Recently, I attended the Care of Historic Scrapbooks workshop taught by Jennifer Hain Teper at the Campbell Center for Historic Preservation Studies in Mt. Carroll, IL.

Jennifer Hain Teper lectures on the preservation challenges particular to scrapbooks as composite objects made up of many different types of materials.

The Head of Conservation at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (which, full disclosure, is where I performed the third-year conservation internship required by my conservation study program), Jennifer generously shared her experiences working with UIUC’s extensive scrapbook collection.  The workshop at the Campbell Center lasted two full days, with lectures and discussion in the mornings, and hands-on training in the afternoons.

Hence the name: an example of a true “scrapbook,” made up of scraps of fabric and paper clippings adhered to the pages of a wallpaper sample book.

In addition to an overview of the common materials and preservation challenges of scrapbooks as artifacts, Jennifer presented us with a case study of a scrapbook assessment and treatment project performed at UIUC.  Jennifer shared her projected and actual budgets both for the condition survey and the treatment project, as well as a thoughtful analysis of the inevitable discrepancies.  Her honest assessment of the project pointed out potential pitfalls and areas of concern when designing a scrapbook conservation project.  Having the opportunity to learn from her experience puts me in a far better position to begin planning our own scrapbook project at ISU Library, since I now have very concrete data on which to base my own estimates.

An example of a scrapbook rehousing designed by the UIUC Libraries Conservation Lab.

Our lively, engaged group of workshop participants included three librarians from Western Kentucky University Library Special Collections, a curator from the National WWII Museum in New Orleans, a student from the Museum Studies Program at Western Illinois University, an archivist from UIPUI University Library, and an archivist from the Illinois Supreme Court Historic Preservation Commission.

Sue Lynn McDaniel, Special Collections Librarian at Western Kentucky University, practices consolidating red rotted leather with Cellugel.

Jennifer demonstrates the intricacies of properly wrapping a book for storage or transport.

Among our group, I was the only conservator taking the class.  However, while I am already well-versed in the actual treatment techniques we practiced (encapsulating, making wrappers, paper mending, hinging, backing removal), the class still proved to be a valuable experience for me.  Learning some tried-and-true approaches from someone who has been thinking about the complexities of scrapbooks for much longer than I have saves me from having to reinvent the wheel when I approach our own scrapbook collection.  It was also just a joy to have two uninterrupted days to think about scrapbook preservation problems non-stop, and to bounce ideas off of others struggling with similar issues.

Jennifer’s solution to isolating an attachment which still needs to be handled: a Melinex encapsulation with a window cut into it, so the card can still be opened and read.

I’m very happy to announce that we have just started our own scrapbook project at ISU Library.  The overall goals of the project are to:

  • Identify and inventory scrapbooks in the Manuscript and Archives collections
  • Assess the condition of the scrapbooks
  • Prioritize scrapbooks for digitization, rehousing, stabilization, and full treatment
  • Treat scrapbooks according to the determined priorities

Images of some of the scrapbook challenges which await us in ISU Library Special Collections and Archives.

Our conservation volunteer, Martha, will be working with me on this project, so look for updates from either one of us in the months ahead.  In the meantime, if your own scrapbook collection needs some TLC, I can recommend Jennifer Hain Teper’s Care of Historic Scrapbooks workshop at the Campbell Center without reservation.  Whether you work within the conservation field or practice an allied profession, you will end the course better equipped to tackle the challenges of these complex artifacts.

Click on image to enlarge.

Here in the Conservation Lab, I am currently treating the original of the photo shown above, a silver gelatin print of a football game at ISU on August 21, 1930.  Thanks to my oh-so-discreet arrows and captioning, you’ll notice two young men in the crowd wearing beanies.  These beanies, with alternating triangles in cardinal and  gold, are ISU freshman beanies (also called “prep caps”).  The beanies were worn by ISU freshman (emphasis on the men only) from 1916 until 1934.

The Library Special Collections and Archives holds a rare example of such a beanie from 1918.  Since campus tradition dictated burning the freshman beanies in a bonfire at an end-of-the-schoolyear “moving up” ceremony, surviving examples are few and far between.  This past spring, our undergraduate intern Alex Menard designed a special box for the beanie which would allow this artifact to be viewed by Library visitors — and even removed from its box for exhibit — without the beanie itself being handled.

First Mock-up.

Second Mock-up.

First, Alex built a few miniature mock-ups to test her design.  The first design was simple and elegant, but was not as structurally sturdy as she wanted it to be.  The second design added some reinforcements that worked beautifully, but also added a complicated drop-down front that Alex ultimately decided was unnecessary.

Museum-quality hat stand for the beanie.

Next, Alex ordered a museum-quality hat stand to support the beanie, and measured off the stand to get the exact measurements to use for the final box.  The sturdy final box functions easily, and allows a dramatic presentation of one of our treasured artifacts of ISU history.  Great work, Alex!

Bookbinding-quality goat skin vellum; vellum or parchment for documents or book pages tends to be much thinner, smoother, and finer in quality.

Diplomas used to be printed on vellum  (a synonym for parchment), which is where we derived the slang term “sheep skin” for a diploma.  Animal-skin vellum and parchment, which can be made from goat, pig, sheep or calf skin, should not be confused with the modern paper product known as vellum or parchment paper.

Framed, vellum diploma before treatment

This framed, vellum diploma represents the first Agricultural Engineering degree awarded anywhere in the world, to Jacob Waggoner, here at ISU (then Iowa State College) in 1910.  The diploma hung on display for many years in the Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering Department.  Sadly, vellum is not a good candidate for exhibit in an uncontrolled environment.  As a material, vellum is highly sensitive to fluctuations in relative humidity.  The diploma had been hinged into a window mat, which is typically a conservationally sound practice for paper artifacts intended for display.  However, humidity fluctuations caused the vellum to flex and curl, creating tension at the points at which the document was hinged to the mat, and resulting in the severe cockling evident in the above and below images.

Severely cockled vellum diploma before treatment but after being removed from its frame and mounting

We removed the cockled diploma from its frame and mounting, and then cleaned, humidified, and flattened the diploma here in the Conservation Lab.  We then sent the diploma to Digital Initiatives to be scanned.  Agricultural Engineering can now have a high-resolution reproduction printed on paper for framing and display, while the original, vellum diploma will be stored safely in the humidity-controlled Special Collections vault — a solution which honors both the significance of the diploma and the physical artifact itself.

Vellum diploma after treatment

A traveling exhibit, “New Views: Recent Work By Members of the Midwest Chapter Guild of Bookworkers,” will soon be on display at Iowa State University Library.  The exhibit will be open for viewing from Friday, March 18 – Tuesday, May 10, 2011 in the Special Collections Reading Room, on the 4th floor of Parks Library.

The Guild of Bookworkers was founded in 1906, and “promotes interest in and awareness of the tradition of the book and paper arts.”  Members include bookbinders, book artists, typographers, conservators, printmakers, papermakers, and calligraphers.

Iowa State University Library is the last stop for this traveling exhibit, which has also been displayed at Milner Library at Illinois State University, the Rare Book and Manuscript Library at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and Special Collections at the Michigan State University Libraries.

The exhibit includes an artist’s book submitted by ISU’s own Paula Curran, Associate Professor of Art & Design.  Paula’s students contributed to the content of the book, which is titled Design Iowa: A Book in Pigtures.

Please note: Exhibit programs are for sale, and all images in this post are from the program, which was designed by Paula Curran, Department of Art & Design, Iowa State University.

Bob Harvey speaks to visitors about his rare book collection.


On Tuesday, October 12, ISU Library Special Collections hosted the Robert R. Harvey Rare Book Open House, a viewing of sixteen selected volumes from Professor Emeritus Robert Harvey’s recent donation of ninety-two rare books focused mainly on landscape architecture.  The volumes displayed for the public ranged in date from The Practical Fruit Gardener (1724) to Farm Economy: Twelve Courses in Agriculture (1916).  Professor Harvey was in attendance to speak about his collection, and I answered questions about the conservation of the collection.  Over 50 visitors viewed the collection during the open house.

The entire Conservation Lab assisted with the preparations for this open house: our summer interns, our current intern, our staff, and our student employees all pitched in, whether building boxes, performing conservation treatments, or helping with exhibit cradles and labels.  Thanks to all of them for contributing to a successful event!

What made this open house unique from a conservation perspective was our decision to let visitors handle some of the volumes.  Being able to handle the materials allowed visitors to delve more deeply into the content of some of the volumes.  Preservation printed up signs to indicate clearly which books could be handled and which could not:

Our student employee, Hope, suggested using green and red colored borders on the signs to visually signal which books were safe to handle and which were not.  Individual exhibit labels explained the historical significance of each book, and also included a “Conservator’s Note,” explaining the conservation treatment that had been performed in simplified, layman’s terms.

Here are some highlights from the open house:

The Practical Fruit Gardener (1724)

The Practical Fruit Gardener (1724).  Stephen Switzer, landscape designer, horticulturalist and author was one of the most prominent figures in the rise of the 18th-century landscape garden. Having played key roles in the creation of Blenheim in Oxfordshire, Castle Howard in North Yorkshire and Stowe in Buckinghamshire during his early career, Switzer went on to promote the improvement of various aspects of landscape-making.

In his publications, Switzer pioneered what he called ‘Rural and Extensive Gardening’, which integrated the economics of kitchen gardening and animal husbandry with the aesthetics of landscape design (Dixon Hunt & Willis 1975). By Timur Tatlioglu.

Conservator’s Note: This volume suffered from damage common to 18th century leather tightback bindings.  The leather along the joint had cracked, and the board was threatening to detach.  A portion of the leather on the spine was also missing, exposing the vulnerable folds of the pages.  The missing leather was filled in with dyed flax paper.  The cracked joint was mended with a Japanese, long-fibered tissue “band-aid” which had been dyed to match the original leather using acrylics.  Both repairs were then waxed and buffed to match the sheen of the original leather.  Inside the volume, a fold-out plan with a significant tear was mended with a very thin Japanese long-fibered tissue and wheat starch paste.

The Complete Gardener (1827)

The Complete Gardener (1827).   The Complete Gardener was authored by John Abercrombie (b. 1726), an eminent horticulturalist and author.  His first work was published as being the work of Thomas Mawe, gardener to the Duke of Leeds, and its success led Abercrombie to use the name of Mawe on all his publications.  In addition to the Complete Gardener, he also authored The Universal Dictionary of Gardening and Botany (1806), The Garden Mushroom (1779), and The Gardener’s Pocket Dictionary (1786).  Iowa State’s copy is the only volume listed for the U.S. in World Cat; the other is located in the American Academy in Rome.

Conservator’s Note:  This well-used volume required repairs ranging from page reattachment to rebuilding the bent, worn corners of the boards.  The box is a chemise and girdle, which protects the fragile surface of the binding from abrasion.

New England Book of Fruits (1847)

New England Book of Fruits (1847).  Robert Manning (1784-1842) was a pomologist based in New England.   His garden contained over 2,000 varieties of fruits; 1,000 of which were pears.  He was considered an authority and his naming of varieties were deemed definitive. With the assistance of John M. Ives, Manning published Book of Fruits, being a descriptive catalogue of the most valuable varieties of the pear, apple, peach, plum, and cherry for New England culture in 1838. Like the previous editions, this third edition (1847) of Manning’s manual was meant to provide practical knowledge of fruit varieties in one volume at an affordable price.  This book included descriptions of 55 varieties of apples, 69 varieties of pears, 19 varieties of cherries, 24 varieties of peaches and 29 varieties of plums.

Conservator’s Note: This book was missing most of its spine, exposing the vulnerable folds of the pages.  The missing spine covering was replaced with Japanese long-fibered paper dyed to match the original cloth.  The dyed paper was then waxed to match the sheen of the original spine fragment, which you can distinguish at the bottom of the spine.  The binding speaks to the design conventions of the 1840s, when publishers were experimenting with bookcloth patterns.  This bookcloth was stamped to give it the appearance of watered silk.  In the late 1840s, publishers also began gold-stamping a centerpiece that reflected the book’s content, as in the case of these golden pears.

The Cottage Gardener's Dictionary (1852)

The Cottage Gardener’s Dictionary (1852).  G.W. Johnson (d.1888) was a prominent gardener, lawyer, and professor.  His first independent work was A History of English Gardening, Chronological, Biographical, Literary, and Critical published in 1829.  He also edited (1844-1866) the Gardeners’ Almanack and published The Principles of Practical Gardening, which was subsequently much enlarged and reissued in 1862 as The Science and Practice of Gardening.  A Dictionary of Gardening appeared in 1846, and met with a good reception, and The Cottage Gardener’s Dictionary was published in 1852.

Conservator’s Note: The spine and joints of this volume were repaired with dyed Japanese long-fibered paper.  The ephemera found tucked between the book’s pages were also preserved: they were encapsulated in Mylar film and labeled with their original locations within the pages of the book.  A tray to hold the encapsulated ephemera was built to fit inside a custom clamshell box, in order to keep all the materials together.

Today Martha and I are working on exhibit preparation for the recently-donated Robert R. Harvey collection at ISU Library Special Collections — constructing foam and plexiglass supports, printing and mounting labels.   Robert Harvey is an ISU Professor Emeritus of Landscape Architecture who has spent a lifetime collecting rare and unusual books related to his field.  He has donated ninety-two of these volumes to ISU Special Collections, and sixteen jewels of the collection will be on display at an open house in the Special Collections Reading Room this coming Tuesday.  The remainder of Professor Harvey’s collection — approximately  two thousand volumes — has been donated to the Masonic Library in Cedar Rapids.

Our 2010 Lennox Foundation summer interns, Henry Hebert and Kristi Westberg, performed several of the conservation treatments on this collection during their time at ISU.  In addition to conservation treatment, several of the more fragile books were housed in custom-built clamshell or chemise & girdle boxes.

Photo credit: Bob Elbert, ISU University Photographer

If you’re in the Ames area, you’re welcome to attend the Robert R. Harvey Rare Book Collection Open House in the Special Collections Reading Room on Tuesday, October 12, from 4-5:30.  Professor Harvey, the Special Collections staff, and I will be on hand to answer questions about the collection.

If you’re too far away to visit, we’ll be blogging about the event soon.

I was recently asked to help make a couple of book cradles for a project that would take place over the next couple of weeks. Not having any real experience in this, I was a little hesitant to agree. Little did I know that it is kind of fun.

Supplies needed include:

  • Template (simply drawn on a piece of paper to mark where your bends will be).
  • Heat source (we purchased a production heater specifically for bending plexi glass).
  • Plexi glass (we are very fortunate to have a local supplier of plexi glass — it feels good to be able to support local businesses).
  • If you will be trimming down your plexi, you will also  need a plasticutter or a utility knife.

Step 1:

Draw your template and measure the lines to see what length of plexi glass you will need.  The width of the plexi should be the height of the book, or slightly larger.

Cradle template

Step 2:

Measure and cut your plexi glass. Throughout the cradle making process, be sure that you are careful and use safety precautions. If the piece you will be snapping off is on the smaller side, be sure to snap it off with a pair of pliers. I did not do this and didn’t end up with a very good break.  I also ended up cutting my thumb with a piece of plexi glass. You may want to consider wearing a pair of safety goggles. If you end up with an uneven or bumpy cut, you can easily sand down the cut edge with a piece of sandpaper or a sanding block.

Step 3:

With a marker, mark both edges of the plexi where your bends will be.  Ethanol on a cotton swab will remove the marker ink when the cradle is done.

Step 4:

Carefully hold your plexi sheet over the heating element, making sure to line up your marks with the heating rod. Watch the plexi carefully. You will want to notice a little shimmer in the plexi, and this will let you know that it is at a bendable stage. If you hold it on the heat for too long, the plexi glass will start to bubble/blister, and you want to avoid this.

Heating the plexi

Step 5:

When heated enough, hold the plexi against your template and bend according to the lines of your template. You will need to hold this bend in place for a few minutes as your plexi cools.  If you do not hold it to your template, you will not get an accurate bend.

Holding the plexi against the template

Continue step 4 & 5 until your cradle is complete!

finished cradle

« Previous Page