Category Archives: Collection care

How to cut off your head and lay it on a platter.

Don’t Lose Your Head!

by Michele Brown

An oldie, but goodie: “to cut off one’s head, and to laie it in a platter, which the iugglers call the decollation of Iohn Baptist” from The discouerie of withcraft [The discovery of witchcraft] by Reginald Scott. This wonderful work argues against the existence of witchcraft and includes descriptions of popular jugglers’ tricks. Look for the 1665 edition in the “ Skeptics and Dissenters ” case in the Witchcraft exhibit now in the Hirshland Gallery of the Carl A. Kroch Library. Cornell’s Witchcraft Collection also includes a copy of the 1584 edition.

Produced by different printers 80 years apart, there are interesting variations in the illustrations of these 2 editions.

Reginald Scott, 1584.

To cut off ones head, and to laie it in a platter, 1584

Reginald Scott, 1665.

To cut off ones Head, and to Lay it in a platter, 1665.











The typography of the the title pages is also very dissimilar.

Title page, 1584.



Title page, 1665.

The 1584 edition is notably smaller. It appears to have been severely chopped–possibly during the rebinding process. It’s unlikely that the current binding is its first.

Our curators prefer minimal intervention and have asked us to retain evidence of previous repairs and other signs of use. These 2 volumes  provided different treatment challenges.

The 1584 edition came into the lab in 2016. It had been rebacked with calfskin at some point in its history, and this repair was showing signs of fragility. The inner joints were cracked, the head and tail caps were worn, 2 corners were worn, and there were losses on the spine, but the boards were still attached. The repair was still doing its job, but needed to be revitalized.


1584. Front, inner joint, before treatment.

1584. Front board, before treatment.











1584. Spine before treatment.

The 1665 edition came into the lab because it was selected for the current Witchcraft exhibit. At some point, it  had been rebacked with sheepskin. What appears to be the original spine label had been retained. New endsheets had been added and pasted over the original pastedowns–probably as part of the repair. The outer and  inner joints were broken and the boards were detached. The sheepskin spine was dessicated and its top layer was peeling off. This repair was no longer effective.

1665. Front board, before treatment.



1665.  Front inner joint, before treatment.





1665. Spine, before treatment.

In both cases, we retained evidence of the previous repairs, but the 1665 edition required more intervention.

Treatment of the 1584 edition:

We filled losses and reinforced the weak inner joints using various Japanese tissues applied with wheat starch paste. The loss on the spine was repaired with layers of Kitikata and pure kozo Moriki tissue; the headcap and 2 board corners were reinforced with Moriki, and the inner joints were covered with Sekishu. Essentially, we repaired the repairs.


1584. Front, after treatment.

1584.  Front inner joint, after treatment.

1584. Spine, after treatment.

Treatment of the 1665 edition:

Since the boards  were detached, we opted to reback this volume with leather. We chose fair goatskin from J. Hewit because that leather is of good quality and  looks similar to sheepskin. We repaired the “new” endpapers. The spine from the previous repair was too deteriorated to use (that would have been preferred), but we retained the spine label and added blind tooling to mimic the previous rebacking.

If a leather binding needs to be completely rebacked, we will generally use leather as the repair material. To facilitate reversibility, we line the spine with Japanese or Korean tissue using wheat starch paste before adding a lining of unbleached cotton.  Strength is added to the joints by extending this cotton lining onto the boards.

Our protocol for leather rebacking is quite similar to that described in James Reid-Cunningham’s  workshop in leather rebacking at the Guild of Book Workers 2013 Standards of Excellence.

1665. Front inner joint, after treatment.

1665.  Front, after treatment.

1665. Spine, after treatment.

There was a time when we might have tried to remove the earlier repairs before adding our newer, “better” treatments. Now, as we focus on maintaining the history of use of our collections, we retain these repairs and work around them.

Descriptions of the “decollation of John Baptist” and other tricks (“thrust a bodkin into your Head, and through your Tongue &c.”) are in Book XIII, Chapter XXXIV. Both editions of The Discovery of Witchcraft, may be viewed  through Early English Books Online via the Cornell catalog.





Preservation Week 2015: Ways to save your stuff.

by Michele Brown

Last week, Tre Berney provided an excellent summary of AV preservation and related issues. What about books, papers, photographs and other memorabilia you’d like to save and pass along? Here are some resources to help you preserve  your collections.

First, the Cornell Library Conservation website offers many resources to individuals and libraries.

Our  recently revised Preservation and Conservation tutorial for China, which was developed as part of the Luce grant, provides a broad survey of techniques for the preservation of all types of library materials.

One useful tool for protecting fragile books is the marginal materials (MM) case. The tutorial includes a slideshow that describes how to make this simple, but effective container. Written instructions for this and other techniques are included in our repair guides.

Providing a good environment for your materials is the first step in preserving them. The Image Permanence Institute offers numerous resources on ways to understand and control the environment in your home or institution. Watch the video on the effect of humidity fluctuation on a rare book!

Would you like to download leaflets that advise you on the care of your collection and give recommendations for disaster recovery? The Northeast Document Conservation Center (NEDCC) has a series of  preservation leaflets that cover a wide range of topics.

Finally, the Association for Library Collections and Technical Services (ALCTS) offers a series of  preservation webinars.

These are just a few of the many resources available to help us save our stuff so we can pass it on. Happy Preservation Week 2015!



Caring for your collections: tips from Preservation Week

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.

Preservation Week: Pass it on

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.

Welcome Chen Hong and Zhang Huili

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.



Preservation Week 2013

Cornell University Library Conservation celebrated Preservation Week 2013 by posting a preservation tip on our Facebook page each day.

Here is a summary of the week’s tips.

Tip #1: Do not store your books and documents in the basement.  Sustained humidity above 70% will promote mold growth. For more information on assessing the temperature and humidity of your library environment check out the dew point calculator at the Image Permanence Institute web site.

Moisture caused mold to grow on these pages.

Tip #2: Archival enclosures will preserve your family collections for generations to come. Check  preservation supply companies  for safe paper and plastic enclosures for documents and photographs. The Northeast Document Conservation Center has compiled useful information in their Storage Methods and Handling Practices preservation leaflet.

Archival folders and boxes protect photos and documents.

Preservation Week tip #3: Protect your library materials from light. Exposure to light can cause cloth and leather to discolor, photographs to fade, and varnishes to yellow. The Library of Congress has information about the lighting of library materials.

Fading caused by light exposure.

Preservation Week Tip #4: Do not use office supplies with your family treasures. Pressure sensitive tape and paper clips will stain and damage paper and photographs. Post-it notes leave a sticky residue.

Office supplies can damage family documents.

Preservation Week Tip #5: Keep food and drink away from library materials and family treasures. Food residues attract insects, mold and other predators. Food and drink stains are permanent.

Coffee and a marker have disfigured this photo.