Inside Spencer: The KSRL Blog

Conserving Scrapbooks: A Unique Conservation Challenge

August 1st, 2016

I have spent this summer as the second Ringle Summer Intern in the Stannard Conservation Lab at the University of Kansas. My internship focused on a collection of 41 scrapbooks held by the University Archives. The project involved developing a survey tool, surveying the collection, identifying items for treatment, treating some items, and rehousing/housing modification all of the scrapbooks. Most of the books dated from the early 1900’s. They showcase student life leading up to and in the early stages of World War One. This insight into student life at a very interesting and volatile time, especially as we come to the 100 year anniversary of the United States entering the war, is why the Archives uses these materials as teaching tools with undergraduate students. The scrapbooks also include very interesting objects, like firecrackers with the line written next to them, “We shot up the house.” I was unable to discover which house they were talking about but I have no doubt they would have been in serious trouble for doing that today! From a conservation perspective these firecrackers required some consolidation and I discovered one of the fuses is still in place!

 Piece of hardtack from 71/99 McIntire scrapbook. University Archives, Kenneth Spencer Research Library

Firecrackers in a scrapbook compiled by Emery McIntire, after treatment.
Call Number: SB 71/99 McIntire. Click image to enlarge.

For more information about the project please see the story published in the Lawrence Journal-World in July:

And for some video footage of the treatments please see the coverage from 41 Action News:

I came into the project most excited about the problem-solving aspects of working with scrapbooks and I was not disappointed. Many conservators greatly enjoy the problem-solving we get to do every day to determine the correct treatment for objects. For conservation purposes scrapbooks are exceedingly complex and complicated objects. Usually they are made of cheap materials and contain a variety of attachment methods. This means that once they make it to a conservator’s bench they are normally quite fragile. The binding may be failing, the support paper is usually brittle, and the various types of attachment—glue, tape, staples, pins—may have partially or completely failed. Given all of this, determining the most appropriate treatment is not always an easy task.

For the scrapbooks I treated I came across two main problems: What is the most efficient way to mend the innumerable tears to the support pages? What is the best way to conserve objects found in the scrapbooks? Some of these objects include firecrackers, a Red Cross bandage, and a 100 year old piece of hardtack.

71/99 Harkrader, Florence scrapbook. University Archives, Spencer Research Library.

71/99 Harkrader, Florence scrapbook. University Archives, Spencer Research Library.

Red Cross bandage in a scrapbook compiled by Florence Harkrader,
before (top) and after (bottom) treatment. Call Number: SB 71/99 Harkrader.
Click images to enlarge.

I found that the most efficient way to repair all the tears—averaging around 10 tears per page—was to use a remoistenable repair paper. I made this using a 10gsm tengujo Japanese paper and a 50/50 mix of wheat starch paste and methyl cellulose. Once this was dry I was able to score it into many different sized strips to fit the various sized tears I was repairing.

Of the two objects mentioned the bandage was the easier to conserve. It is pinned to the support page and can swivel a bit on the pin allowing it to extend beyond the edge of the book. This means that there are some creases and frayed areas that have developed over time. To conserve it I repositioned it to sit inside the edges of the book and flattened out the creases.

The hardtack required creative problem-solving. It had a number of problems. It was coming unstuck from the support paper, had a number of cracks, and has writing on it. The ink means that any organic solvent-based consolidant could not be used. Additionally, it was desirable to keep the hardtack on the page, rather than removing it and storing it separately. In the end it was decided to remove the page from the scrapbook (the book was already disbound and is not being rebound) and to store it in its own enclosure within the same box as the scrapbook. The hardtack was re-secured to the page using a very dry wheat starch paste. The page was put in a float mount and support pieces were made with cutouts for the hardtack on one side and a dance book on the other. All of this was then sandwiched between pieces of corrugated board with ties attached. This created a housing that will both protect the page and aid in flipping the page from one side to the other.

Piece of hardtack from 71/99 McIntire scrapbook. University Archives, Kenneth Spencer Research Library

Piece of hardtack from 71/99 McIntire scrapbook. University Archives, Kenneth Spencer Research Library

Page from Emery McIntire’s scrapbook, featuring a piece of hardtack,
before (top) and after (bottom) treatment. Call Number: SB 71/99 McIntire.
Click images to enlarge.

Piece of hardtack from 71/99 McIntire scrapbook. University Archives, Kenneth Spencer Research Library

Detail of the hardtack. Call Number: SB 71/99 McIntire. Click image to enlarge.

This project allowed me to hone my skills in many areas of conservation. My project will allow for these scrapbooks to be accessed and stored more safely going forward. I highly recommend stopping by Spencer Research Library, calling one or two to the reading room, and losing yourself in KU’s past!

Noah Smutz
2016 Ringle Conservation Intern

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

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

50 Shades of Yellowback: A Conservation Internship

August 3rd, 2015

Captain Dangerous, A Brother to Dragons, Romance of the Seas, and Somebody Else’s Wife: The History of a Heartless Woman! Where can one find such gripping book titles? Why at the Spencer Research Library, of course! Deep within the Spencer’s stacks is a series of shelves filled with a set of 459 volumes with eye-catching bindings of a style of book called the yellowback.

What are yellowbacks? They were a type of book printed from the 1840s through the early 1900s. They were often sold at railway stations. Much like the paperbacks we buy in the airport today, these mass-produced books were purchased by those boarding trains seeking entertainment during their travels. This cheap literature for the masses was produced in an equally cheap manner. Straw boards were covered in a glazed paper—usually, though not always, yellow in color—and the textblock constructed of roughly sewn or stapled, lower-quality paper. Although inexpensive in production, these books were not lacking in decorative creativity. Publishing companies hired artists to create tri-colored wood-block printed covers that correlated to the stories’ subject matter, and boy, are these covers spectacular. The back cover, and front and back endpapers, were often printed with advertisements, including some for the bath product Pears Soap, featuring a somewhat disturbed looking baby as the spokesmodel.

front_cover_B1505, Special Collections    back_cover_B1577, Special Collections, Spencer Research Library

Left: Front Cover, From Jest to Earnest, B1505.
Right: Back cover (featuring disturbed baby), Behind Closed Doors, B1577, Special Collections

The inexpensive production methods of yellowbacks might have proved profitable for publishing companies, but in terms of longevity for the books such poor construction came at a cost. After years of use, it was determined that the majority of the yellowback collection was in need of treatment. Many had loose or detached boards and spines, split hinges, abraded and flaking covers, and detached corners. It also appeared that some of the books had undergone previous conservation treatment involving a nasty hide-glue to reattach boards and spines. Over time, this treatment had proven to be more injurious than helpful. Luckily for the books, the conservation department had just the right summer intern up for the challenge of these little fixer-uppers.

B1346 before treatment, Special Collections, Spencer Library

Example of detached board and extra adhesive in hinge area, Tancred, B1346, Special Collections.

After conducting an in-depth survey of the entire collection, thirty-five books were determined to be the most in need of treatment. Once treatment options were discussed with the collection’s curator, work commenced. To remedy the failing hinges, a strip of kozo Japanese tissue was adhered using wheat starch paste and then dried beneath a weight. In more severe cases where the boards and spines were detached, the textblock was cleaned of any previous lining and glue using a methylcellulose poultice. If needed, the textblock was shaped with a backing hammer to create a rounder spine. A new spine lining was adhered using kizukishi Japanese paper and wheat starch paste, cut to allow for two one-inch flanges on either side of the spine. The boards were then attached using the flanges, adhering them to the interior of the cover.

B1481 before treatment, Special Collections, Spencer Library      B1481 during treatment, Special Collections, Spencer Library

Left: Spine before cleaning, Moths, B1481
Right: Spine after cleaning and lining with kizukishi paper, Moths, B1481, Special Collections.

If the spine was also missing, a modified hollow was created from a rectangular piece of tinted moriki Japanese paper, cut to the length of the book, folded three times in accordance with the book’s spine width, creating a tube-like hollow. This allows for both strength and flex in the book when patrons wish to comb through the pages. The treatments performed were minimally invasive. It was important to keep in mind that the “cure” could not be more than the book could handle, and also that the treatments not be visually distracting. After treatment, a custom-fitted Mylar wrapper was made for each volume for added protection. During my internship, thirty-five books were treated in four weeks.

B1481 before treatment, Special Collections, Spencer Library  B1481_Moths_after treatment

Left: Example of detached spine.
Right: Same book after spine reattachment. Moths, B1481, Special Collections.

These simple but sturdy fixes extend the life span of these books and allow for easier patron use. I implore you to go visit the Spencer Research Library, not only to view my handiwork, but to admire, and also find humor, in these wonderful books.

B1433 before treatment, Special Collections, Spencer Library   pic 10 B1433_AT

Left: Before treatment image featuring previously repaired spine, The Mariner’s Compass: a Novel, B1433.
Right: After treatment, with newly repaired spine, The Mariner’s Compass: a Novel, B1433, Special Collections.

Allison Brewer
2015 Ringle Conservation Intern
Conservation Services