by Michele Brown
The History of Science collection recently acquired Caesalpini’s De Plantis Libri XVI, 1583, which according to the Encyclopedia Britannica is the first textbook on botany. Our copy is bound in full vellum and is in good condition except for dark smudges, brown stains (thought to be foxing), and worm damage throughout. It was sent to Conservation out of concern for the smudges and stains, which looked like inactive mold.
We consulted with Kathie Hodge, Associate Professor of Mycology in the Department of Plant Pathology & Plant-Microbe Biology, and author of the Mushroom Blog.
Professor Hodge took tape lifts of the black smudges and foxing, and examined them under a microscope. Surprisingly, there is very little mold in the book. The black smudges are apparently soot, and the brown stains are actually colonies of actinomycetes, a filamentous bacteria. The annotated slide below shows that mold spores are present, but in small quantities. It was actually difficult to find many mold spores on tape lifts that were taken throughout the book and on the binding.
The last slide shows soot particles mixed with a few linen fibers from a tape lift of one of the black smudges.
Professor Hodge’s verdict is that despite its appearance there is very little mold or bacterial contamination of this book. She was curious, however, about the staining that has occurred around the worm holes.
We decided to proceed with dry cleaning and minor repairs. Stay tuned for Mary Schoenfelder’s report on this treatment.