by Michele Brown
Parchment is a tough, long-lasting writing and book covering material used historically for important documents and still used for the transcription of some religious and government laws. Consequently, Cornell’s copy of the 13th Amendment was written on parchment. My previous post described its conservation treatment.
Legend has it that parchment was developed in the kingdom of Pergamon during the second century BC as a result of a shortage of papyrus. (1) Scholars disagree on the reason for the shortage of papyrus, but it is widely accepted that parchment production was first refined in Pergamon, which became parchment’s namesake. Parchment-making has remained largely unchanged since its early beginnings.
Sometimes the term “vellum” is used for parchment. Vellum, to be precise, is parchment made from calfskin. The terms parchment and vellum are now often used interchangeably.
How does parchment differ from leather since they are both made from animal skins?
Most leather is made from animal skin that has been treated with tannin. This changes the collagen of the skin so that it will be more durable. Since tannins are acidic, leather is also an acidic material.
Parchment is made by soaking an animal skin (usually from a goat, sheep or calf) in lime and then stretching it on a frame, scraping it to remove excess tissue and allowing it to dry under tension. During this process, the collagen of the skin is rearranged, but not chemically altered. The result is a material that is very smooth and hard, and also very sensitive to changes in humidity. Since it has been soaked in a solution with a high pH, it is basic.
Pergamena has been making leather and parchment for generations and has offered parchment-making workshops. The following images are from one of their workshops.
Skins arrive with their fur still intact. They have been salted to preserve them.
First, they are “de-haired”.
And then allowed to drain.
Excess flesh is removed, in this case, using a fleshing machine. Traditionally, they would have used a two handled knife.
On this day, we were making colored goatskin parchment so at this point the skins were dyed.
And then, clipped to a frame to dry under tension.
The skins for calfskin parchment were treated differently. Since they weren’t being dyed, they were allowed to dry and were re-hydrated before being stretched for scraping.
Once the skins were stretched and clipped, they were scraped to make them thinner. Parchment-makers use a curved knife called a lunellum for this purpose.
The skins may be sanded after scraping.
Once the skin has been scraped so it is thin and even, it can be used for writing or binding.
Parchment can be difficult to work with because it has a hard surface and, depending on its thickness, can be somewhat inflexible. It is extremely sensitive to changes in humidity and using adhesives can be problematic. However, it is a beautiful and resilient material and with good care will last for centuries.
(1) In Natural History, Book XIII, Pliny ascribes the cause of the papyrus shortage to the rivalry between King Ptolemy V, who was building the library of Alexandria and King Eumenes II, who was building the library at Pergamon. Some sources say that King Ptolemy cut off the papyrus supply to Pergamon, forcing it to come up with an alternative source of writing material.
by Michele Brown
The 13th Amendment, abolishing slavery and involuntary servitude was formally passed by Congress on January 31, 1865 and ratified by the states December 6, 1865.(1) Cornell University Library owns one of the 15 copies signed by Lincoln. Cornell’s copy of the 13th Amendment is a “Congressional copy” and was donated to the University by the Nicholas H. Noyes family in the 1950s.
Like other important documents, the 13th Amendment is written on parchment. Parchment is a writing material made from animal skin that’s been dehaired, soaked in lime, scraped and stretched. We will have another post specifically about parchment production. Some types of paper are also referred to as parchment, but it would be more accurate to describe them as “parchment-like.” See here for descriptions of parchment, vellum and parchment paper. Parchment has long been used for important documents because it is considered to be the most permanent and stable writing material.
2014 was an eventful year for Cornell’s copy of this important document. In April, it was removed from its 20th century frame and scanned using hyperspectral imaging.
This gave us an excuse to examine the matting and framing materials supporting our copy of the 13th Amendment. Cornell’s copy is housed in an elaborately carved wooden frame. A decorative headpiece with the words “Proclaim Liberty throughout all the land, and unto all the inhabitants thereof” was attached to the document at some point. From the label on the back of the frame we assume the document was put into this frame in 1938 by Beard Art Galleries.
We were concerned that the document seemed to be unnaturally flat within the frame and we wondered how it had been attached to the backing board.
After the framed document was brought into the Conservation Lab, the hanging hardware was removed and the paper covering the back of the frame was lifted off.
We could see the document and its matting were sealed in a package that was held in the frame with nails. The nails were removed and the package was lifted out of the frame.
The document and matting were sealed together with brown paper packing tape, which was removed mechanically. We discovered that the decorative mat was glued lightly to the window mat below it.
The document had been taped to the backing board with the same brown paper tape. This tape was also removed mechanically.
Now, we could see that the document was stuck directly to the backing board. This was a common method for controlling parchment, but it is not good for the document. Parchment needs to be able to respond to changes in humidity. If it is constrained too tightly while experiencing changes in humidity, it may split. Fortunately, it was easily lifted off the backing board, although first we had to remove the staples!
When the document was free of the backing board we could see that it wanted to curl. We could also see that the headpiece was cut from thinner parchment than the document itself.
There was a residue of glued paper tape around the edges of the document and the headpiece. This residue was removed mechanically and by lightly rubbing with damp cotton.
In order to humidify and flatten the document, we decided to separate the two pieces.
After humidifying each piece, we dried them on a suction table before putting them between boards.
They were allowed to dry for several weeks and then were reattached using hot gelatin.
Now, we had to decide how to re-mat the document.
For the reasons stated above, we did not want to re-attach the document directly to the backing board. Instead, parchment documents are often attached to the backing board of a mat by using pieces of string that have been attached to the document and which are then wrapped around to the back. After careful consideration we decided to instead use strips of Japanese tissue. This method was described by Nicholas Pickwoad in The Paper Conservator (2). The tissue strips were attached to the back of the document using stiff wheat starch paste and then attached to the back of the board. This will allow the document to expand and contract as needed due to changes in the relative humidity. If the humidity becomes too low, the paper strips will break rather than the parchment itself splitting. We decided to use usumino (thick) tissue from Hiromi Paper for the strips.
We constructed a new backing board by laminating 3 layers of archival mat board cross-grained, with the short grain piece in the middle and using wheat starch paste as the adhesive.
Because the humidity in the conservation lab was relatively low, we moved the the document to the Kroch vault to attach the document to the backing board. The vault has a better humidity for parchment and it is where the document will spend most of its time. This allowed us to apply tension to the strips while the parchment was in a relaxed state.
Ariel Ecklund of Corners Gallery in Ithaca cut a new window mat from archival mat board and then reassembled the document with its new mat and its original decorative mat back into the frame. She replaced the 1930’s glass with museum glass. She added thickness to the original frame to provide better attachment for the framing points.
The document doesn’t look as flat as it did before, but it is now surrounded by acid-free, archival materials and it can flex as necessary.
The Thirteenth Amendment is part of the new exhibit, “Abraham Lincoln’s Unfinished Work”, which will be in the Kroch Library from January 26, 2015 until September 30, 2015. The original copy of the Thirteenth Amendment will be on display at selected times. Check the the library website for those dates.
(1) Library of Congress. Thirteenth Amendment. Retrieved from http://www.loc.gov/rr/program/bib/ourdocs/13thamendment.html
(2) Pickwoad, Nicholas. (1992). “Alternative Methods of Mounting Parchment for Framing and Exhibition”. The Paper Conservator. 16(1), pp. 78-85.
by Michele Brown
Recently, “Ask a Librarian” received the following query:
“Hi, I have a question about the 1579 edition of Hill’s “profitable instruction of the perfite ordering of bees”, which is your “SF523 .H996 Phillips Beekeeping Collection”.
Over at Distributed Proofreaders we are trying to create a free e-book of this for Project Gutenberg.
We started with the scans from the Internet Archive / Biodiversity Heritage Library, which are of your copy. Your catalog entry says “56 [i.e.57] p. 19 cm.” My problem is that on the last page (the second 56) it has a catchword, and you can see the bleed through from the printing on the verso! So there have to be more pages. Plus, the table of contents says the second treatise has 8 (viij) chapters, and the last page is the end of chapter four.
If the whole of signature Kk was missing I could understand it, but the recto of at least the first leaf is there, so the verso has to be there too!
So I am asking for two things. Firstly, can someone look at the second page 56, signature Kk, and confirm that it continues on from there (I would assume for a full quarto signature).
Secondly, is there any way I can get images of the remaining pages, either by you rescanning it for the Biodiversity Heritage Library or by you sending me images directly?
I think you have the only copy of this that is complete (the British Library copy being shorter than yours) so I do not have a plan B here. Thanks in advance, Neil. “
Since this book is held in Mann Library Special Collections, the query went to Linda Stewart, Life Sciences Bibliographer and Special Collections Librarian. Linda then contacted the Conservation Lab.
Although the book in question was printed in 1579, it had a library-style binding typical of the 20th century. The verso of the last page had a blank leaf stuck to it that appeared to be covering up text. This blank leaf matched the paper throughout the book, not the endpapers of the new binding.
We tried to see the obscured text by placing a light sheet behind the laminated page, but this was unsuccessful.
Since we were unable to read what might be behind the pasted blank sheet, we decided to disbind the book and soak the last page in filtered water in order to separate the layers.
First we removed the commercial binding; then we cleaned the spine with a wheat starch paste poultice. This gave us an opportunity to see the steps involved in the previous binding process.
Under the paper linings, we discovered a cloth lining.
We could see that the new binding was put over the leather spine of an earlier binding. The book was oversewn before rebinding it.
The book had originally been sewn on three cords.
Once the spine was clean, we separated the book into sections.
Finally, we were ready to separate the last page from the blank page that was pasted to it.
The blank page came off easily and we discovered that the printing on the verso has nothing to do with the rest of the book. We can also see the instructions “Paste over this” written with what appears to be iron gall ink at the top of the page.
How did this happen?
Thomas Hyll died around 1576; his books were reprinted several times. Could there have been some confusion in the print shop when this book was re- printed in 1579? Perhaps an examination of all of his work would show us exactly which book the verso printing belongs to.
Meanwhile, what is the next chapter for this book? The sections will be repaired. It will then be resewn and rebound in binding more sympathetic to its time. It will also receive a new custom-made clamshell box and then it will be returned to the E.F. Phillips Beekeeping Collection where it will remain available for scholars for decades to come.
The Stephen and Beth Loewentheil Family Photographic Collection is a spectacular photograph resource in the Rare and Manuscripts Division, Cornell University Library. Abraham Lincoln, the most photographed American in the 19th century, is well represented in the collection in a variety of photographic processes. Abraham Lincoln understood the value of photography in his political role and as a face of the nation. He actively sought having his photograph taken and distributed, resulting in photograph types and formats with a remarkable range of appearance, color, texture, and condition. His portraits, recently treated and rehoused in the Conservation Lab, showcase the exceptional value of the Loewentheil collection to explore different 19th and 20th century photographic processes and formats from many vantage points. Take a tour of some prominent photographic processes and formats through the iconic image of Abraham Lincoln. A summary of the processes can be found here.
The Loewentheil collection, which brings together a number of Lincoln portraits, has given us the opportunity to develop effective preservation strategies by assessing how each photograph was made, its inherent vulnerabilities, and how it has been affected by time and use. It is a distinct pleasure to work with this collection in the Conservation Lab and contribute to making it available for research, use and instruction. The Loewentheil photograph collection is particularly rich in the Civil War, African American life, and the rise of the hand-colored photograph.
To learn more about the Loewentheil Collection see: Dawn’s Early Light: The First 50 Years of American Photography (http://rmc.library.cornell.edu/DawnsEarlyLight/index.html). For more information about identifying and comparing photographic processes, see: http://www.graphicsatlas.org/
We thought it a fitting time of year to highlight Cornell Library’s world class Witchcraft Collection, specifically the Witchcraft in Popular Culture subdivision.
Those of you familiar with Harry Potter may recognize Reparo as the Mending Charm:
“The Mending Charm will repair broken objects with a flick of the wand. Accidents do happen, so it is essential to know how to mend our errors.
- from the Book of Spells, (http://harrypotter.wikia.com/wiki/Mending_Charm)
With hundreds of vintage movie posters, movie stills, and promotional materials depicting Witchcraft in Popular Culture (including Harry Potter movie posters and memorabilia) a mending charm in the Conservation Lab would be put to good use!
Laurent Ferri, Curator, Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections (RMC), is leading the initiative to expand the Witchcraft Collection begun at Cornell in the late 19th century to encompass “Witchcraft in Popular Culture.”
Laurent kindly provided a brief overview of this collection, its significance to scholarship, and importantly, the reason as to why it was necessary to branch out from the original collection, mostly 17th and 18th century bound volumes, into the new terrain of popular culture.
Here are a few words from Laurent:
Since 2012, we have assembled a unique and spectacular collection of approximately 490 pieces of vintage witchcraft-and possession-related movie material covering the period from 1916 through 2015 — that is, 99 years of outstanding material documenting the cultural impact of witchcraft and possession through the history of world cinema.
This is the perfect complement to the Witchcraft Collection started by A.D. White in the 1880s, as today affordable demonology treaties and witchcraft trial records appear less frequently on the market, and more researchers choose popular culture as their field of inquiry.
Numbered #4781 in RMC, “Witchcraft- and Possession-Related Movie Posters, Lobby Cards, and other Cinema Memorabilia, 1916-2015” is a great resource for the study of the rich iconography of witches. It also offers an opportunity to reflect on film genres and sub-genres as defined by the film industry, critics, and censors (“horror film”, “nunsploitation film”, “adult movie”, etc…). Given the graphic imagery and permanent recycling of erotic stereotypes, it could be used in conjunction with Cornell’s vast Human Sexuality Collection as well.
These striking, colorful, and often very large items are gradually making their way to the conservation lab for treatment – cleaning, pressure sensitive tape removal, stabilization of weakened or torn areas, and humidification and flattening prior to storage. Overall, these items are of great variety in both their physical characteristics (dimension, support, and condition) as well as their artistic and graphic styles.
Laurent also points out the significant aesthetic quality of the collection “…movie poster design is an art, sometimes. Take, for instance, Bill Gold, who worked in the art department of Warner Bros and produced more than 1,000 posters until his retirement in 2004. The poster for “The Exorcist” (1973) serves its purpose perfectly: it points to the tradition of the American “film noir”, and it is inviting but not a spoiler. Another “masterwork” is the minimalist and eerie poster for “Rosemary’s baby” (1968)…the president of the advertising company Young and Rubicam, Stephen Frankfurt (a kind of Don Draper in “Mad Men”) is often credited with the choice (and, perhaps, the idea).”
Another masterwork of poster art is “…Giuseppe Bassan’s poster for “Suspiria” (1977), which is reminiscent of Aubrey Beardsley’s decadent illustrations for Salome (1893) — they both evoke what’s been termed by some art historians “aesthetic Satanism”.
Here is one example of a treatment carried out for this collection:
The poster below was printed on a wood pulp paper. Overtime it had become increasingly brittle and discolored from acid degradation. It had also, at one time, been stored folded leaving extremely fragile and weakened areas along the folds. As you can see, it became separated along the folds into five frail pieces.
Each individual piece was blotter washed (to provide support during aqueous treatment when the wood pulp paper is extremely fragile), flattened, and dried underweight before being pieced back together with a thin Japanese tissue and wheat starch paste. This treatment reduced the acidity and brittleness of the paper support, making handling much less precarious. In a more stable condition, this is one of the many items of the Witchcraft in Popular Culture collection now accessible for use.
Or maybe I just said “Charta Reparo!”
Above: After Treatment
Also of interest is a current exhibit, co-curated by Laurent, at the Johnson Museum of Art, Surrealism and Magic. More about the exhibit can be found here: http://rmc.library.cornell.edu/surrealismandmagic/
By: Michele Hamill and Jill Iacchei
Opening on October 17, 2014, a new exhibit in the Hirshland Exhibit Gallery, Carl A. Kroch Library, celebrates Cornell University’s Sesquicentennial.
The original linen drawings for the University Library (now known as Uris Library) were treated in the Conservation Lab for the exhibit. The University Library, as well as several other campus buildings, was designed by Cornell’s first architecture student, William Henry Miller, and is known as his masterpiece.
The South Elevation of the University Library—the view when walking up Ho Plaza toward the Arts Quad.
The linen (or tracing cloth) drawings of the University Library are well over a hundred years old but remain remarkably beautiful and resilient. Tracing cloth was a strong, durable and translucent support, sturdier than tracing paper. It retained its strength and flexibility and could endure heavy handling and rolling, an important attribute for working drawings such as elevations and floor plans.
Commonly called linens, the tracing cloth was predominantly made from cotton which was free of lumps and imperfections. The plain woven cloth was heavily coated with starch, making the coated cloth more resistant to tearing than untreated cloth or paper. The coated cloth was then heavily calendared by pressing through hard rollers to compact the fabric and create a very smooth, glossy, drawing surface.
The University Library drawings have accent watercolor applied to the verso of the drawings, as seen in this detail of the spiral staircase of the clock tower, which results in subtle shading to select parts of the drawing. The color was applied to the back of the drawings to avoid disrupting the inked images which rest on the surface of the starch coating and were very sensitive to moisture.
Detail, main doors, East Elevation.
Working drawings were not elaborately colored, but were selectively tinted with flat, simple washes of color. A standard color code was used by architects to clarify structure and to indicate the construction materials —red indicates brick, ochre denotes wood, and blue indicates iron.
Drafting manuals from the late 19th century specified that red ink should routinely be used to indicate distance marks, as seen in the left of this detail of the West Elevation. Notice how the word “IRON” is written to the left and right of the window, as well as the area tinted blue. Because the tinted color did not reproduce in the blueprints made from the linen drawings, the drafter also indicated the construction materials through words or symbols.
This detail shows the metal work for the A.D. White Library which is housed inside the University Library. Drawings on tracing cloth served as the master for making expendable blueprints for workmen to use on-site. Linen drawings can have an overall blue or blue-grey tint, as seen here, due to colorant added to increase their transparency to the actinic (photosensitive) light needed to produce blueprints.
This albumen photograph, cleaned and stabilized for the exhibit, shows the interior of the A.D. White Library with the magnificent metal work conceived in the drawings.
The drawing for the East Elevation and the 1891 albumen photograph showing the north and east elevations of the completed building.
The treatment of the University Library drawings included surface cleaning, removal of old, failing repairs, stabilization, and flattening. The linen drawings responded well to treatment and will continue to serve as a historical record, as A.D. White asserted, of ‘the best academic library built’.
Thank you to Rhea Garen, Lead Photographer DCAPS, for providing the elevation images seen above.
The Sesquicentennial exhibit showcases a wealth of photographs, memorabilia, and documents depicting the inspiring history of Cornell University. For more information on the Sesquicentennial exhibit, see: http://rmc.library.cornell.edu/events/current_exhibitions.html
By Pat Fox and Caitlin Moore
For our recent exhibit in Uris Library, Book and Paper Conservation at Cornell University, we decided to explore a historic structure that is a link between scrolls and modern bindings.
Coptic bindings were first produced in the 2nd century AD by the Egyptian Christians called Copts. The Copts popularized a way to bind together several folded sheets of papyrus using a series of linked stitches forming a chain. This codex format is what we know as a book. It evolved from Roman diptychs, hinged wooden tablets coated with wax.
The codex was easier to use than a scroll because it opened flat to any page, and both sides of the pages could be written on. By the 6th century AD, scrolls had been replaced in Western culture by codices.
The link stitch is very similar to the machine sewing used today to produce publisher’s hard cover books. We chose to produce models of this binding style because the exposed spine makes the book structure visible.
This book is bound with a two colored greek coptic stitch using 4 needles and two colors of thread.
This book is sewn with the same linked stitch but the halves are sewn independently and then joined with a figure eight shaped knot. Each half was sewn with 6 needles and the knot to join them required 12 needles.
Please join us on July 25, 10:00am in the lower level of Uris Library for a tour of the exhibit!
Davenport, C. (1907) The Book Its History and Development, London, Archibald Constable & Co. Ltd.
Diringer, D. (1953) The Hand-Produced Book, London, Hutchinson’s Scientific and Technical Publications.
Greenfield, J. (1998) ABC of Bookbinding, New Castle, Delaware, Oak Knoll Press.
Smith, K. (1995) Non Adhesive Binding, Vol. 3: Exposed Spine Sewings, Rochester, New York, keith smith BOOKS.
By Michele Hamill
As part of Cornell University’s 2014 Reunion Weekend 2014, Conservation Lab staff have installed Book and Paper Conservation at Cornell, a new exhibition in Uris Library that celebrates bookbinding techniques and materials, and the development of hand papermaking; two craft traditions that greatly inform and direct conservation treatment practices.
Beautiful books, expertly hand-made by Pat Fox, Assistant Book Conservator and Caitlin Moore, Conservation Technician, are featured in the exhibit to illustrate bookbinding techniques. Coptic Sewing focuses on stitch variations originated by the early Egyptian Christians that are similar to today’s machine sewn books. Caitlin contributed her exquisite Nag Hammadi (an early codex binding) and a model of sewing structures made during her graduate studies at the University of Iowa Center for the Book. Michele Brown, Book Conservator, consulted on the development and content of the bookbinding techniques and materials exhibit cases.
Carol Kinsley-McNamara, Conservation Technician, contributed skillful, technical models to the Anatomy of a Case Binding, which shows the parts of the most typical hard cover binding in our libraries and how those parts are assembled. What’s In a Book? displays samples of a wide range of materials used in bookbinding through the centuries. Stunning marbled papers are showcased both on books and as backdrops.
Jill Iacchei, Conservation Technician, has a deep interest in how raw materials, local conditions, and methods employed by Eastern and Western papermakers result in finished papers of distinct qualities and characteristics. Eastern and Western Papermaking explores the differences in Eastern and Western sheet formation methods and highlights specialty papers used in library conservation. Jill contributed some fine papers she hand-made during her graduate work at the University of Iowa Center for the Book and a beautifully crafted papermaking mould she constructed from local materials.The role of Eastern and Western papers in paper and photograph conservation are illustrated by treatment examples in a case developed by Michele Hamill, Paper and Photograph Conservator.
This exhibit was a wonderful opportunity for Conservation Lab staff to curate, design and install an exhibit highlighting the talent, skill and knowledge of our department. Our work on this exhibit was made possible by the support and assistance of Barbara Berger Eden, Director, Department of Preservation and Conservation, and Susette Newberry, Assistant Director of Research and Learning Services.
by Michele Brown
During Preservation Week (April 27 – May 3) we posted tips for preserving your home collections on Facebook.
The best thing you can do for your materials is to provide them with a good environment. This means maintaining low temperature and moderate humidity and storing them away from light on properly sized book shelves (for books) or in archival folders and boxes (for photos and manuscripts). Careful handling is also important.
Preservation Tip #1: Keep the humidity at 50% RH or below, but above 30% RH. High humidity promotes mold growth; humidity that is too low may cause some materials to become brittle. Avoid storing your materials in basement and attic spaces.
Preservation Tip #2: Maintain a low temperature (below 70 F) in the areas where your materials are stored. Check out the Dew Point Calculator at the Image Permanence Institute’s site and learn more about how temperature and humidity affect your collection.
Preservation Tip #3: Protect your materials from light. Light exposure causes fading and discoloration.
Preservation Tip #4: Use archival enclosures to organize and protect documents and photographs.
Preservation Tip #5: Do not fold down corners, use sticky notes or paper clips to mark your place. Instead, use strips of acid-free paper.
Preservation Tip #6: Keep food and drink away from your collections. Food and drink can damage materials and will attract insects and other pests to your collection.
Preservation Tip #7: Keep your materials free from dust by cleaning them periodically with microfiber dust cloths or a HEPA vacuum. Dust can be abrasive and disfiguring and also contains mold spores.
by Michele Brown
Preservation Week was created in 2010 by the Association for Library Collections and Technical Services (ALCTS), a division of the American Library Association (ALA), to promote preservation of our library collections.
Libraries all over the country have scheduled preservation events for this week (April 27-May 3). Free webinars and webcasts are available at the ALCTS Preservation Week website.
The Cornell Conservation Lab is celebrating Preservation Week by posting preservation tips on Facebook throughout the week. These tips will be summarized in a blog post next week.
Join us next week for a summary of our tips for preserving your collection.