Internship Report: Month 1, Part 2, now with more coffee!

During my on-site interview, back when there was over 2 feet of snow on the ground in Syracuse, Peter mentioned the latest Bonefolder Bind-O-Rama. Titled “Artistically Reversible: Where Conservation and Art Meet”, this Bind-O-Rama challenges its participants to demonstrate their ability to merge both the art of the book and conservation. I was immediately intrigued, really wanted to participate, but I couldn’t for the life of me think of something to do for it. Mostly, my problem was finding the right book for the project. Flash forward to sometime in mid-July, when David gifted me with a beat-to-hell (c.a. 1713) copy of 16th century Lutheran theologian Johann Habermann’s “Christliche Gebett für allerley Not und Stende der gantzen Christenheit”, which is a book of prayers for all times of the day. This book had so much repair sewing it looked like it was a Coptic binding. Now, I’m not going to go too much into the details of this project in this post, since I’m saving it for a post of its own. But I’ll throw in the before-photos, so you can see what I mean.

Repair sewing

Anyway, while I was pondering over what I was going to do with that book, I was helping out with some publisher’s binding recasings that David was working on. One of my favorite parts of helping with this process was doing some toning/in-painting on the repair tissue that David had applied to the frayed/torn head-caps. I love color-matching/toning/in-painting more than is probably healthy for a young conservator. It’s hard to accurately portray my color-matching/toning in photographs, since the choice of lighting can make it look at lot worse (or better) than it actually is. So, here are two photographs of the same thing, just one was taken with the flash and the other without the camera flash.


Fun fact, there’s a word for that exact phenomena: metamerism!

Doing these re-cases also sparked an interesting set of conversations regarding the concept of reversibility as it applies to conservation treatments. At Syracuse, we sometimes put in the new spine stiffener for an original case using PVA, which is not exactly water-soluble. This was contrary to what I had been taught in school, which was to use paste as much as possible when gluing anything to the original material. However, the use of PVA in these instances (and it’s not ALL instances, only when the paste has the potential to damage the original bookcloth via the transference of moisture) is justified because the reversal method (water) for paste has more potential for damage than that of PVA (mechanical methods such as scraping it away). We also talked about the challenge of using paste on leather, as any introduction of moisture to leather has the potential to permanently blacken the leather. In some cases (maybe that pun was intended, maybe it wasn’t…) it is acceptable to use PVA to adhere new (or old) material to the original leather of a book. However, we try as much as possible to only use paste for mends or the first layer of new spine linings. However, in some instances, the perfect reversibility of an adhesive isn’t as important as it’s ability to do the job well. The topic of reversibility is somewhat of a controversial topic among conservators, and I imagine that a few of you may be gasping in sheer horror (as I almost did when I first saw PVA being used to attach repair materials to the original cloth of a publisher’s binding) at what I just wrote. However, please do not run me out of AIC next year with torches and pitchforks – I’ve only given a brief overview of what we discussed re: reversibility, because it’s quite a complicated subject and I didn’t want to get bogged down going into all the details just now. But please be assured that we are not leaping about the lab, mindlessly flinging about a brush full of PVA and permanently gluing things to other things with abandon. However, I’d love to continue exploring the topic of reversibility vs. treatment effectiveness vs. ethics vs. whatever else, so please feel free to comment!

By the end of July, I also realized that I’d become addicted to coffee again. Oops.

And that rounds out most of what I can remember about my first month as an intern at Syracuse University Library!

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2 thoughts on “Internship Report: Month 1, Part 2, now with more coffee!

  1. Thanks for the updates. It sounds like a fabulous internship. (I learned the molded paper spine during my time with Eric Alstrom, although I wish I had done it several times over to really get the feel for it.)
    Reversibility is one of those wonderfully endless topics that will forever be debated and discussed. As for me, I side with Paul Banks and one of his laws of preservation “No treatment is reversible.” (That’s not a license to do bad work, only an acknowledgement that no treatment can be truly undone.)

  2. Hi, I have seen your pics on fickr and this a wonderful rerpair work, I am wondering what material is it on the spine and the “endpapers” . It looks like simple, real plastik, but that could not be. I have a familie bible in the wait loop and I like this material maybe I find it here in Germany and can use it for the repair. Best wishes Klaus von Mirbach

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