Cornell University Library Conservation

Michele Hamill

for blog_Lincoln

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 (  For more information about identifying and comparing photographic processes, see:



October 28, 2014 | Uncategorized  |  Leave a Comment

J.M. Iacchei

Above: Bara la bruja

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, (

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!

LaurentLaurent 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).”

Exorcist PosterRosemarys Baby

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”.

Suspiria PosterBeardsley Salome


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.

Left: Before Treatment; Right: During Treatment, blotter washing

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

More information about the Cornell University Witchcraft Collection can be found here:

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:

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.

photo 3_blog IMG_1584crop_blogA detail of the clock face showing how the smooth surface provided an ideal coating to take ink and produce sharp, crisp lines. Notice anything different from clock drawing and the actual clock?

clocktowerdetail_Blog 13041_BT_Verso_Blog

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.

 13041D_AT_Blog Uris_Blog

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:









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.


Courtesy of WikiMedia


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.

Exposed spines of machine sewn books

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.

detail of machine sewing


two colored sewing

 This book is bound with a two colored greek coptic stitch using 4 needles and two colors of thread.

detail of greek coptic stitch

preparing to join the halves of the two part greek binding

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.

detail of greek sewing with joining knot

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

Greek Coptic

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.

coptic sewing 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.

casebindingCarol 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.

paperJill 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 photosCenter 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.

Preservation tips and profiles of our conservators, Michele Brown and Michele Hamill are also being shown on our electronic sign at the Olin Library Circulation Desk.

Join us next week for a summary of our tips for preserving your collection.

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.



keep looking »