Cornell University Library Conservation

J.M. Iacchei

We wanted to take the opportunity to both welcome and thank Sheniqua Young for her contribution to the continuation of the epigraphic squeeze project. Sheniqua is a freshman Chemistry major at Cornell University. She has a rigorous course load in preparation for her future aspirations to be a Pediatrician with a specific interest in Asthma and Immunology.

blog update

One of the few squeezes depicting figures

Sheniqua began working on the project in January when the second batch of squeezes arrived to the lab. The initial batch of squeezes  was collected from a specific monument in Ankara, the Res Gestae. This second set of approximately 100 squeezes was also collected from throughout the Assyro-Babylonian Orient as part of the 1907 Cornell expedition organized by Professor J.R.S. Sterrett. While the first batch was fairly consistent, these squeezes vary significantly in size and condition. Sheniqua comes to the lab four days a week and patiently cleans and carefully stabilizes the squeezes in preparation for storage. We are most grateful for her diligent work and commitment to this project.

Nested among the squeezes was a collection of printed pages similar to this one. Perhaps resources used by the expedition team or researchers studying the inscriptions.

by Michele Brown

The Conservation Unit has been busy treating a variety of materials for Speaking of Sex, the new exhibit opening  February 14 in the Hirshland Exhibition Gallery of the Carl A. Kroch Library. The exhibit celebrates the 25th anniversary of the Human Sexuality Collection. Brenda Marston, Curator of the Human Sexuality Collection, describes the importance of the collection:  “A quarter of a century ago, the Library began to gather rare books, letters, photographs and original artwork, films, erotica, and all sorts of ephemera related to sexuality — much of which was ignored or shunned by academia and society at large.” The exhibit includes items from the original Mariposa archive and some recent additions.

Examples of the many different editions of The Well of Loneliness by Radclyffe Hall are included in the exhibit. Most of these are in excellent condition except for damaged dust jackets.


Losses and tears on each dust jacket were repaired with colored kozo  tissue and usumino tissue using wheat starch paste.  The first edition published in Paris by the Olympia Press had more extensive damage. The cloth was torn at the joints and the edges were worn away.









It was rebacked with airplane linen that had been laminated with 100% kozo moriki tissue. The edges were repaired with colored kozo using wheat starch paste. The original spine was put back on over the new spine.












Among  many other unusual items needing repair were:

A box holding humorous cocktail napkins from a nudist resort: the tears in the box were repaired with colored kozo, using paste.





Album pages containing suggestive postcards: these had rusty staples holding the pages together and numerous tears. The staples were removed and the tears repaired with colored kozo using wheat starch paste.










Supports for the materials on display were constructed by Pat Fox and Caitlin Moore from the Conservation Unit.

Stop in and see examples the many unique materials in the Human Sexuality collection. The exhibit will be up until the fall.  Check  the Human Sexuality Collection Facebook page for regular updates.


By: J. M. Iacchei

 A Cornellian, Elsa Guerdrum Allen (1888-1969) was an ornithologist, lecturer, and writer. The Division of Rare and Manuscripts Collections at Cornell University holds a collection of her work: manuscripts, photographs, prints. Selected items from this collection have been brought to the conservation lab for treatment. This box contained 38 beautiful, but tightly rolled and heavily creased, ornithological photostat prints, and two color lithographs, the subject of this post.

Before treatment: The box containing tightly rolled negative photostats and lithographic prints from the Elsa Guerdrum Allen Papers


The lithograph prints had been rolled and subsequently crushed during storage, leaving them with sharp vertical creases. They were discolored, rather brittle, and contained excessive edge damage and areas of loss. These characteristics heightened the potential for further damage to occur, making the prints unsafe to handle, and therefore inaccessible to patrons and researchers.

Of the two litho prints, I will present you with this one:

Before treatment: The brittleness of the paper,  the mangled and torn edges, and large area of loss pictured above made handling precarious.

Before treatment: The print was carefully unrolled to assess the extent of damage and loss, and determine treatment needs.


The goal of the selected treatment was to prevent further deterioration and make these items accessible by repairing tears, filling areas of loss and stabilizing the paper support with a tissue lining. The basic treatment steps are discussed below:

Washing: During washing, soluble deterioration products that cause papers to become discolored and brittle are reduced. The process can improve the paper’s flexibility and reactivate fiber to fiber bonding, thereby improving strength. The inks were first tested for solubility to determine whether or not an aqueous treatment was advisable. They proved to be stable and we proceeded with washing the lithographs in three successive baths of filtered water at a pH of 8-8.5.

Washing: The print in a bath of filtered water at a pH of 8-8.5

The color of the water from one bath to the next shows the discoloration solubilized through washing; the first bath is shown on the left,  the second bath on the right.


Mending Tears, Filling Areas of Loss, and Lining

If you have ever let a wet piece of paper dry unrestrained, you have probably found that it did not dry flat. If that paper had a tear in it, you may also have found that some distortion occurred during drying-the edges of the tear are no longer in alignment. To reduce the potential for this unwanted distortion, significant tears were mended and areas of loss were filled directly after washing and prior to lining with Japanese tissue and wheat starch paste. The areas of loss were filled using toned Japanese tissue.

Mending tears and filling areas of loss on the light table

Applying the lining tissue


Once lined, the print was left to dry under weight between blotter and polyester web. Washing has a tendency to “grey” the support, bringing it closer to its original color. This can be anticipated to some degree, but the fills were a little lighter in color than anticipated. An additional fill was added to compensate. The item was then re-humidified using Gore-tex, and dried under weight. It now looks like this:

After treatment


In retrospect …

Overall, this treatment was very successful. However, it was not without its challenges and learning opportunities. Alternative methods to filling large areas of loss, choice of lining material, and the use of toned tissue were re-evaluated. After treatment, the larger areas of loss showed some cockling. This is a risk when applying a fully pasted out tissue fill to an area extending the entire width of the document, even when supported with a sheet of mylar. A thicker tissue lining may have helped to reduce the cockling that occurred. Another alternative would have been to fill the larger areas of loss after lining.

The tissue used for the fills and mends was toned with acrylic paints. Once dry, the larger filled areas showed some discoloration. This is possible due to 1)”movement” of the pigment with the application of paste in the lining process or 2) the result of an uneven distribution of paste.

Despite these setbacks, the lithographs, along with the other contents of the box have been stabilized and rehoused.  The beautiful imagery that was once too fragile and unstable to be unrolled is now accessible to patrons and researchers to view.

If you are interested in ornithology, or birding, and have not found it already, you may enjoy visiting The Cornell Lab of Ornithology.



by J.M. Iacchei

In a library’s conservation lab, tightly rolled photographs, brittle newspapers, weathered maps, and heavily soiled and torn architectural drawings are fairly common items to come across a conservator’s workbench. Every so often though, an item arrives for treatment that is not so typical. The collection of epigraphic squeezes (paper cast impressions from inscribed surfaces) recently brought to Cornell Library’s conservation lab falls into this category.


“Squeezing” is a method used in the field by archeologists to collect inscriptions from ancient monuments. The “squeeze” is made by laying dampened paper over an incised surface which is then beat with a flat brush and let to dry. Care to remove air bubbles and to capture each area of incision results in a highly accurate reverse relief of the inscription and a negative right-reading impression of the inscription.

1907 Cornell expedition team taking a squeeze at Quru Bel, Arslan Tash

Brush used to beat the dampened paper into the incised surface








Cornell expedition: Paper squeeze drying on stone monument















Squeezes are an incredibly valuable resource to scholars of epigraphy for a number of reasons:

1) Many monuments reside in distant locations; access often requires expensive and timely travel. Squeezes are lightweight and portable.

2) The squeeze allows for comparison to and revision of existing interpretations, as well as potential for fragmentary inscriptions to be pieced together. This is especially useful in reconstructing the topography of antiquity. The congruity of a text was often disrupted in times of conquest or political changes as it was common for monuments to be moved from their original locations and re-purposed for building materials.

3) Many monuments have become the casualties of time, man, and natural disasters. It is likely that they are in poorer condition today than they were at the time the squeeze was collected. Photographs are of value, yes, but, their accuracy depends heavily upon the light in which they were captured.  A squeeze often provides the most complete, accurate and accessible copy of the text available to date.


These particular squeezes were collected as part of an archeological expedition to the Assyro-Babylonian orient organized by Cornell professor  J.R.S. Sterrett in 1907. Following their use by Professor Sterrett in the early 20th century, these 200 or so items have been stored in an attic of the Goldwin Smith building in cardboard boxes. The roughly 90 that have been selected  for treatment at this time were collected from the Res Gestae in Ankara of the Roman Emperor Augustus. Inscribed in both Latin and Greek, they contain a text central to the study of Roman history.


The squeezes arrived to the lab heavily coated with surface soil – dust, and dirt; maybe even a little inactive mold. Due to the topographic nature of the squeezes the surface soil is heavily ingrained, especially in the curves and angles of the raised impressions. The squeezes are composed of multiple layers of paper which have begun to delaminate and have become creased with folds from previous storage and handling.

The objective of conservation treatment is to: 1) clean and stabilize the squeezes prior to scanning and digitization and 2) provide a permanent storage solution taking into consideration size, quantity, topographic nature, and spatial limitations.

During Treatment, cleaning: The right half of this image has been vacuumed, the left has been both vacuumed sponge cleaned

Cleaning: The squeezes were vacuumed with a NILFISK Hepa vacuum, and cleaned once with absorene sponge erasers and again with latex free cosmetic sponges. Each cleaning method contributed to reducing the buildup of dirt and dust on the surface.

Stabilization: Local humidification was used to reduce folds and creases that were not part of the inherent nature of the items topography. Areas that had begun to delaminate were generally left alone unless they were at risk of becoming torn or presented potential for loss. In these instances, Japanese tissue and/or wheat starch paste was used to stabilize the area.

The study of epigraphy takes into account not only the incised impressions, but also the surface of the monument on which it is inscribed. The squeezes capture these characteristics showing cracks and dents,  as well as areas where the stone was not carved or perhaps smoothed over for correction or reuse. They lend a great deal of information to the epigraphist looking to piece together the story of earlier times.

A puncture made during the beating stage, we believe.

This project is part of a larger initiative funded by the Grants Program for Digital Collection in Arts and Sciences to preserve and promote accessibility for research, study, and dissemination.  The scope extends beyond the lab and has called upon the collaboration of conservators, curators, faculty, and imaging specialists. Once cleaned and stabilized, the squeezes will be digitally imaged using different lighting at different angles. These images will then be given to a group at Florida State University where algorithms will be applied to render 3-D reconstructions that will in turn be studied by graduate students of the Cornell University’s Classics department.





Many thanks to Professors Eric Rebillard and Ben Anderson for their insights into the significance of these items,  and to Rhea Garen who will be capturing the images. It is the collaborative efforts that make projects such as this one possible.

More to come. Epigraphic Squeezes: Part II and III. Fiber Analysis and Exploration in Squeeze Making are in progress.



McLean, B. H. An introduction to Greek Epigraphy of the Hellenistic and Roman Periods from Alexander the Great down to the Reign if Constantine (323 B.C.-A.D. 337). Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 2002.

Olmstead, A.T., B.B. Charter, and J.E. Wrench. The Cornell Expedition to Asia Minor and the Assyro-Babylonian Orient, Travels and Studies in the Nearer East,  Volume 1 Part II: Hittite Inscriptions. Ithaca, NY, 1911.


by Michele Brown

In honor of the 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address, Cornell University’s Division of Rare and Manuscripts Collection has mounted an exhibition of Civil War manuscripts and artifacts.

Students reading the original copy of the Gettysburg Address.

Our own original copy is currently on display until November 22.

Our original copy of the Gettysburg Address is guarded at all times while on display.


Lance Heidig has been writing an informative blog about the materials in the exhibit.

When the original copy is not on display, a facsimile is in its place. Michele Hamill, Paper and Photo Conservator of the Conservation Unit directed the rehousing and display of both the facsimile and the original. Read her excellent blog posts describing the journey and installation of “our” Gettysburg. Listen to her interview with WHCU.

Before the exhibit was installed, other staff members from the Conservation Unit restored several items now in exhibition cases located in the Rotunda and in front of the Reading Room. Pat Fox constructed the cradles and supports for the materials.

The covers of this pamphlet were torn.

We like our materials to look their best.

The tears and losses were reinforced with toned Japanese tissue.


Some materials were structurally at risk.

The spine of this slave ledger was torn, causing the back board to become detached.


It’s important to retain the original character of the item.

The ledger now has new spine leather, but the original spine was retained and reattached.

The exhibit will be up until December 22. Please stop by or view the online exhibition.

By Michele Brown

Chen Hong, Director of Circulation at  Tsinghua Library and Zhang Huili of the Special Collections Department at Peking University are the fourth pair of librarians from China to participate in the care of circulating collections training program funded by the Luce Foundation.  Hong and Huili  arrived in Ithaca September 16 and began working with us September 23. This week-end they will return to Beijing.



They began by learning how to determine the grain direction of paper.









Then, they sewed and bound their own blank books.








They learned how to do full and partial repairs, fan glue bindings and constructing phase boxes.










We discussed disaster preparation and salvaged some wet books and documents.





They visited the Mann Library Preservation Department and Special Collections vault, and spoke to Frank Brown about the Mann Library preservation program.








Finally, they learned how to construct exhibit supports.




Many thanks to our translators and all of the people who helped make the program a success.



by Michele Brown

Galileo’s final book, Discorsi e dimostrazioni matematiche, intorno à due nuoue scienze (Discourses and Mathematical Demonstrations Relating to Two New Sciences), was written during his period of house arrest, smuggled to Leiden and printed in 1638.

Like Cornell’s copy of Newton’s Principia (see our earlier blog post), Cornell’s copy of Galileo’s Discorsi had been bound in orange morocco. Unfortunately, there is no record of the original binding. The pages had been over sewn, which inhibited opening. The paper was brittle and acidic (pH was 4.7-5) with minor staining. The title page had been backed with Japanese tissue.

Since this volume is used extensively for teaching, the curator requested a new, more appropriate binding. We decided that this would be a good time to wash and resew the text to improve the opening and flexibility of the pages. The backing on the title page was removed at this time as the title page was in good condition with just a few tears on the fore-edge.

A full vellum binding seemed appropriate for the date and place of publication of this work.

Last year, I bought a translation of Dirck de Bray: Kort onderwijs van het boeckenbinden (Dirck de Bray: a short instruction in the binding of books), a Dutch bookbinding manual first published in 1658. This new edition  was translated by Harry Lake, edited by Koert van der Horst and Clemens de Wolfe, and published by Rob Koch. This manual inspired the rebinding of the Discorsi.

I decided to first try the techniques described in the manual on my own copy. I used a piece of the parchment skin I made at a Pergamena parchment workshop in 2009.

I discovered that it can be difficult to bind a book at the same time you are trying to study it. The result was ok, but the boards are somewhat thin and tend to warp. We needed something more substantial.








I decided to follow the directions for endbands and lacing-in described in the de Bray manual, but I turned to the vellum on boards binding described by Peter Verheyen because that binding style promised greater board stability. This construction features a German-style split board, which differs from the English split board familiar to many of us. The German split board consists of a piece of card  tipped to the outside of the board. The covering material is stuck to the card and at the turn-ins, essentially drummed onto the board. If the vellum contracts during periods of low humidity, it will pull the card, not the board.

The book was sewn two-on using vellum strips. As recommend by de Bray, the strips were cut in half width-wise and pointed before lacing in.


The endbands were woven from red and yellow silk twist over vellum strips per de Bray.


Then, I followed Peter Verheyen’s directions, this time using  cream calf parchment from Pergamena Parchment.

The new vellum binding is stronger and more attractive than the previous binding, the pages are more flexible. It is now more usable as a teaching tool.



By Caitlin Moore

From time to time we get the odd project to shake up our routine a little bit. This one was pretty interesting. Quite a bit different than the books and paper we are used to!

The A.D. White collection of historical medallions is a collection of two thousand copies of antique gems from the Royal Museum of Berlin. These plaster casts are very small and have been adhered into paper lined wooden boxes. Many of them have been on display for years and had gathered a lot of dust.









When they came to the lab we decided to use the Nilfisk vacuum with a micro brush attachment to clean out the boxes. This is a photo of a half cleaned box:









Over time the adhesive holding the casts in place had become brittle and weak in some areas so I also re-adhered the loose pieces into their rightful places using B72 Restoration Adhesive.




Barbara Eden at the Great Wall of China


How can we strengthen Cornell University Library’s relationship with our partner libraries in China?  That was the question Barbara Berger Eden, director of Preservation, sought to answer when she sent a preservation needs assessment survey to the libraries at Renmin University, Peking University, Tsinghua University and the China Agricultural University.  Barbara met with the stakeholders at each of the institutions on a visit to Beijing in 2011, where she confirmed their survey responses.  The libraries needed help preparing for water emergencies, mounting materials for exhibits, and caring for and handling Western style bindings, particularly those from the Chinese Republican period ranging from 1919 to 1949. 

During her visit, Barbara was able to live on the campus of Tsinghua University.  “It was so interesting to experience another university from the inside,” recounted Barbara.  She stayed in the international dorm.  “The food is amazing! In the cafeteria there are kiosks serving different cuisines from all over China!” Barbara also visited the Great Wall of China, the Forbidden City and the Temple of Heaven.



Delicious soup from Tsinghua University

Barbara returned to Ithaca where she collaborated with her colleagues throughout the library to develop a training program for Chinese librarians that focused on their preservation needs.  She secured funding from the Henry Luce Foundation to support the two year program.  Barbara wanted the internship to replicate the quality of her visit to China where she was treated as an honored guest.  So she sought out pleasant accommodations, arranged for weekly trips to the grocery stores, set up internet access,  bus passes, and cultural outings.   “I want them to feel comfortable when they are away from home.” 

A day shopping at the Waterloo Premium Outlets, an afternoon of wine tasting, and a day in New York City highlight the cultural exchange aspect of the program.   Barbara enjoyed seeing things through the eyes of the interns.  “They were blown away by Wegman’s,” Barbara commented.  They were impressed by the emphasis on customer service and the lack of crowds that made browsing possible.  The interns appreciated Ithaca’s bucolic character, its clean air and uncongested spaces.  Barbara booked tickets on a double decker bus tour of New York City where they all enjoyed a close up view of historic architectural details. 

Translators are essential to the success of the program, and Barbara found two of them herself.  After many  years of working at Cornell, Barbara decided to take a course called “The Art of Horticulture.”  One of her classmates, Cornell transfer student Venna Wang, revealed in conversation that she lived in Flushing, New York.  As they talked more, Barbara realized that Venna lived in the same apartment building that she had lived in as a child!  Barbara remembers, “In the 1950’s my neighborhood was 99% Jewish.  Now it’s primarily Asian.  It’s a neighborhood in rapid transition.” 

Barbara was on flight from Beijing to Newark in January, 2013, returning from her second library visit.  The plane was packed with students returning to the States at the end of winter break.   She introduced herself to her seatmate, Tianwang Liu, and discovered that Tianwang was a freshman at Cornell!  They exchanged phone numbers and kept in touch.  Barbara helped her find her way around Ithaca, and told her about the best Chinese grocery store in town.  Both Venna and Tianwang will put their translating skills to work again this fall.


Barbara Eden and Tianwang Liu visit the Museum of Natural History in New York City

Barbara concluded, “I am hopeful that the program will have an impact on care and handling of Western style books.  I am excited that our acclaimed online Preservation Tutorial will be updated and translated into Chinese in the second year of the grant. It  will be a valuable resource to Chinese libraries. ”


by Michele Brown

Our internship program for librarians from China continues as we welcome two librarians from the China Agricultural University Library in Beijing.  Pan Wei, Deputy Director and Zhang Hongping, Associate Research librarian, arrived in Ithaca May 11 and started working  in the Conservation Lab May 20. They began by making pamphlets.

Lily (one of our translators) watches Pan Wei (center) and Hongping (right) sew pamphlets.


Then, they learned how to make case bindings before learning how to repair books from the circulating collection.





















On Monday, we visited the book repair department at Syracuse University.

Pan Wei and Hongping observe a student in the Syracuse book repair lab.


We have enjoyed working with our 2 translators: Lily and Jiali.

Jiali Wang is a second year student at the Cornell Institute for Public Affairs, with a concentration in economics.

Lily Xue Dong is a Chinese LL.M student in Cornell Law School Class 2013.

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