, but the tape across the spine was left in place primarily because of the character that this oddly appealing feature lends to the volume. In addition to removing the tape from the inside of the book, I reattached the front board, reinforced the back board, and surface cleaned the text block where it was needed.

E242a pic 4

Handwritten labels on gummed cloth tape on the spine of E242a. Click image to enlarge.

Copies 1 and 3, having been rebound, may lack some of the old-book charm displayed by their edition-mate, but their bindings still tell (or at least suggest) something about the lives they have lived. We can only guess as to exactly when these volumes were rebound; my guess would be that Copy 1’s current binding is from the late 19th or early 20th century, while Copy 3 was bound somewhere in the first half of the 20th century (and I welcome thoughts and comments to corroborate or refute these estimates!).

When Copy 1 arrived in the lab for treatment, its paper spine was torn in several places and the case, which had been attached to the text block by just the flyleaves along a narrow strip down each shoulder, was nearly detached. The title page was torn and the text block was quite dirty, showing a great deal more wear than its newer case. This binding provides some measure of protection for what was seemingly a much-used volume, but the binder didn’t take extra steps to clean or mend the text block; this is a very utilitarian case binding. As part of its treatment, I mended the case, reinforced the case attachment to the text block, surface cleaned the most soiled parts of the volume (text block edges and the first and last several pages), and mended the tears with Japanese tissue and wheat starch paste.

E242 pic5

Front cover and front inside cover of E242 after treatment. Click image to enlarge.

Copy 3, by contrast to the other two, is in very good condition; its text block is significantly cleaner and its binding is sound, probably the work of a commercial bindery or workshop. While any traces of a historic binding are lost, the information contained in the volume has been preserved, which some would argue is ultimately the most important thing. Still others might assert that its current binding can still tell us a lot about what readers, institutions, and book collectors value in the books they use/collect and how those values inform decisions such as how and whether to rebind a volume. Copy 3 does not appear to have been nearly as well-used as its mates, or perhaps it is just that it was not as ill-used – the good condition of its text block may be a sign that its owner(s) simply took very good care of it. Its modern library-style binding is not especially attractive, but it does its job well: it protects the text block and doesn’t cause it any harm.

E3324 pic 6

Front cover, dedication, and title page of E3324. Click image to enlarge.

I have focused so far primarily on the bindings of these volumes, but before I conclude I want to point out an interesting printing detail on the title pages. Here are the three title pages side by side:

E242, E242a and E3324 pic 7

Title pages of True account of the horrid conspiracy: E242 (left), E242a (center), and E3324 (right). Click image to enlarge.

If you look closely, you can see that there’s a printing error on the large comma following the word “KING,” except on the title page of Copy 2, in the middle. Here’s a closer look (click image to enlarge):

E242, E242a and E3324 pic 8

At some time in the past, Copy 2’s title page sustained a small loss at the fore-edge, including part of the comma and the double border lines, and someone had filled the loss by lining the entire page with a piece of plain paper. This person (or perhaps some other, later person?) then drew in the missing lines and filled out the comma with ink. Was this the same person who applied the tape and handwritten labels on the spine of Copy 2? We shall never know, but it certainly is fun to wonder.

Angela Andres
Special Collections Conservator
Conservation Services

The Long Haul: Treating One of the Neediest Cases

February 15th, 2016

(Part 1 in a series on the treatment of Summerfield D544)

The great majority of the items that we treat here in the conservation lab are in and out of the lab relatively quickly*. (*I use this word in a most qualified and highly subjective way! That usually means anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours to a couple of weeks.) A treatment need not be time-consuming or highly invasive in order to be effective; because there are so very many items in our collections that need treatment, and because we conservators try to take a conservative approach to treatments, we design most treatments to employ our resources – time and materials – as economically as possible while achieving the maximum benefit for the items being treated.

On occasion, however, we encounter items that need extra care and a fuller application of the tools available to us. These treatments are nursed along gradually and in stages, the work carried out alongside and in between shorter-term treatments, and sometimes put away for days or weeks at a time to let more immediate priorities take precedence. I currently have one such treatment on my bench, the Polish printed book, Kazania na niedziele calego roku [i.e., Sermons for Sundays of the Whole Year] by Pawel Kaczyński, published in 1683 (call number: Summerfield D544).

Book before treatment. Call number Summerfield D54, Special Collections, Spencer Research Library.

Summerfield D544 before treatment. Special Collections, Spencer Research Library. Click image to enlarge.

The catalog record notes that Spencer Library’s copy of this title is “imperfect;” indeed, we have only volume 1 of a three-volume set, our volume is missing one page, it has significant losses and edge damage throughout the text block, and not least of all, it is missing its binding. What remains of the volume is dirty and worn, and its sewing is rather carelessly executed, which limits the volume’s opening and has resulted in damage along the spine where sloppily-inserted thread has torn through the paper. In addition, the spine is coated with a thick waxy substance that is causing discoloration and breakage along the spine folds.

Book before treatment. Call number Summerfield D54, Special Collections, Spencer Research Library.

Example of damage caused by poor sewing. Click image to enlarge.

Book before treatment. Call number Summerfield D54, Special Collections, Spencer Research Library.

Damage caused by waxy spine coating. Click image to enlarge.

This poor volume had been housed in a simple envelope, and was at the very least in need of better housing, but one interesting feature drew our attention: a fragment of manuscript binder’s waste still adhered to the frayed cords on the back of the volume. It is not unusual to see repurposed manuscripts in books from this time, and the Summerfield Collection has many other examples of binder’s waste in its books. The fragment on Kazania is a bit different, however, because the language in which it is written appears to be Old Church Slavonic (while most of the manuscript fragments we see tend to be in Latin) and because the material it is written on is paper, rather than parchment.

Book before treatment. Call number Summerfield D54, Special Collections, Spencer Research Library.

Manuscript binder’s waste on the back of the volume. Click image to enlarge.

The fragment was dirty, torn, and completely obscured on one side by the pasted-down cords and layers of delaminated board from the missing binding. Normally we would attempt to preserve binder’s waste on the volume itself, but in this case, absent a binding and with the fragment at risk for further damage, we consulted with the collection curator and opted to release the fragment from the cords, clean it to the extent possible in order to reveal the concealed manuscript, and house it with the volume, including photographs of its original condition, as a teaching tool.

But what about the rest of the volume? In its present condition it is not suitable for use, and its sewing is causing damage to the text block, so we decided that the volume should be disbound, cleaned, mended, sewn up again, and placed into a limp paper conservation case binding. A paper case, similar to the one shown here at left, has many benefits: it will protect the text block and allow for safer and easier handling of the volume; it can be easily removed from the volume if its conservation or binding needs ever change in the future; and it will have an aesthetically appealing appearance that will integrate well on the shelf with other volumes in the collection.

This treatment, then, is one of those exceptions to our generally conservative practice – some items just need more help than others. Now that you’ve been introduced to this volume in its before-treatment condition, stay tuned to this blog for updates as the treatment progresses. The next installment in this series will cover the removal of the manuscript fragment, dismantling of the sewing, and the cleaning and preparation of the text block for re-sewing.

Angela Andres
Special Collections Conservator
Conservation Services

We’re Gonna Need a Bigger Box

December 21st, 2015

Enclosures play a very important role in the preservation of library collections by protecting fragile items from dust and fluctuations in environmental conditions, and by enabling safe and easy handling of heavy, oversized, or awkward objects. Whenever possible, standard-sized prefabricated archival enclosures are used; shelving like containers with like makes efficient use of shelf space and contributes to ease of access and retrieval. However, in all libraries and archives, especially a large academic library with very diverse collections, there are always exceptional items that do not fit into standard enclosures, and that is where we in Conservation Services are called upon to create custom-made housings.

Recently, two very large items in need of improved housings came to our attention. The first is an undated (likely 19th century) Japanese map mounted on a scroll. The primary support – the paper on which the map is drawn – is cracked in many places and is too fragile to withstand being rolled and unrolled, so the scroll must be stored flat. It had been stored in a folder inside a map case drawer, but this situation was problematic: the rods at either end of the scroll created an uneven surface and placed pressure on other objects stored in the drawer, the folder holding the scroll was not strong enough to support its unevenly distributed weight, and the folder could not be easily handled by just one person.

To create a more stable and user-friendly housing for the scroll, I started with a basic, easily customizable template for an archival corrugated clamshell box, or what we often refer to as a “pizza box.” A pizza box is cut and folded from a single piece of board; in this case, I had to use 4 foot by 6 foot sheet of board! After I measured, cut out, and folded up the box, I allowed it to sit overnight surrounded by weights to help set the box walls at a nice right angle.

Housing for mounted scroll

Top: The box after cutting out – nearly 5 feet wide and looking very much like an actual pizza box.
Bottom: Setting the assembled box overnight. Click images to enlarge

The next step was to modify the interior of the box with something that would support the fragile scroll and accommodate the bulky rods at its ends. Using archival foam sheets, I fitted out the tray of the box with channels at either end that the rods can sink into, allowing the fragile surface of the scroll to lie flat. This box achieves a goal I always have in mind when creating housings for fragile objects: it allows the object to be viewed unobstructed without having to be handled, reducing stress on the object without significantly diminishing the user’s experience of it.

Housing for mounted scroll             Housing for mounted scroll

Left: Foam inserts, affixed to the box with hot melt glue. Right: The scroll in its completed housing. Call number Orbis Maps 2:204. Click images to enlarge

The second oversize item is an 18th century map printed by Giovanni Battista Piranesi; the map is beautifully printed on several sheets of heavy paper attached to one another to form a very large single sheet – nearly 3 feet wide and over 4 feet long. At 53 inches, the map is too large to fit into the largest map cases (48 inches wide) in the special collections stacks, so a place will be found for it among the oversized flat shelving, where it will need a custom enclosure to protect it.

This housing is another modification of two basic enclosures – a portfolio and a four-flap wrapper – and again uses that extra-large 4 x 6 foot archival corrugated board. To begin, I pieced together sheets of 20 point board to form a simple (though giant-sized) four-flap wrapper for the print. I then built a corrugated portfolio into which the four-flap is adhered. The portfolio has a cloth spine for durability and four woven tie closures.

Open portfolio for oversized item   Open portfolio for oversized item

The portfolio with inner four-flap closed (left) and opened (right). Call number N23. Click images to enlarge.

Completed portfolio for oversized item

The completed portfolio. Click image to enlarge.

When making any custom enclosure, especially oversize ones, it’s important to consider how the housing will perform in all the stages of an item’s use, not only in storage but during retrieval as well. To ensure that this portfolio can be easily transported by a single person, I added a fabric handle to the front cover; despite its bulk, the portfolio is quite light and can be held comfortably at one’s side, leaving the other hand free to open doors and such.

Constructing custom enclosures is one of my favorite conservation problem-solving challenges. I enjoy pulling together and re-imagining elements of basic enclosure designs to devise just the right housing for every object that crosses my bench.

Angela Andres
Special Collections Conservator
Conservation Services

Meet the KSRL Staff: Angela Andres

September 21st, 2015

This is the fourth installment in what will be a recurring series of posts introducing readers to the staff of the Kenneth Spencer Research Library. Joining the Conservation Services unit in Summer 2015, Angela Andres is the new Assistant Conservator for Special Collections.

Photograph of Angela Andres

Angela hard at work in the conservation lab.
Click image to enlarge.

Where are you from?
My hometown is Belvidere, IL (the north central part of the state, near Rockford), but I came to Lawrence from New York City, where I’d lived for ten years. In between I lived in California, Philadelphia, and Madison, WI.

What does your job at Spencer entail?
I treat and preserve materials in Spencer’s collections to ensure their availability to both present and future library patrons.

How did you come to work as a conservator?
As a graduate student in library school, I had a work-study job in my school’s conservation lab. I had a background in studio art and book arts, and I realized that conservation was a field where my hand skills and my interest in library service could be combined.

What do you like most about being a conservator?
I greatly enjoy solving the unique problems presented by each treatment and project. Academic library collections are so diverse that every day is different and there is always something new to learn in the process of treating such varied materials.

What advice would you give to someone interested in becoming a conservator?
There are many types of conservators and different paths to a conservation career, but I’d suggest starting at the website of the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works (AIC), the national professional organization. There’s a section called “Become a Conservator” that is a great starting point.

What piece of advice would you offer a researcher walking into Spencer Research Library for the first time?
Just ask! The staff at Spencer are so friendly and will be happy to help you discover Spencer’s collections.

Angela M. Andres
Assistant Conservator for Special Collections