Category Archives: Conservation treatment

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.





Conservation treatment of Shakespeare’s Fourth Folio

by Michele Brown

Cornell University Library is commemorating the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death with a series of digital vignettes highlighting Cornell’s Shakespeare collection. Earlier this year, the Fourth Folio came to the conservation lab for treatment and evaluation.

The title page, before repair.

The title page, before repairing the binding.

The binding on Cornell’s Fourth Folio appears to be contemporary with its 1685 printing date. It is a full calfskin binding with a gilt spine.The leather is tightly adhered to the back of the book (this is known as a tight back). When it came into the lab, the front board was detached, the back board was weakly attached, and a large piece of covering was missing from the back board. The tailband was mostly missing, with the core being held on with a few loops. The corners were worn with some losses. It had been previously repaired.

The front board of Shakespeare's Fourth folio, before treatment. The tailband is hanging off.

The front board of Shakespeare’s Fourth Folio, before treatment. Notice how the tailband is hanging off.

The tight bond between the original leather spine and the back of the book  created difficulties for repairing the binding. Usually, when a book is rebacked  the original spine is removed, the back is lined with cloth over  tissue for strength and reversibility, and a new spine made from material similar to the original spine is applied. The original spine would then be stuck on over the new spine. The result is a book with reinforced sewing, new materials in all the areas that take the most stress, and yet with all of its original components retained.

The previous repair leather was applied only to the joints and head and tail caps, indicating perhaps, that the conservator had experienced difficulty removing the original  spine.

The spine of the Fourth Folio, before treatment.

The spine of the Fourth Folio, before treatment. The repair leather is visible at the edges and head of the spine.

Since the spine of a tight back binding is adhered directly to the pages of the book, it is not always possible to remove the spine without damaging it or the pages. When a book is historically significant with a contemporary binding, it is important to retain as many of its original components as possible. That is the case with our copy of the 4th Folio. We can tell our copy was previously repaired not only by the “new”  leather on the outside joints, but also by the treatment of the first few pages and the inner joints.  We don’t know when the earlier repair was done, but the repair leather had deteriorated and needed to be replaced. The front board had become detached and needed to be reattached.

I tried lifting the original spine after first facing it with Hanji paper using methyl cellulose paste as the adhesive. I was able to remove the second panel (containing the title label), and the tail panel, but could only lift the edges of the rest of the spine. The edges of the boards, both inside and outside, were easily lifted.

Once the leather was removed from the second and last panels, these areas were first lined with usu mino tissue using wheat starch paste, and then with unbleached cotton stretch cloth (from Gane Bros) using pva. The stretch cloth was cut wide enough to stretch over onto the boards under the lifted leather. A lining of Conservation Wove paper (from Katie Macgregor), using pva, made for a nice smooth surface on these 2 panels.

Ideally, all of the panels would receive this kind of reinforcement, but the spine adhesion was tenacious. How could I add strength to my repair? I decided to use joint tacketing on the front board. Joint tacketing consists of drilling  several holes into the joint, angled so they come out on the shoulder of the spine. Two corresponding holes for each tacket are drilled into the board. Linen thread is passed through the joint to the spine and secured with a loop. The tails pass through the holes in the board.  A square knot is tied to hold the threads in place. This holds the board to the spine in a way that is similar to its original attachment. The joint tacketing link above provides a detailed description of the procedure.

Before drilling the holes, a strip of Hanji paper was attached to the inside shoulder, one edge aligning with the shoulder, the rest extending towards the fore edge. This would be folded up over the linen thread loops towards the end of the treatment. Then, holes at 5 stations  were drilled into the joint and 2 per each station were drilled into the board. At each station, the thread was passed through the shoulder, looped, and then passed through the board and tied in a square knot.

The front joint, with tackets and the strip of Hanji tissue.

The front joint, with tackets and the strip of Hanji tissue.

This is a closer view of one of the tackets, showing the loop and square knot.

This is a closer view of one of the tackets, showing the loop and square knot.

A new tailband was woven using silk twist over the original tailband core.

The finished tailband and cap.

The finished tailband and cap.

New calfskin (from Hewit’s) was pared, dyed and attached to the second and bottom panels, extending across the spine and onto the boards. New calfskin strips were also added to the headcap and joints under the lifted spine edges and onto the boards under the lifted sides. The lifted board material was put down with wheat starch paste.

New leather attached to the joints and 2 panels.

New leather attached to the joints and 2 panels.

This is a closer view of the tacket and new leather. The spine pieces have not been replaced at this point.

This is a closer view of the tacket and new leather. The spine pieces have not been replaced yet.

The corners were repaired with dyed calfskin or colored tissue.  The Hanji strip in the front inner joint was pulled across the joint and adhered under the lifted paste-down with paste. Then, it was covered with CK color kozo. The back joint was also covered with CK color kozo. Wheat starch paste was used for these steps.

The finished front inner joint. The first few pages also had minor repairs.

The finished front inner joint. Losses on the fly leaf were replaced with color kozo from Hiromi, using paste.

The lifted spine panels and edges of the spine were re-attached using wheat starch paste. This hid the tacketing threads on the shoulder. The corners were repaired with dyed calfskin and toned kozo. The loss on the back board was patched with dyed calfskin.

The front board of the finished repair.

The front board of the finished repair.

The finished spine, with the original pieces reattached.

The finished spine, with the original pieces reattached.

As a result of this treatment, the book is much stronger and more easily handled. If the repair leather fails, the tackets should help keep the front board attached. The cloth liners across the 2 panels that were lifted will also provide extra support.

One of our goals in the conservation lab is to make the physical collections accessible for study and analysis. Here’s hoping that readers of Shakespeare will be able to enjoy Cornell’s copy of the Fourth Folio for another 400 years!



Re-housing the Thirteenth Amendment

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.

Framed copy of the 13th Amendment.

Cornell’s framed copy of the 13th Amendment, before removal.


Label from Beard's Galleries.

Label from Beard’s Galleries.

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.

Removing hardware from the back.

Removing hardware from the back.

011_Liner off

The paper liner on the back of the frame was removed.

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 matting and the document were sealed together with paper tape.

The matting and the document were sealed together with paper tape.

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 glued paper tape was removed mechanically.

The glued paper tape was removed mechanically.

The document had been taped to the backing board with the same brown paper tape. This tape was also removed mechanically.

The document was taped to the backing board.

The document was taped to the backing board.

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!

Staples had been used to hold the document to the backing board.

Staples had been used to help hold the document to the backing board.

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.

The document started to curl once it was lifted off the backing board.

The document started to curl once it was lifted off the backing board.

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.

The headpiece was separated from the document using a Teflon folder.

The headpiece was separated from the document using a Teflon folder.

After humidifying each piece, we dried them on a suction table before putting them between boards.

We used the suction table to flatten each piece after humidification.

We used the suction table to flatten each piece after humidification.

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.

052_Doc with strips

The Japanese paper strips were added to the back of the document.


The shows the headpiece with the strips attached to the back.

The shows the headpiece with the strips attached to the back.

The back of the backing board.

The back of the backing board with the strips attached.

The front of the document.

The front of the document. The strips attached to the back of the document, but not to the front of the board.

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.

Increasing the thickness of the back of the frame.

Increasing the thickness of the back of the frame.

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.

In its new frame.

In its new frame.

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

(2) Pickwoad, Nicholas. (1992). “Alternative Methods of Mounting Parchment for Framing and Exhibition”. The Paper Conservator. 16(1), pp. 78-85.







Mystery solved

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.

Cloth binding added by a commercial binder, probably in the 20th century.

Cloth binding added by a commercial binder, probably in the 20th century.

The title page.


The last page has a catchword, implying there is more to follow.

The last page has a catchword, implying there is more to follow.


A blank page has been pasted to the verso of the previous page.

But, there is no more text. A blank page has been pasted to the verso of the last page.

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.

Binders often used waste-paper in the bindery to construct spine linings.

Binders often used bindery waste  to construct spine linings.

We used a wheat starch paste poultice to remove the old lining.

We used a wheat starch paste poultice to remove the old linings.

Under the paper linings, we discovered a cloth lining.

Spines are often lined in coarsely woven cloth for strength.

Spines are often lined in coarsely woven cloth for strength.

We could see that the new binding was put over the leather spine of an earlier binding.  The book was oversewn before rebinding it.

We can see the remnants of the spine of the earlier binding under the new oversewing added by the commercial binder.

Remnants of an earlier leather spine with a gold tooled title.

The book had originally been sewn on three cords.

Removing all of the linings reveals the original sewing structure.

Removing all of the linings reveals the original sewing structure.

The sections are held together by thread passing through the center of each section.

The sections are held together by thread passing through the center of each section.


Once the spine was clean, we separated the book into sections.

The sewing thread was cut and the sections were carefully separated.

The sewing thread was cut and the sections were carefully separated.

The book, separated into sections.

The book, separated into sections.

Finally, we were ready to separate the last page from the blank page that was pasted to it.

The last page was soaked in a bath of filtered water.

The last page was soaked in a bath of filtered water.

The blank page was teased off gently while both pages were still wet.


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.

The printing on the verso is revealed.

The printing on the verso is revealed.

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.




Speaking of Sex

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.

“Remembering Lincoln at Gettysburg”

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.

A new binding for Galileo’s Discorsi

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.



Book repair with Natasha

by Michele Brown

We rely on students to help repair our circulating book collection and starting in the fall semester, we’ve been lucky to have Natasha Rao working with us. Natasha is a freshman in the College of Arts and Sciences. She is from Princeton, New Jersey, and is hoping to major in both English and Natural Resources.

Natasha also enjoys photography and hiking, and she is learning to fly planes. She told us she is tremendously enjoying her first year at Cornell, and loves working with book repair! We are happy to have her help.

While rare books receive specialized treatment that can take many hours, repair of circulating books emphasizes speed and efficiency. Our book repair person works at a dedicated bench with pre-cut materials close at hand.

Most books needing repair are identified by Access Services staff when the books are returned to the library. When the books arrive in the conservation lab they are first examined to see if they are candidates for the Rare Books collection. These are pulled out and placed on a truck for review by the curator of rare books and manuscripts. Brittle books are also pulled out and sent to the Brittle Books Coordinator.  If a book needs to be resewn, it is  sent to the Commercial Binding department.

Books that will undergo  book repair are sorted into types of repair (full, half and partial—more on book repair at Cornell at later time– and shelved accordingly). Loose flyleaves are reattached, back linings are cleaned off, and the original spine is tucked into the boards.

Here, Natasha removes the boards of a book she will repair.








Then, she cleans the spine.







Next, she sews cloth hinges into the inner joints. Then, she will apply new cloth and paper linings, and use a cloth strip to repair the case. The new cloth hinges are glued across the joints.


If the original spine is not salvageable she will print a new label using a lab computer.

We are very lucky to have such a talented freshman student, and we look forward to working with Natasha for several more years.

Decisions, decisons…

by Michele Brown

Preparing repair tissue to be used on historic laid paper is relatively straight-forward. Generally, you tear the  tissue after applying moisture using  a brush, water pen, ruling pen, damp cloth or other applicator with the goal  of getting nice long fibers that will blend into the surface of the paper.

Historic newspapers or other  papers with a smooth surface present a different problem. Rather than blending in, repair tissue with long fibers  may stand out. Cutting the repair strip with a scalpel is one solution, but the result is a very sharp edge that can still look jarring.

In preparation for an upcoming exhibit celebrating the Emancipation Proclamation, I  repaired several newspapers and documents with poor quality paper from the 1860’s. I experimented with various techniques for preparing the repair tissue: tearing along a wet line drawn with a water pen, tearing along a wet line and then trimming the “feathers” with scissors, using a sanding block, and cutting with a scalpel.





Deciding on which repair tissue to use can also call for some judgment. I like to use thin Usu Mino tissue from Hiromi to reinforce folds, edges and tears. It may look somewhat white—especially next to acidic papers–but often blends in surprisingly well.

Occasionally I use tan CK Color Kozo, also from Hiromi, for losses or for reinforcing weak edges on light-damaged papers. Yet while it is similar in tone to the newspapers, it  looked too dark when used for reinforcing fragile corners and folds. For these materials, Usu Mino was less noticeable.

For example, on the page below,  the corner on the left was reinforced using tan CK Color Kozo. Although the color of the tissue is close to the color of the paper, it looks too dark when pasted over the corner.






The bottom edge on the page below was  also reinforced with a torn strip of tan CK Color Kozo. It stands out more than I am comfortable with, and the long fibers give it a somewhat untidy appearance.










Here is the same page repaired with a strip of thin Usu Mino that’s been torn and then trimmed.










Here is another view of the page in the first photo. The tan CK Color Kozo has been removed and replaced with Usu Mino. In this case, I used a scalpel to cut the tissue for the corner repair. The tissue reinforcing the center fold was torn then trimmed.







The top edge of the newspaper below was  reinforced from the back with thin Usu Mino, but still looks fragile.










Tan CK Color Kozo was used to fill in losses, and while it doesn’t match exactly it gives the piece a more finished look and strengthens the top edge. In this instance the repair tissue was torn using a water pen.


Wardrobes and Rabbit Holes

by Michele Brown

A new exhibit: “Wardrobes and Rabbit Holes: a Dark History of Children’s Literature”   just opened in the Hirshland Exhibition Gallery in the Kroch Library at Cornell University. Utilizing Cornell’s rich rare book and manuscript collections, the exhibit explores  many themes in children’s literature.

The Division of Rare and Manuscripts Collections installs at least two major exhibits each year, and Cornell Library Conservation works closely with them to make sure the materials are displayed safely and look their best. Each exhibit takes many hours and fine coordination between several departments.

First, curators select and evaluate the materials for the exhibit. Eisha Neely (left) and Freddie  Loew discuss potential candidates.


These are then examined by conservators from the conservation unit. Michele Hamill will evaluate and, if necessary treat, flat paper and photos, whereas Michele Brown will treat books and other items, including broken game boxes.







The exhibit coordinator, in this case Eisha, decides on the color theme for the exhibit. The supports for all of the materials are made from high quality board by Pat Fox, Assistant Book Conservator,  who also advises the coordinator on the amounts of board needed for the supports.





















Rhea Garen , from the Digital Media Group, scans each item in the display.






The finished exhibit looks great! The materials are safe and supported. You can view the exhibit online.