Rusty staples and red rot: a student conservator reports. Part 2

Sibel Ergener, of West Dean College, continues her guest blogpost on voluntary conservation work she undertook at the Library this summer.

The Library of the Society of Friends is a working library with researchers making heavy use of its collections. Over the years handling inevitably results in some wear and tear, including, in some cases, books with detached boards from extensive use. Despite the conservation programme funded by the BeFriend a Book scheme, not all of these books can immediately be repaired, so they are carefully secured with unbleached linen tape and re-shelved. I wanted to be able to help make as many of these volumes as possible fully functional in the short time I was at the Library, so my goal was to find books that needed less extensive repairs. With David Irwin, the project cataloguer, I went through a part of the stacks and picked out several books that could have their boards reattached using Japanese tissue hinges. Here are examples of some common damage.

The first book I worked on had both boards attached, but part of the hollow tearing away from the spine and a split forming down the spine.

It took a bit of messing around with how best to hold the book and hollow open enough, but I managed to get a piece of heavy Japanese tissue and wheat starch paste into the hollow to create a new spine lining and help prevent further cracking, keeping a bit of Bondina inside the hollow to prevent it from sticking to the hollow.

I then used the 12 gsm Japanese tissue to reattach the torn bit of the hollow, and reattached the hollow to the spine using the heavier weight Japanese tissue.

Some books were suffering from red rot, or acid deterioration. Red rot is caused by a variety of factors but is particularly related to changes in leather production in the 19th century, and is acerbated by environmental factors such as pollution. Since the Library has always been located in London, several of the books are at some stage of acid deterioration.

This book was almost unusable because of its red rot, which weakens leather and leaves powdery red residue wherever it touches. It was hard to handle without becoming covered in red powder. Both boards were also coming detached.

I consolidated the leather with Klucel G and then used tinted heavy Japanese tissue hinges to reattach the boards. Klucel G doesn’t fix red rot, but it does hold together damage and prevent the leather from deteriorating under the tissue repair or leaving powder residue on reader’s hands.

I used Klucel G to consolidate red rot and mechanical damage that I had to work around on several books at once.

These books all had one or both boards detached, but several also needed interior paper repair on tears, or had pages detached altogether, that I needed to complete before reattaching the boards.

This book had the flyleaf and first page detached.

I reattached them using lens tissue before reattaching the board.

When I finished with the paper repair, I tinted heavier Japanese tissue for board reattachment with burnt umber acrylic paint and reattached the boards. When the leather was in good enough condition, I lifted it and attached the repair underneath to make the repair more unobtrusive and also, since it is sandwiched between the board and leather, to hold it better.

In the end, the books were all returned to their shelves in much more stable and usable condition.

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6 Responses to Rusty staples and red rot: a student conservator reports. Part 2

  1. Alastair Reid says:

    Terrific work. Very interesting. I have a number of old Quaker books dating back to 1700 – I will now have to go on the hunt for red rot! Looks like a long retirement project for me. Any chance of a YouTube video on some of this or perhaps web links to where we can find out more about this?

    • Library of the Society of Friends says:

      Thank you! Interesting to hear about your collection of old Quaker books. The Library has produced a guide on “Caring for your books” to help librarians of local Quaker meetings. Anyone can download it from this webpage. No You Tube videos from us yet though…
      There are plenty of other resources on preservation for book owners online, including the following:
      • British Library Preservation Advisory Centre produces some excellent guidance on caring for books, including “Damaged books”, “Basic preservation”, “Cleaning books and documents”). Its Frequently Asked Questions are also very useful.
      Collections Link, the national collections management advisory service, has an online library of best practice guides and factsheets
      • Library of Congress Preparing, protecting, preserving your family treasures gives preservation advice for non-professionals, including some videos
      • The National Archives preservation advice web-pages include leaflets: Caring for your books, Caring for your prints, drawings and watercolours, Caring for your photographs
      • Canadian Conservation Institute, Preserving my heritage gives guidance for non-professionals on variety of materials including books, pictures and furnishings

  2. Jane Holmes says:

    Such an interesting report. Thank you so much for keeping this amazing resource usable.

  3. Pingback: Rusty staples and red rot: - Quaker Ranter

  4. Pingback: Rusty staples and red rot: - Quaker Ranter

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