Be Kind To Books

When you visit the library, be sure to pick up one of our preservation bookmarks! We always encourage patrons to treat Princeton’s books well to ensure they will last well into the future, and hope the bookmarks will serve as a nice reminder.

The bookmarks, made by yours truly, feature a Works Progress Administration poster from the 1930s on one side and a lighthearted parody of the notorious rivalry between Ernest Hemingway and William Faulkner on the other. You can pick one up at the Circulation desk or from one of the many “Information Center” wooden stands stationed around the library.

Lindsey Hobbs, Collections Conservator

It turns out Grip-tites have a really tight grip

I’m probably not the first person to discover this alternative use for “grip-tites” — the handy cotton ties with adjustable tension, typically used in library collections for holding a damaged book together, grouping multiple volumes etc. — but I was happy to realize recently that these could also be put to use in bindings with raised cords.

A grip-tite

For any non-bookbinder readers, this is a style of binding in which the pages of a book are sewn onto cords, or a heavy thread. The leather cover is then molded around the cords, which creates the “bumps” one sees extending horizontally across the spine of the book. Nowadays you often see books with faked versions of these bumps that aren’t sewn bindings at all, which exist purely for aesthetic rather than structural reasons.

If you don’t have pegged press boards laying around to tie up your binding and make those nice cord impressions on the spine, a handful of grip-tites can make a pretty decent substitute.

The small metal fastener is the trick to holding tension in the cotton ties. For general library use, the ties don’t need to exert a great deal of pressure, for example to hold together a book with loose boards; however, it’s nonetheless possible to fully crank down one end of a grip-tite in order to exert enough pressure to get a very tight grip and make an impression on the spine. I also found it useful to twist the ties a bit with my fingers before tying around the book, much like one would twist thread, to get more definition in the impression.

The original 18th cent. binding

The example pictured was given a baggy back spine, and the grip-tites provided just enough shaping and definition to resemble the original spine of this small manuscript notebook, which is part of our David Garrick collection, the 18th century Shakespearean playwright and actor.

Of the original binding, the back board was completely missing and the front board detached. The remaining board also has very sharp-edged clasps that have a tendency to snag on anything nearby, thus we opted to give this little guy a new case and store the original board with it. The grip-tites made easy work of shaping the new leather and work well in a pinch.

Lindsey Hobbs, Collections Conservator

Bathurst Part II, or the Joys of Repairing Leather with Japanese Tissue

Although Walter Bathurst’s diaries didn’t contain any more feathery surprises, this set of three manuscripts provided a good opportunity to get creative with Japanese tissue. The thin, long-fibered paper has chameleon-like qualities when applied in particular ways (not to mention it’s far more economical and easier to work with than leather) and can be great for some leather repairs.

Before Treatment

Bathurst’s 19th-century notebooks made good such candidates. The spines had mostly worn away on all three manuscripts; however the vast majority of the damage was due to abrasion rather than deterioration or red-rot. The leather itself (or what was left of it) was in okay condition and strong enough to withstand the repair.

After getting the text block of this example re-sewn and back into shape, I retained what remained of the old leather and began building up the rest of the spine with a combination of Japanese tissues. A heavy moriki in a sympathetic color formed the bulk of it, which was attached beneath the lifted leather of the old spine. I then used a much lighter kozo tissue — toned with pastels to blend — to cover the exposed joint. The top layer received a couple of coats of SC6000, which gives it a more leathery look and also makes the tissue more durable.

After treatment

Aside from providing a better functioning structure, the tissue repair conforms well to the original aesthetic of the notebook. With a good color match, I suspect only a trained eye would notice the repair. At least, that’s always the goal.

After Treatment

Lindsey Hobbs, Collections Conservator

Bathurst’s Bird Feathers

Occasionally books brought to the lab come with an unexpected surprise – maybe a dried flower found pressed between pages, an old bookmark, or a note from a previous reader. Last week a set of three of diaries, newly acquired at auction by the Manuscripts Division, contained a more unusual surprise.

While assessing the 1884-1886 diaries of Walter Dundas Bathurst, a British employee in the Association Internationale du Congo, I came across a full set of gorgeous tail feathers from what was undoubtedly an equally beautiful bird.

The feathers have maintained their vivid shades of blue – the lack of light exposure over the years has surely helped. Given the history of the diaries, I’m sure there must be a story attached to the feathers as well.

Bathurst joined Henry Morton Stanley’s efforts to colonize parts of central Africa and establish the Belgian Congo. His diary portrays much of the day-to-day goings on, including everything from what he has for breakfast, to hippo hunting, to his sometimes brutal interactions with the locals. When he’s not suffering from “biliousness” or feeling “seedy” and laid up in bed, his daily activities give a great deal of insight into the colonial mission.

Given the many references to hunting that I’ve come across in the diaries, Bathurst seems to have had quite an interest in the local fauna, so it’s not surprising that he would keep trophies. While I’m not a bird expert, my best guess is that the tail feathers could have perhaps come from a lilac-breasted roller or European roller. The coloring seems consistent at least. If any bird-enthusiast readers have suggestions, I would love to hear them!


Lindsey Hobbs, Collections Conservator

Since we’re on the Subject of Housing: Studi di Pittura, 1760

A version of this post was originally published on Princeton’s Graphic Arts Blog earlier this year, but also makes for a good fit here on the Conservation blog!

When our Graphic Arts curator, Julie Mellby acquired a rare edition of Giambatista Piazzetta’s Studi di Pittura, an 18th century series of engravings intended as a guide for aspiring artists, it presented somewhat unusual handling and storage concerns for the library. The book’s value alone merited a custom drop spine box for protection, however, the very flexible binding also created challenges.

Engraving from Studi di Pittura, 1760

Although the binding is well in tact, its soft, worn cover boards flex and bow in dramatic fashion when lifted. Since the delicate nature of the boards is not apparent upon visual inspection, we needed a means of signaling to future researchers that this book requires special care before it’s handled.

Studi di Pittura, 1760

The solution I landed on is a drop spine box with an integral, or built-in cradle. When opened, the user must lift and prop the first platform of a cradle via a ribbon in order to access the book. One can then prop the second platform in the same manner on the right to support the book while in use. When finished, the cradle platforms fold back around the book to allow the box to close.

The drop spine box with unopened cradle

I have since already thought of ways to improve this structure. My initial thought was to build two separate cradle “wings” to attach beneath the right and left box trays but this made the opening and closing action of the box a bit awkward. Building the cradle in a wrap-around style for the book was necessary to create a more fluid movement.

The fully closed drop spine box

Of course, the best feature of this style is the intuitiveness of its use. I think the ribbon placement provides a clear indicator of what to do when opening the box, and once pulled, the rest of the structure guides the cradle into place. While the cradle adds a bit of construction time over a standard drop spine, it offers a relatively simple solution for showing users how to use this special book.

Lindsey Hobbs, Collections Conservator

Housing The Faunae Insectorum Germanicea

One of the more creative roles of the Collections Conservator is devising custom housings for interesting or unique pieces. Princeton’s Rare Books Curator, Eric White, recently acquired a set of 110 individual slipcases, each containing around three dozen loose-leaf, hand-colored engravings of insects that date to the late 18th century. The Faunae Insectorum Germanicea, created by Georg Wolfgang Panzer, contains nearly 2700 beautifully detailed etchings of insects from the region, often in vibrant colors.

Full set of Faunae Insectorum Germanicea
Butterfly Plate

As always with housing, a number of questions immediately spring to mind when the library acquires something in such an unusual format. What is the safest and most practical way to store the objects? How can we make them easily accessible while mitigating any potential damage from handling or the environment? Also, how do we expect patrons will be using the objects in the reading room? A good housing must, of course, address each of these concerns.

A slipcase with insert

Before housing, however, the first step was to address the heavily abraded pink wrappers that cover the prints and slide in and out of each slipcase. After several hours of mending and flattening of each pink wrapper, I added glassine slings around each to provide additional protection and allow for greater ease of sliding the contents in and out of the slipcase.

For the housing, the curator wished for the collection to be easily browsable — a baseball card box that one could thumb through was the analogy that came up in our discussions. Thus, we opted to store them upright in rows.

We decided to make custom 20pt four-flaps for each slipcase to protect the exteriors. While one of our technicians, Ashley Baker, and I set to work on those, I also reached out to Jillian Salik at Talas to help fabricate a special box for us. We needed a box that would allow for easy removal and insertion of each case, would keep the collection together in as few enclosures as possible, and make it easy for researchers to find what they are looking for.

Box with inserts

To mimic a baseball card style box and also address the above concerns, Jill suggested a lidded box with an accordion type insert in e-flute board to hold and separate each case. The dividers needed to be shorter than the cases to allow enough space for one’s fingers to grip them, and the dividers had to extend all the way to each end to also make the final cases accessible (this proved to be a key point!).

While the heights of the slipcases vary quite a bit, the widths are fairly standard, so we opted to store these on their long sides for the sake of uniformity. This made the number labels across the tops easier to read or browse.

Everyone was pleased with the results. The boxes provided an elegant solution for an unusual collection.

Completed box with lid removed

Lindsey Hobbs, Collections Conservator

Revealing Gutenbergian Text

An important and major conservation project recently took place after Eric White, Curator of Rare Books, discovered fragments of early Gutenbergian printing in a 1483 Venetian publication of Horace in a German binding The printed fragments are from a publication of Aelius Donatus. The typeface appears to be the same as that in the Mainz Gutenberg Bible (1455). The bulk of the printing on vellum, which was used as part of the binding’s construction, lay under the front and back paper pastedowns. After discussions between Eric and Paul Needham, Scheide Librarian, and myself, it was agreed that the pastedowns should be and could be safely removed to reveal the printing. The Gore-Tex® damp pack method was chosen to lift the pastedowns. The method introduces moisture slowly into the glue of the pastedown paper in order to swell the adhesive, and in doing so helps loosen its grip on the substrate below. The pastedowns were lifted by carefully and gently pulling the paper away from the substrate below. The vellum fragments remained in place adhered to the wooden boards and were not disturbed. The treatment worked extremely well (fig. 1). The entire process required about 12 hours of slow methodical work.

Fig. 1 A pastedown is shown successfully lifted to uncover a vellum fragment with Gutenbergian printed text. A very slight amount of printing ink offset occurred. This was expected and discussed before determining to lift the pastedowns. The binder, who bound the book, slightly solubilized the ink when he applied wet glue to the pastedown paper and laid it over the printing ink. The glue dried with the top layer of the ink set into the glue layer. There was no way to have avoided this occurrence when lifting the pastedowns.


Ted Stanley, Special Collections Paper Conservator

Playing Against Type

I recently had the opportunity to attend a week-long class offered by the Rare Book School and held at the Grolier Club in New York entitled: The Printed Book since 1800. Taught by Grolier Club Director, Eric Holzenberg, the class covered a period of rapid change in printing: the shift from copper plate engravings to woodcut illustrations, innovations in typesetting machines and photography, the evolution of type design and binding techniques, the emergence of the fine press movement, modern artists’ books, and more. We managed to cover a lot of ground in one week.

Type designed by Frederic Goudy

Having the Grolier Club collections on hand for examples of each of these was a rare treat. We pored over the fine details of early steel engravings, passed around carved woodblocks and lead type, felt the weight of lithographic stones, examined the layers of chromolithographs, and fumbled (very carefully) with objects that were hardly identifiable as books.

19th century carved woodblocks

During the class, however, one experience in particular kept reoccurring: a familiar word or phrase would come up in discussion, although the modern meaning of the term that sprang to mind seemed to have nothing to do with printing. Of course, English is full of anachronisms and words long since divorced from their origins – language evolves! – but the printing industry seems to be an especially rich trove.

A few choice examples include “typecasting,” which literally refers to casting metal pieces of type from molten lead…or later what happened to Anthony Perkins’ career after he played Norman Bates in Psycho. A “stereotype,” in printing refers to a copy of an entire plate of set type. Eliminating the need for resetting a plate of type for a later reprinting of a book, for example, saved time and increased production – a far, but related, cry from the decidedly more negative connotation stereotyping has today. We refer to uppercase and lowercase letters as such because printers literally stored capital letters in the upper trays of the type case and small letters in the lower trays. The list goes on. The revolutionary effects of the printed book have clearly also made a permanent impression on language. “Making an impression,” another one!

Met Museum, Watson Library

To top off the week, we also paid a visit to the Met Museum’s Watson Library, where Collection Development Manager, Holly Phillips, and Preservation Librarian, Mindell Dubansky, shared with us the Met’s collection of late 19th and early 20th century American trade bindings. Through the span of the Arts and Crafts movement, Art Nouveau, and Art Deco periods, publishers embellished cloth book covers with luminous designs often of botanical themes and other striking imagery reminiscent of stained glass (as it happens, many of these book designers were also stained glass designers). Several notable women designers emerged during this time, including Margaret Armstrong, Sarah Wyman Whitman, and Lee Thayer, among others. Their use of gold and silver stamping and other eye-catching techniques are still striking a hundred years on.

Eric Holzenberg, Grolier Club

It’s always nice to be reminded of the historical context for designs and techniques that we often take for granted. It’s also nice to do so in the company of those who admire books as much as you do.


Lindsey Hobbs, Collections Conservator

Kepler Paper Mystery

A September 20, 2017 (Vol. 31, Issue 76) posting on the Conservation Distlist by Jean Holland, Senior Conservator Books, State Library Victoria in Melbourne, Australia contained a very strange inquiry, which reads as the following:

Dear Colleagues,

 The Conservation Department at the State Library Victoria, with the assistance of University of Melbourne Conservation student Cancy Chu, are currently researching a first edition copy of Johannes Kepler’s Astronomia Nova, published in 1609. The paper in the book is in extremely poor condition, showing discolouration, softening and severe fracturing throughout the volume. >From a cursory survey, digitised copies of the book in other libraries do not show the same degree of paper deterioration, although they share the brown discolouration in some sections.

 We are curious to know if our colleagues have seen examples of severe paper fragmentation in paper of this period, or in other copies of the Astronomia Nova. We also conjecture that the paper may have been given a historic treatment in the past, such as bleaching, which may be a factor in causing the fragmentation of the paper. We are wondering if anyone has seen examples of historic treatments causing similar damage.

 The paper is likely to be sourced from Germany due to the printing location. We have located a number of obscure watermarks that have yet to be identified, which we would be happy to make available.

The description of the paper caught my attention. The paper sounded as though it was in some sort of very peculiar unheard of distress. My interest peaked and I contacted Ms. Holland offering my services to analyze the paper in order to help get to the bottom of the strange occurrence. Several samples arrived in the mail. My immediate impression was that the samples were not of 17th century paper (fig. 1).

Fig. 1 The samples are very thin and discolored.

Such paper is usually strong, crisp and of sturdy weight. These samples are wafer thin, fragile and lack any surface definition of a handmade rag paper from the 1600s. The samples appear to be much more like machine-made wove chemical wood pulp from the late 1800s.

Examinations by polarized light microscopy (PLM), x-ray fluorescence (XRF) and attenuated total reflectance-Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy (ATR-FTIR) in the conservation lab would hopefully solve the puzzle. PLM showed that paper fibers are really made of flax (fig. 2). I was stunned.

Fig, 2. Distinctive lumen and nodes are present.

Examining the paper samples in transmitted light revealed laid lines of handmade paper. More stunned. An ATR-FTIR spectrum of the Kepler fiber proved it as a perfect match for a flax fiber reference (fig. 3).

Fig. 3 Kepler paper compared to known flax.

There appears to be no evidence of chemical damage in the Kepler paper’s IR spectrum. Lastly, XRF spectroscopy was applied. A huge amount of chlorine appears in the spectrum (fig. 4).

Fig. 4 A prominent chlorine peak is present.

The presence of chlorine may infer that the Kepler manuscript was bleached at some point during a restoration treatment, no one knows when, with a chlorine-based compound. Racking my brain for clues I remembered something that one of the conservators at the Bibliothèque Nationale (Paris) told me when I worked there many years ago. They have an expression for flattening paper in presses, which translates in English to ‘press it until the ink runs’. It may explain the thinness of the paper. The chlorine treatment may explain the fragility of the paper and its discoloration. The Kepler paper is still a puzzle. The data was sent to Ms. Holland, who was very excited to receive it. She and her student plan on doing more work to solve the mystery of the Kepler paper.

Ted Stanley, Special Collections Paper Conservator





Recent Published Article on Dunhuang Manuscripts

East Asian Library’s Dunhuang and Turfan Collection is part of a wide-world engagement to digest and understand materials retrieved from the area of the Mogao Caves, which were discovered some 100 years ago. Fourth to fourteenth century artifactual and textural materials of great significance were found in the Silk Road region of northwest China. The many thousands of pieces of materials were subsequently scattered throughout the world to various institutions of research for study.

In 2016 the East Asian Library’s collection of Dunhuang and Turfan materials, which number about 158 pieces in total, were conserved and rehoused to afford them a greater degree of protection and safe access by scholars. However, little was known of the papermaking aspects of the collection. It was decided by the East Asian Library that an examination of the paper-based materials would be very helpful in the scholarly research of the collection by having a technical analysis of the materials performed in the conservation laboratory.

The analytical study of the collection culminated in the recent publication of an article, Ted Stanley (2017): The Examination and Analysis of Dunhuang and Turfan manuscript materials at Princeton University Library’s East Asian Library, Journal of the American Institute for Conservation, The article highlights the historical background of the Dunhuang and Turfan materials as well as their content and arrival at Princeton. The technical study involves the use of polarized light microscopy and attenuated total reflectance – Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy to examine the paper fibers found in the collection. Many pieces in the collection are scraps and parts of whole manuscripts that may be found in other collections. The identification of the fragment fibers may help lead researchers to connecting parts of a manuscript that has been spread between several institutions. The study may also help shed additional light on Chinese papermaking practices in the years between the seventh and fourteenth century. In this study the vast majority of the fibers that could be identified appear to be ramie Boehmeria nivea. A very small amount of bamboo fibers, Bambusa, was found among the manuscripts.

Ted Stanley, Special Collections Paper Conservator