Special-Collections


I posted pictures of this lovely contraption on the isupreservation Instagram feed a couple of months ago. This post goes into more details about the construction of it.

There must be many different ways to support an accordion book for an exhibit. Here is one idea, as envisioned and executed by Conservation Technician Jim Wilcox. This mount is made from 4-ply museum-quality mat board, adhered together with 3M 415 double-sided tape.

Conservation Assistant Jim Wilcox cutting out a paper template for the mount.

This accordion binding is a miniature artist book. The small size of the book means that it is very light, which makes it easier to manage stress on the joints and folds.

Mount without the book.
Mount with the miniature book.

The mount enables the accordion binding to be displayed open. The covers of the book sit lower than the pages, since the covers are slightly bigger than the pages on all sides.

The mount as viewed from the front and from the back.

The open pages are supported by the top-most layer of mat board, cut in a zig-zag shape. In order to create this custom shape, the profile of the pages has to be traced onto a piece of paper, with the accordion open.

These are the layers of board that went into making the mount. Hopefully my sketch and notations are not making this more confusing.

As seen in the sketch above, this particular mount was made from 4 layers of mat board. The number of layers can be adjusted depending on the book. Level 2 can be added twice if the cover has tall board squares or if the cover boards need extra support.

Board squares are the spaces at the edges of the book boards that are not covered by the pastedowns. These spaces are the difference between the size of the cover and the size of the textblock (all the pages).

For a bigger, heavier book, additional support would have to be provided for the boards in order to keep them upright. A piece of mat board the size of the cover could be inserted and secured in the slot behind the cover to prop it up.

The red arrow points to one of the cutout slots, where the book boards fit.
The space shaded in green is the extra deep recess, where each book board can be positioned

The area of green color seen in the picture above is created by one of the cutout slots, which is mentioned in the hand-drawn diagram. The book boards sink down to Level 1, the lowest level. The cutouts are made in Level 2.

Often, students and the broader community may not be aware of the role preservation and special collections staff play at a university research library. Short workshops afford both parties the opportunity to learn about a new topic or gain a new skill, while collaborating with different library departments.

Such was the case in a recent two-part workshop proposed by graduate student Sang Lee from the Graphic Design department at the College of Design. Sang wanted to give her students, who primarily design on a computer, the chance to do a hands-on project. The objective of the workshop was to familiarize the students with book and box design using historical examples as well as modern objects followed by a second session learning how to make their own box.

This class was a joint effort between graduate student Sang Lee from the College of Design, Special Collection’s archivist Amy Bishop, and preservation staff, including Sonya Barron, Jim Wilcox, Mindy Moeller, and myself.

A montage of two photos. Each shows the class surrounded a table with books laid out on the table. In the first conservator Sonya Barron is holding a book and describing it. In the second archivist Amy Bishop is picking up a book she is discussing.
Conservator Sonya Barron and archivist Amy Bishop showing students and instructor Sang Lee bindings, book models, and artists books.

Sonya and Amy described various bindings including a German wooden board binding, a Cambridge panel binding of the volume Citie of God, St. Augustine, Pilgrims Progress translated to Cantonese and bound in an Asian style binding, a parchment in-boards volume titled Philosophia Botanica,  artist books in a box made using organic materials like stone and sand called Nature’s Details, a tunnel book called Falling Leaves, and many others.

The classes were a nice way, too, for staff to review some of our prized collections and share what is important or interesting about each item. The present and history repeat itself, recycling designs and creating new ones from the old. Students had a worksheet with a list of questions and tasks meant to guide them through the experience identifying the use of materials and interpreting artists’ intent.

I’ve included several of my favorite items below out of the myriad examples we laid out for the class.

Block-printed Casebindings

Below is a highly decorative block printed cloth casebinding published in 1871.

A photo of the front cover of a casebinding that has been block stamped with gold, red, and yellow. The design includes sun and moon graphics as well as leaves, wavy lines that possibly depict a river, and Tennyson's portrait.
The poetic works of Alfred Tennyson published by Harper & Brothers in a highly stylized casebinding.

Sir Humphry Repton’s Landscape Designs

The library has a facsimile of Humphry Repton’s Red Books. Humphry was an artist and self-trained 18th century landscape designer. He gained success by creating red covered bindings of his landscape designs with overlays that could be lifted to show the space before and after his work. Check out the Morgan Library’s videos on the history of the red books for more information.

A montage of two photos. The first shows a river with an irregular bank. The second photo shows the same landscape with a paper flap that was atached to the image lifted to reveal a more regular riverbank and animals wading in the river.
The transformation of a riverbed by Humphry Repton.

Pop-out Books

A class on book structure can’t be without at least one pop-up book. Here is one titled Ruckus Rodeo by Red Grooms and Barbara Haskell.

Photo of a pop-out book open to show 3D nature of book. Features a rodeo with a bull and cowboy on horse in an arena.
Ruckus Rodeo book opened out.

Wooden Board Bindings

Highly stylized historic wooden board binding as compared to a simpler modern wooden cover.

A montage of two photos. One photo is of a historic German bindings with wooden boards and a tooled cover. The other is of a modern wooden cover binding with decoration on the cover.
Left: A German style wooden boards bindings with clasps and a tooled cover. Right: a modern wooden boards binding.

Eastern Style Bindings

Special collections has several stab-bindings and accordion bindings. Here is a modern stab-binding including a traditional style wrap cover with peg closures.

A photo of a stab-bound book laying on top of a wrapper constructed in an eastern style with bone clasps attached to ribbon to hold it closed.
Talk to a Stone: Nothingness by Tetsuzan Shinagawa.

Recipe Boxes

Some items in our collection include recipe boxes with cards and dividers. The box is necessary to complete the object. Without it, the cards would not be received in the same way to the viewer.

A photo of a box with recipe cards and dividers listing food categories such as beverages, cakes, meat, and poultry.
Food Preparation Recipes by Alice M. Child. Home Economics was historically a notable department at ISU and collections include recipes, artifacts, and manuscripts on the subject.

Artist Books

My favorite artist book was this project called The Nearness of Distance, published by Eastern Air Lines in 1967. It is quite deceptive at first glance. It begins as a box masquerading as a book which, when opened, contains several folders. Each folder has attached graphics, objects, and texts to tell a story. The texts come in single sheets and pamphlets.

A montage of four photos showing the book-box closed, opened to reveal folders inside, and a folder closed and then opened.
The book-box Nearness of Distance opened to reveal folders. The first volume , Ionosphere, opened showing a letter stamped with wax.
Photo of first folder opened.
The first folder called Ionosphere opened to show a map, a letter, and a perpetual calendar.

Conservation technician Jim Wilcox modified the traditional blue-board clamshell box so the students would fold over the triangular tabs at the box corners instead of plying them apart. Previous to the class, conservation technician Mindy Moeller made double-fan adhesive books with marbled paper covers for each student.

The students constructed their boxes over the course of an hour and a half. The result was a functional clamshell box they could use as a model or inspiration for their box project.

A photo of the students working on box making at 3 sets of tables configured in circles. Instructor Sang Lee and archivist Amy Bishop look on.
Session two of the workshop. Students making boxes under the guidance of instructors.

A finished box!

A photo showing a completed box with metal clips sitting on a cutting mat with the pre-made book near it.
A well-made box constructed by one of the graphic design students below the pre-made book. The metal clips are holding the glued parts together while it dries.

As many in conservation know, objects come to a library or archive in myriad ways and conditions. Boxes, trash bags, coffee stained, mold affected, falling apart, pristine. They must be quarantined, assessed, and then brought into conservation for treatment and housing. They may even have previous repairs, as in the case of this set of badly damaged lithographs that came to us wrapped in wax paper sleeves. They are part of the John Scott Beals Civil War Papers collection.

Photo of civil war lithographs.
Image side of damaged lithographs.
Photo of paper backed civil war lithographs.
The Japanese paper backing on the verso of the prints. You can see the discolored adhesive through the paper.

As you can see, they had been lined on the back with Japanese paper adhered with some kind of discolored paste. A backing removal was necessary to remove the brittle mystery adhesive. As the backing was removed, pieces of the lithograph began to fall away in some areas. Their location was captured with my phone camera as I progressed through the removal.

The chromolithograph under magnification using a SMZ-1000 Nikon Stereomicroscope.

Using magnification I examined the print to determine that it was a chalk lithograph, as identified by the chalky, grainy black lines. An examination of the color led me at first to believe it was a standard chromolithogaph, where the color was applied by several, separate stones. However, further examination of the pinkish straight lines in the sky and the cross-hatching on the ground leads me to believe the color may have been applied by several woodblocks. Alternately, the image below supports the chromolithography technique. Could there be both? My examination of the text ink revealed an different method of application as well. The text letters had sharp, defined borders, which signified relief printing. The nature of the mass production of these prints supports the need to be able to apply custom text to a standard image.

Mysteries still remained: What did the lithograph originally look like? What was its purpose? I knew this would guide my treatment of the object after the backings were removed, so I began my research. Eventually, a search on civil war lithographs led me to a blog post by archivist Nancy Sullivan from the Historical Society of Montgomery, PA. Here were similar looking works on a much larger scale. I lined up the detached parts of the lithograph and compared it to an example in the blog. Where the pieces met, the image became congruous. The course of treatment was now clear.

Civil War Registers Lithographs, Chromolithographs, art on paper conservation.
Left: Civil War lithograph in the Historical Society of Montogmery PA collection. https://hsmcpa.org/index.php/component/k2/item/145-civil-war-lithographs Right: Our lithograph lined up before repair.

Nancy Sullivan went on to posit that the ovals on the lithograph may have sometimes been left blank for the family who purchased the item to attach a photograph. On our register, some of the ovals had printed portraits, and some had albumen photographs attached. Perhaps when the item was printed, the people filling each role were not yet assigned their role, or a portrait could not yet be drawn of them before the lithograph was made.

After the paper backing was removed mechanically with a scalpel, the separated pieces with lined up with the image side facing up. Tabs of solvent-reactivated Klucel-G coated tissue were used to hold the pieces together while the verso of the lithograph was repaired. Tears were mended with both untoned and toned Japanese tissue. Toned tissue repairs were made when the tears had minor losses. Fills were used for large losses.

Photo of the back of the lithograph showing repairs.

The verso of the lithograph with Japanese repair paper and tissue repairs.Now that the structure was repaired as a whole, it could once again be viewed as an authentic, complete work of art and history.

Photo of civil war lithograph after conservation treatment.
The civil war lithograph after conservation treatment.

Progress continues on the optical media project here in the Preservation Department. All discs in the University Lecture Series collection have been ripped and are now in the process of being permanently stored. If permissions allow, certain lectures will also be uploaded to the Special Collections’ YouTube channel.
Technically speaking, most of the time so far has been spent navigating the Ripstation, a combination hardware/software system designed to rip large number of optical discs. The collection includes more than 1000 discs, primarily formatted as CD-DA, DVD Video, or data discs. Each of these formats requires a slightly different approach to preservation, typically in the form of what software is used.

The Ripstation at ISU Special Collections.

The Ripstation at ISU Special Collections.

The majority of the discs recorded before 2010 were formatted as Compact Disc-Digital Audio (CD-DA). Because this is also the format most commercial CDs use, Ripstation’s proprietary software (also called Ripstation) was best-suited, as it is optimized for this sort of collection. Discs were ripped into two different formats for both preservation and access purposes. For preservation, the BWF 96khz/24bit format was selected for its lossless, uncompressed quality and its ability to embed desired metadata within the wrapper’s header, thus greatly reducing the chance of intellectual separation between content and metadata. For access, the .MP3 format was selected, because it is widely accepted and supported as an accessible audio format. In addition, of the available output formats, .MP3 can be most easily transcoded into an .MP4 file to upload to Special Collections’ YouTube access channel, with little risk for losing any data.

This transcoding for the access copies is handled by Adobe Media Encoder, as is uploading directly into the Lecture Series playlist. To match the access copies from the magnetic media, part of the Lecture Series collection that has already been uploaded, the desired output is an .MP4 with audio wrapped inside with a logo (YouTube only accepts video files). After upload, we apply closed captions to all files for accessibility.

An overview of the settings used in Media Encoder.

An overview of the settings used in Media Encoder.

For the DVD-Video carriers in the collection, the desired output (perhaps somewhat obviously) differs from the CD-DA carriers. After some experimentation with variants on a data validation workflow, our conclusion was that the optimal output for Special Collections’ purposes was an .ISO disc image, which can be mounted easily as an access copy for researchers.

As the project progressed, some discs we encountered were neither CD-DA nor DVD, but simply data discs onto which .MP3 or other media files had been “dragged and dropped.” These were ripped with the DataGrabber software, and their original file format was maintained.

A selection of the optical discs held in the Lecture Series Collection.

A selection of the optical discs held in the Lecture Series Collection.

What metadata Ripstation uses and where it draws them from varies by the software used, which itself varies by the format of optical disc being ripped. Ripstation’s primary software is the program of the same name, which is intended for CD-DA-formatted discs, typically commercial ones. For automatic metadata population, an internet connection is required, so Ripstation can scour private and open-source databases for the artist, album, track titles, and other relevant metadata per disc. Acquiring metadata this way would not be helpful to the project because of the singular and noncommercial nature of the content. Due to this constraint, as well as networking limitations, this particular Ripstation was left offline.

So from where could the software draw its metadata? Ripstation has accounted for this possibility in the design of the User Data feature. Typically, the names of ripped files could be an assigned structure of metadata that would look something like %D_%A_%Y . Each letter corresponds to an established metadata category, so files named according to this structure will look like “[AlbumName]_[AlbumArtistName]_[AlbumDate]”. This system also allows for user-input metadata, in the form of a .TXT file in the program folder. The User Data system, which allows up to 10 user-defined metadata categories (%0 – %9) and can be used with all Ripstation software, is what we used for this project.

Each disc file was named according to its AV number and container number, according to the information available in the masterlist. For later discs with no container number available, that value was substituted with the date of recording. Batches were named with the reference number of the collection, the container number of the first disc, the container number of the last disc, and (if CD-DA or DVD) the disc type.

Now that all 1000 discs have been ripped, the next phase is twofold: 1. Documenting the project (of which this blog post is a part) and 2. For the lectures without permissions restrictions, encoding and uploading to the Special Collection’s YouTube Channel. This process has already begun, with over 5000 minutes of audio made publicly available so far.

Image courtesy of www.comicsbeat.com
An image from the pages of Wonder Woman, with Trina Robbins’ signature in the lower left corner. Photo credit: www.comicsbeat.com

History and background

The term “underground comix” defines a style of small press or self-published comic books produced outside of the mainstream styles. The Underground Comix Collection in Iowa State University Library’s Special Collections includes over 1,500 printed comics, hand-drawn sketches and related materials ranging from 1947 to 1995. Rare Books and Manuscripts Archivist Amy Bishop notes that while many of the pieces in the collection made their way to the university library in the 1970’s and the 1980’s, records indicate that there are some comics in the collection from as recently as 2007.

Photo courtesy of Iowa State Daily
Fight Girl by Trina Robbins, 1972. Underground Comix Collection,
MS 0636, Special Collections, Iowa State University Library.

In the 1960s and 1970s, the artists who worked in this style created comics that discussed controversial topics and mocked conventional society. Their work explored mature themes like drug and alcohol use, sexuality, violence, feminism, anti-abortion and anti-war sentiments, Black Power, and LGBTQ+ issues. In doing so, the artists and the publishing companies did not adhere to the Comics Code Authority (CCA), which was introduced in 1954 and was intended to censor comic book content. At one time, Underground Comix were banned books.

The official logo of the Comics Code Authority (CCA).

As an aside: While doing a little online research, I came across an interesting blog post on this subject. It was published by The Robert E. Kennedy Library of Cal Poly State University on their Special Collections blog. You could take a brief detour and read it: “Understanding Underground Comix: An Introduction to the Moore Collection.

Covers of selections from the Moore Collection of Underground Comix, Special Collections of the Robert E. Kennedy Library, California Polytechnic State University. Photo credit: CPSU

People

Many artists published with Underground Comix instead of a larger company because it gave them the opportunity to present their work with less censorship of the X-rated content. Underground Comix greats included cult figures like Robert Crumb, Gilbert Shelton, Richard Eugene “Grass” Green, Denis Kitchen and Trina Robbins.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia Commons
Robert Crumb and Gilbert Shelton at an event at Lucca Comics & Games in 2014, Tuscany. Photo credit: Creative Commons

You may be surprised to learn that popular TV shows like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Johnny Quest, and Space Ghost drew their first breath as underground comix. In fact, Trina Robbins, a female artist who published with Underground Comix, was the first to draw Wonder Woman. Richard “Grass” Green was the first African American comix creator to participate in the movement.

Photo courtesy of the Jewish News of Northern California.
Trina Robbins, the first woman comic artist to draw Wonder Woman, poses in a book shop next to her creation. Photo credit: The Jewish News of Northern California.

ISU Library Special Collections also holds a related collection of Clay Geerdes photographs (MS 0630). Clay Geerdes took numerous photos of Underground Comix artists and of their work. Geerdes’ photographs have appeared in many publications and were published as a book, “The Underground Comix Family Album“, in 1998.

Left: Gilbert Shelton inks a page for his Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers in Venice, CA, July 1971. Right: Gary Arlington gives a few tips to Armageddon artist Barney Steel in his San Francisco Comic store, 1971. Images from the Clay Geerdes Collection, MS 0630, Special Collections, Iowa State University Library

Conservation treatment

The library’s collection of 3-dimensional artifacts contains a few dozen buttons from the early 1970’s. The buttons feature some of the iconic characters from Underground Comix. Assistant conservator Cynthia Kapteyn and I have recently run into a box of these buttons in the process of doing a comprehensive survey of the library’s artifact collection.

Underground Comix buttons, 1971-1972, Artifact Collection, 2009-R035, Special Collections, Iowa State University Library

Recently we have been seeing lots of Comix at the Preservation lab, both printed issues and artist sketches.

Left: An issue of E.C. Comics Tales from the Crypt, 1953, PN3448 S45 T34x, Special Collections, Iowa State University Library. Right: Crime SuspenStories, 1952, PS648 C7 C74x, Special Collections, Iowa State University Library.

The printed issues were from the 1950s, published by E.C. Comics. Many of the covers and pages had become torn and creased over time. Chunks of brittle paper have been lost, since these prime examples of ephemera were printed on low quality wood pulp paper and were not made to stand up to time and the relentless deterioration mechanisms of oxidation in cellulose. Mindy Moeller, Senior Conservation Technician, has repaired hundreds of pages using light weight Japanese tissue, pre-coated with a mixture of wheat starch paste and methyl cellulose and activated with a light application of de-ionized water.

Mends and fills made with pre-coated Japanese tissue are visible around the edges of the back cover.
Left: A large fill in a back page was made with Japanese tissue that was pre-coated with a mix of wheat starch paste and methyl cellulose. Right: A detail from an artist sketch, Underground Comix Collection, MS 0636, Special Collections, Iowa State University Library.

One of the oversized boxes within the collection holds a number of drawings by an unknown artist associated with Underground Comix. The sketches were taped together with masking tape. The adhesive from the tape has started to penetrate through the paper, giving the paper a translucent oily quality and causing the sketches to stick together.

Using a micro-spatula, Sonya is lifting the edge of a small “speech bubble” fragment, taped over a previous version.

The artist had gone through a fascinating editing process, while creating their story line. If the artist was dissatisfied with a given cell or a speech bubble, they would rework the image or text on a fragment of paper and tape the new fragment over the segment they did not like. The artist used small loops of masking tape to stick down the fragments, so that the tape would not be visible past the edges of the stuck-on fragment. But over time the adhesive from the tape had leeched into the paper, making the tape underneath show through.

Left: A smaller fragment of paper is attached to the larger sketch with loops of masking tape. Right: Masking tape is lifted and a previous iteration of the sketch is revealed under the small fragment.

Masking tape was removed from the sketches and adhesive residue was reduced as much as possible. Mends of Japanese tissue were used to hold the sketches together in place of tape.

A heated spatula is used to remove fragments of masking tape from the reverse side. A Japanese tissue mend runs along the mid-line of the sketch (note the faint white tint).

The artist’s “edits” were reattached to the sketches using small hidden hinges made from Japanese tissue, using wheat starch paste. The sketches look and function in much the same way as they did before the conservation treatment. But the damaging tape adhesive has been removed, so it will no longer contribute to deterioration of the paper.

Other mentions

In the past, the Underground Comix Collection has been mentioned, exhibited and written about by other people on campus too. The Special Collections and University Archives blog, Cardinal Tales, has featured the Underground Comix Collection in 2015 in a post titled “Not Your Ordinary Comic Books”. The staff at Special Collections has used some rather spooky Underground Comix titles for the library’s Halloween Pop-Up Exhibit.

The Special Collections department featured Underground Comix in their Halloween pop-up exhibit in 2017.

The ISU Daily student newspaper had published the article “Underground Comix Have Rich History” in 2013. Student writer Victoria Emery had interviewed ISU College of Design professor John Cunnally about his scholarship related to the collection.

This is my humble homage to the candid and unapologetic art of Underground Comix artists. The image on the left is part of the cover of “The R. Crumb Handbook”, by R. Crumb and P. Poplaski, 2005.

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