Medium Rare

During my first week at the library, I came across some 19th century periodicals that needed treatment because they were requested for a class. The magazine is called Demorest’s Family Magazine. The issues that I am dealing with are from 1871 to 1893.

As an occasional reader of Parents magazine in waiting rooms, break rooms and at home, my interest was piqued as to what a family magazine used to look like at the end of the 19th century. Moreover, as I was examining one of the issues, I found a small piece of stationary that had been used as a bookmark. On it was the logo of the Miramar Hotel in Santa Monica. The discolored portion of the stationary on the right hand side had been sticking out of the magazine, thus exposed to wear and tear, UV light and environmental pollution.


Since I had just moved from the LA area the previous week, this seemed like a sign, so I decided to put this item on the Parks Library Preservation blog.

The Miramar Hotel stationary took my mind on a circuitous journey of thinking about the hotel and imagining what it used to look like back in the day. Thanks to Google, I did not have to wonder for long:

The original Miramar, the home of Senator John P. Jones and Mrs. Georgina Jones, 1890

The original Miramar, the home of Senator John P. Jones and Mrs. Georgina Jones, 1890

The Palisades Building, built in 1924, seen here in the 1950s

The Palisades Building, built in 1924, seen here in the 1950s

The present day Fairmont Miramar Hotel

The present day Fairmont Miramar Hotel

Throughout its history, the hotel had been frequented by such celebrities as Greta Garbo and Jean Harlow. Public figures like J.F. Kennedy and Eleanor Roosevelt stayed in the private bungalows. (

Greta Garbo, Jean Harlow, Eleanor Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy

Garbo, Harlow, Roosevelt and Kennedy

Present day fashionistas of Santa Monica

Present day fashionistas of Santa Monica



But I very much digress here, which is one of the guilty pleasures of looking at original objects “in the flesh” – so many associations spring to mind. Now imagine if I was an academic scholar and if this flow of information was a stream of original research ideas based on interactions with unique special collections materials! Peer reviewed articles would be flying off the press.

However, at this point let me get back to the objects to be treated: 1871-1893 issues of the Demorest’s Family Magazine…Right away, as I was examining the volumes, I became drawn in by the subject matter and was charmed by the illustrations. How did women conduct themselves in family life back then? What was important? What were the ads for? How did ladies keep themselves looking fresh and pretty? One of the answers must be “hired help”…

Here are some images from the pages of the Demorest’s Family Magazine:

Fancy a walk in the park, dear daughter?

Fancy a walk in the park, dear daughter?

Finally, a way to make your children perfect!


Publications like this one were often printed on thin wood pulp paper, which was not made to hold up to the test of time. Unsurprisingly, the paper had become brittle, with numerous large and small tears afflicting the pages and the covers.

In order to make the item ready for viewing by a group of students or for digitization, some stabilization repairs will need to be performed.

Small tears in the fore-edge

Small tears in the fore-edge

These will include reattaching covers and loose pages and mending the more significant tears that could cause further damage upon handling. When making repairs to thin brittle paper, it is especially important to select a mending tissue that is lighter in weight than the page being mended.

A selection of Demorest's Magazine issues from different years

A selection of Demorest’s Magazine issues

This way the mend will not be too bulky and will not cause the paper on either side of it to break. Another consideration is the level of moisture that can be introduced to paper that does not have a great deal of absorbency and strength due to being coated and/or heavily processed.

A selection of volumes from different years

A selection of volumes from different years

The mending of these pages would require a low level of moisture in the repair adhesive. And of course, protective housing enclosures will do a world of good for these limp and fragile ephemeral objects. I look forward to sharing more about the treatment of the magazines as I move forward through the steps of the process. Please stay tuned, dear readers!

1091MapHappy New Year from the 1091 Project!

This time last year at Iowa State University Library, we were treating records and collection materials recovered after a water pipe burst in Special Collections during Winter Break, when the Library was closed for a week.  Luckily, this small disaster occurred late in the week, and was discovered very quickly. Even so, it was not the auspicious start to the year we would have hoped for.

Our brief respite from the below-zero temperatures of the last "polar vortex" also brought with it... more snow!  And the polar vortex is predicted to return within the next few weeks. Winter in the Midwest is always a challenge!

Our brief respite from the below-zero temperatures of the last “polar vortex” also brought with it… more snow! And the polar vortex is predicted to return within the next few weeks. Winter in the Midwest is always a challenge!

So far this year, we’re staying dry — almost too dry, as we deal with the outrageously low relative humidity that has accompanied the so-called “Polar Vortex” engulfing the Midwest and much of the country. Iowa temperatures have hovered just barely above or below “0” on the thermometer for weeks at a time this winter, and we’ve been keeping our humidifiers humming.


(L to R:) Ashley, Hope, Bree, and Fang Qi

We said goodbye to student worker Devin Koch when she graduated in December, and we are sadly anticipating more goodbyes this semester. Our longtime students Ashley Arnold and Hope Mitchell have both worked in the lab for nearly four years, and are very much a part of our lab “family.” In May, Ashley will graduate with her BA in Anthropology, and Hope will complete her MA in History. They’ll be handing over the student workflow to our new hires, Bree Planica and Fang Qi Li, both of whom have been making incredible strides in developing their handskills and repair knowledge since they were hired last August.


Northwestern Farmer and Horticultural Journal (1858)

My first major Special Collections conservation treatment project of the year is already underway, courtesy of the recent acquisition of nineteen issues of  Northwestern Farmer and Horticultural Journal.   This mid-19th century publication had spent many years stored in a barn, and suffers from all the attendant conservation challenges one would expect from being stored in a Midwestern barn through the changing of the seasons year after year.  I’ll be posting in greater detail about the project in the coming months.

Last year, we implemented a new policy approach for so-called “medium-rare” materials (in particular, 19th and early 20th century publisher’s bindings) as they come to the lab for review or repair, and this year I’ll be turning my attention to our boxing policy, to see if there is room for comprehensive improvement or streamlined processes.


Of course, we’re also excited about this year’s Lennox Foundation Internship.  We’ve just started reviewing applications, and should be making our decision over the next several weeks. As always, the candidate we select will have an impact on what projects we develop and implement this summer.

And because we work in the preservation/conservation field, we are well aware that even the best laid plans can change dramatically, as we respond to whatever disasters may arise in the year ahead.

If you haven’t yet checked in with Duke University Libraries Conservation, then head on over to Preservation Underground to find out their 2014 outlook.  And may your own outlook be bright as 2014 gets underway!

We have a charming little mystery in the Conservation Lab right now.  A particularly aesthetically pleasing volume from our General Collection,  A Little Book of Nature Thoughts by Richard Jefferies (Mosher Press, 1903) caught my eye as it sat on the shelf awaiting repair.  Its type, its fine laid paper, its worn but once-beautiful sheepskin full leather binding, and its spare but elegant gold-stamped cover decoration all gave this slender, pocket-sized book an air of something special.

A Little Book of Nature Thoughts (1903)

A Little Book of Nature Thoughts (1903)

A little bit of digging revealed some characteristic particularities of Mosher Press editions, which expressed Mosher’s love of the book as artifact, as an object of beauty, and not merely as a utilitarian vessel for its content.  All books were hand-set, usually with Caslon type, with a few, modest decorative flourishes.  Most were printed on Van Gelder hand-made paper, and indeed, our little volume bears the Van Gelder watermark on a few of its pages.  Forty-seven Mosher titles between 1898-1913 were also printed on vellum.  Finally, most of these publisher’s bindings were bound in white, blue, green, or gray paper-covered boards and housed in slipcases.  This last detail about the binding surprised me, until I came across evidence of the allure that Mosher Press editions held for contemporary fine binders.


According to the program of An Exhibition of Books from the Press of Thomas Bird Mosher from the Collection of Norman H. Strouse (1967), “No press has tempted the best efforts of so many of the world’s great binders as has the Mosher Press, but even when rebound in full leather, whether by the famous Grolier Club Bindery, Zaehnsdorf, or Sangorski & Sutcliffe, there is always something about the dimensions and title of a Mosher book that admits its identity to the Mosher collector on sight.”

Mosher himself was aware of his books’ appeal for the fine binder.  He commented in his 1898 catalog A List of Books in Limited Editions, that “In America, Mr. Otto Zahn, the Misses Nordholf and Bulkley; in London, Miss Prideaux and the Guild of Women Binders have re-clothed in exquisite bindings not a few of the special copies” of his editions.


Our copy of A Little Book of Nature Thoughts, unfortunately, bears no bindery ticket, and no discernible private mark of its binder.  Something about the blank endpapers and simple, somewhat generic, floral board decoration suggests the work of a larger bindery rather than an individual fine binder in private practice.  I had hoped that the gold-stamped symbol on the back board (pictured above) would provide a clue to the binding’s origin, but my cursory searches have turned up no lead.  If this lit torch, surrounded by intertwined serpents (or vines?), represents a bindery with which you are familiar, then please let us know.  We welcome any and all theories and speculations!

On a recent trip to Kansas City, MO, I dined at a trendy, downtown gastropub where the server brought the check to the table not in one of those ubiquitous pleather folders or on a tray, but rather, tucked between the pages of a cloth publisher’s binding ca. 1910.  I was simultaneously charmed and aghast.  The experience recalled the mix of emotions I feel every time I see books repurposed, whether as objets d’art or as alternatively functional items.

A cloth publisher’s binding from the turn of the 20th century holds the check at Gram & Dun, Kansas City, MO.

As a book conservator, my mind is ever bent toward protecting the book not only as a container for intellectual content, but as a physical artifact which holds evidence of material culture.  I feel strangely torn to see books cleverly repurposed as purses, coasters, and furniture, valued neither for their textual content, nor for their binding structure, but merely as raw material.

Photo credit: Design Every Day Blog. Click image to visit original post.

My inner dilemma arises from the fact that such projects destroy the primary function of a book, and as a conservator, my role is always to preserve and protect that function.  I feel torn because I often genuinely appreciate the result of such projects, and somehow, a project constructed of books still speaks to the constructor’s love of books, albeit for aesthetic rather than informational purposes.  And let’s face it — if a book is no longer valued as a work of textual transmission, if its binding is not unique or rare, then why not give it a second life as some other type of artifact?

Photo Credit: Rookie Magazine. Click image to visit original post.

My devotion to the history of the nineteenth century publisher’s binding (a category of book I consider “medium rare” — not quite Special Collections material yet, but heading in that direction with the passage of time) motivates my strongest caveat in the repurposing of books.  Many of these significant bindings have been lost over time, particularly as a result of commercial binding practices at academic libraries.  While not every publisher’s binding from ca. 1830 to ca. 1920 may be significant as an historical exemplar, the popularity of this type of binding for repurposing chafes my conservation ethos.  And yet… I am still tempted to make myself one of those nifty book purses — with a modern, mass-printed discard, of course!

The BookBook Shelf from design firm Not Tom. Click to view article at Design Buzz.

Preservation professionals, what’s your take on the repurposing of “old” books for new DIY projects?  Librarians? Artists/makers?

Click image to visit the website of artist Brian Dettmer, who transforms books into narrative sculptures.

Tacketing Cut-Away Model (click to enlarge).

From time to time, in order to avoid letting our thinking get too narrow and insular, we like to look past the walls of our own lab and solicit the opinions of conservation colleagues on equipment, materials, and treatment methodologies.  While there is an increasing body of conservation literature available, I find I miss the more casual debates that arise from working in a lab with multiple conservators, technicians, and interns.  Since we have just one of each, we really appreciate conversations with our virtual colleagues at other labs and in private practice.

On that note, I’m interested to hear your thoughts about tacketing as a treatment method for reattaching heavy, laced-on boards.  In general, I am a fan of using various modifications to the “Princeton Treatment 305” method for board reattachment published by Brian Baird and Mick Letourneaux in 1994, and there are other methods such as board slotting which offer repairs of comparable strength.

However, I’d like to hear your thoughts specifically on tacketing.  Is tacketing your favorite, go-to treatment? Do you consider the treatment — which is, admittedly, very strong — to be too invasive?  Do you consider it unnecessary in all instances, or appropriate only in certain circumstances?   If you do use tacketing, what is your approach?  Favorite tools and materials for executing the treatment? Please join the conversation in the Comments section below.

Tacketing Cut-Away Model, front and back three-quarters view (click to enlarge).

Tacketing Cut-Away Model. Close-up view of exposed and covered tackets on outer joints (click to enlarge).

Tacketing Cut-Away Model. Detail view of exposed and tissue-covered tackets on inner hinges (click to enlarge).

Click to enlarge

Orange Judd took over American Agriculturist magazine as owner and publisher in 1856, three years after he was brought on board as editor by the magazine’s founders, brothers Richard and Anthony Allen.  In addition to such serial publications, Judd’s publishing company also produced books on agricultural and scientific topics.  Judd exerted great control over his publishing house’s output; he favored clean, simple designs for his cloth publishers’ bindings, just as he favored straightforward language free of scientific jargon in his agricultural journals.

In addition to several serials (including American Agriculturist), Iowa State University Library holds several hundred books published by the Orange Judd Publishing Company.  A few dozen of these books are housed in Special Collections and thus retain their original cloth publishers’ bindings.  However, the majority of the volumes are found in the General Collections, and have lost their original case bindings and cover art to the commercial bindery.

When issues of American Agriculturist from 1869 recently came to the lab for treatment, I recognized several of the titles being advertised on its pages as volumes in ISU Library’s collection.  Book advertisements often catch my eye since I took the late Sue Allen’s course on 19th Century American Publishers’ Bindings at Rare Book School; such ephemera offer a wealth of information about publishing history.

Click to enlarge

A quick exploration revealed that, of the eight volumes currently held by ISU which were advertised in this particular issue of American Agriculturist, seven of them have been commercially rebound as part of General Collections preservation maintenance over the years.  Only one of the volumes retains its charming original binding, which evidences the characteristic style of the Orange Judd Publishing Company.

Click to enlarge

The Small Fruit Culturist (1867) by Andrew S. Fuller has lost most its spine title, with only the word “Culturist” remaining.  Even so, the whimsical font and a portion of the title decoration, characteristic of many of Judd’s publications, is evident.  A cluster of raspberries (corresponding to the subject matter) embossed in gold adorns the front board.  The same image, but blind embossed, adorns the back board.  The purple book cloth has a decorative pebbled texture, while both front and back boards are bordered with two simple, embossed lines running parallel, and overlapping at the corners to create a square boundary for rather geometric, ornamental flowers (also blind embossed).

Click to enlarge

One of my goals for the coming year is to develop a comprehensive, employable, preservation policy for protecting “medium rare” bindings such as cloth publishers’ bindings.  My brief encounter with Orange Judd is a motivating reminder to get to work on it.


Allen, S.  July 11-16, 2010.  Class lectures. 19th Century American Publishers’ Bindings. Rare Book School. University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA.

Marti, Donald B. 1980. Agricultural journalism and the diffusion of knowledge: the first half-century in America.  Agricultural History 54 (1): 28-37.  Available online: Accessed 2/27/2012.

Last week, I was fortunate to be able to attend Rare Book School at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville.  I was drawn to Sue Allen‘s course on 19th century publisher’s bindings because ISU Library holds a number of these bindings, which are increasingly categorized by the preservation field as “medium rare.”  As these materials disappear from collections and grow increasingly more “special,” developing specific preservation policies for treating them becomes increasingly more important.  In order to avoid losing significant bindings (for instance, by inadvertently sending them off to the commercial binder as part of general collections maintenance), I realized that I needed a much stronger knowledge base to make informed decisions.  I had hoped that Sue Allen’s course would provide me with that foundation, and I was not disappointed.

Sue and her assistant Vince proved to be gracious and knowledgeable instructors.  The amount of course material provided to participants was overwhelming, and I am still reorganizing and digesting my notes.  Sue’s passion for these bindings caught everyone up in her enthusiasm.

What makes RBS courses stand out from other similar opportunities for professional development are its collections.  During our one-week course, my classmates and I were privileged to handle literally hundreds of examples of publisher’s bindings.  This exposure to so many historically significant materials provided a priceless experience, and allowed us to internalize Sue’s lessons in a manner that would have been impossible otherwise.

When I returned to ISU, I felt as if my eyes had been opened to a new world.  As I reviewed items from the newly-donated Bob Harvey collection, which is currently being conserved in preparation for an exhibit and reception in Special Collections this fall, I felt a ping of nerdy delight when I recognized several interesting bindings that had seemed perfectly ordinary to me before RBS.

This volume, The New England Book of Fruits (1847), speaks to the design conventions of the late 1840s.  Like many book designs typical of the 1840s, it has a blind-stamped, ornamental border, a gold-stamped centerpiece, and an experimental bookcloth (in this case, imitating the texture of watered silk).  What marks this volume as late ’40s is that the center image, a cluster of golden pears, directly relates to the book’s intellectual content instead of being a generalized, stock image such as a vase of flowers or a lyre.

Injurious Insects was published in 1882 by Orange Judd, who was known for his preference for simple, modest, uncluttered book designs, in sharp contrast with the excess so typical of most 1880s book covers.  Orange Judd’s relationship with his binder was less collaborative than other publishers of the time; Judd sought to impress his aesthetic of simplicity on all the books his firm published.  In spite of its comparative spareness, the cover does still illustrate some design elements typical of the 1880s, such as the blind-stamped back cover, the black-stamped strip border at the head and tail of the front cover, and the quirky, whimsical lettering (seen here on the spine).

Finally, The Training of a Forester (1914) exemplifies the last period of book cover design before dust jackets took precedence.  The silhouetted cover was designed by George H. Hallowell (1871-1926), a painter, stained glass artist, and book cover designer (note his discreet monogram “H” at the lower center of the design).  White stamping developed in the 1890s, and was expensive and time-consuming to produce, because the same area had to be stamped 7 or 8 times to build up enough white colorant for opacity.

When our RBS course began, Sue explained that you can never truly see until someone teaches you how to look, and I thank her and Vince for teaching me how to see the treasures that were right under my nose.