Monthly Archives: October 2017

A Tale of a Preservation Horror: The Mystery of William Howard Taft’s Oozing Head…

Photo Credit: http://libapps.libraries.uc.edu/sites/lookingeast/taft-and-uc/

William Howard Taft’s family has strong historical connections to both the city of Cincinnati, and the University.  Taft served Cincinnati both as a federal circuit judge and as Dean of the Cincinnati College (the forerunner of The University of Cincinnati).  In honor of Taft’s contributions merging the UC law department with Cincinnati College in 1896, a statue was erected in front of the Law building in 1992.

And now, for Halloween, William has made it across campus to the Preservation Lab.  And this surprise has taken a gruesome turn.  A maquette of Will’s head from the Archives and Rare Books Library collection is aging poorly and in need of treatment and preservation storage.  In preparation for bronze casting, Will’s head was sculpted by an artist out of a moldable putty and mounted to a metal rod.  It is where the two materials meet that the preservation horrors arise!

A reddish-orange, oily slime is oozing from the interior of the putty down to where the rod stand is secured into a wooden base.

Preliminary research indicates the head is sculpted from a material commonly referred to as plastiline, Apoxie or Milliput.  Recipes of putties such as these are vast, but generally contain a filler, a wax, and an oily component such as castor oil or petroleum jelly.  Fillers might include clay, starch, talcum or even sulfur depending on the proprietary or homemade concoction.  By the 1990’s the negative effects of using sulfur would have been known, so it’s possible that the putty is sulfur-free; however, the possibility should not be discounted.  According to plastiline research by Gerhard Eggert, located on the Museum of Fine Arts CAMEO website, putties containing sulfur were preferred by artists for their superior sculpting properties.  Another likely alternative is that the putty is suffering from its own inherent vice.  In other words, the weeping could be due to the putty’s unstable chemical composition that is leading to its own demise… not to mention off-gassing that might be corroding the metal below!

While the specific type of metal that the head is mounted on is currently a mystery, we do know it is ferrous.  Using a magnet, I discovered the metal rod contains a magnetic pull, indicating it is at least partially comprised of iron.

Despite this research, there is one pressing questions left to answer:

Is the weeping due to an inherent vice of the putty alone… or is oozing liquid created by a unique chemical reaction resulting from contact between the putty and the metal rod? 

The answer to this question will help us to determine whether a barrier between the two materials might help prevent weeping in the future.

In order create a more informed treatment proposal, more research and analytical testing will need to be conducted in order to better understand what is leading to this mysterious preservation horror.  Since this project ranges out of scope for the Preservation Lab, the expertise of an Objects Conservator will be sought!

Happy Halloween!

Photograph Filter by Jessica Ebert

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ashleigh Schieszer (PLCH) – Book & Paper Conservator

Resources and Further Research:

http://magazine.uc.edu/issues/0413/taft_influence.html

http://libapps.libraries.uc.edu/sites/lookingeast/taft-and-uc/

https://sites.google.com/site/ucwalks/points-of-interest/william-howard-taft

http://cameo.mfa.org/images/c/c8/Download_file_542.pdf

http://resources.conservation-us.org/wp-content/uploads/sites/8/2015/02/osg019-05.pdf

http://resources.conservation-us.org/wp-content/uploads/sites/8/2015/03/osg020-01.pdf

http://americanhistory.si.edu/blog/2011/06/what-do-julia-childs-spatulas-say-about-preservation.html

Slipcase Race

One of the Lab’s big projects recently has been to help the University of Cincinnati’s Classics Library with preparations for a move of a large section of their collection’s rare books. Moves like this are a great opportunity to assess the condition of a collection, and to provide enclosures for more vulnerable materials so they are protected in transit and beyond. In this particular case the Librarian also requested the lab maintain visibility of the original books as much as possible.

There are quite a few vellum books in the Classics Library collection. Vellum bindings are generally pretty sturdy, but may become brittle over time. They can also expand and contract quite a bit more than other types of bindings, depending on the relative humidity where they are stored. The Image Permanence Institute at the Rochester Institute of Technology has a fun time-lapse video demonstrating this effect – the book looks as if it’s haunted! Given time this expansion and contraction can cause distortion.

Hard-sided slipcases do make it possible to protect most of a book while keeping its spine decoration and information visible, but they are not generally a preservation go-to. They can abrade the edges and covers when pulling the book in and out, and they don’t usually hold up over time because it can be difficult to insert fingers around the book to pull it out if the case is tight, resulting in a broken box or, alternatively, damaged endcaps.

A soft-sided slipcase can work well for vellum-bound books. The vellum is smooth, so abrasion is not a concern. The flexible sides give a little when reaching fingers in to remove a book, so the box won’t eventually fail and there is no need to grab the book from its endcap, damaging it. The cloth allows the book to breathe and flex somewhat, while at the same time preventing it from expanding too far at the fore edge, and squeezing its neighbors.

With a deadline looming we needed to figure out a way to produce soft-sided slipcases quickly and easily. Our solution was to create a template in an Excel spreadsheet, allowing us to simply plug in the book’s measurements and know exactly what size to cut the cloth and where the creases need to be, without needing to have the book handy.

We measured several books where they were, then took the measurements back to the Lab, where we used the spreadsheet to make a handful of slipcases. I was holding my breath when the time came to unite them with their books. Much to my relief  they fit perfectly!

Check out this picture showing 4 vellum books – the one on the left was already housed in a hard-sided, cloth-covered, board slipcase, while the 3 on the right are in the brand new soft-sided cloth slipcases. The books are protected, but the spines are still visible. Win, win.

Now that we know it works it’s time to go ahead and make the rest of them!

We’d like to share the Excel spreadsheet used to create these slipcases – Soft-Sided_Slipcase_template.  Try it out and let us know what you think!

Veronica Sorcher (PLCH) – Conservation Technician