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Anthropodermic Bibliopegy, aka Human Skin Bindings

In 2016, the lab was asked to sample the leather of not one, but TWO bindings for a national survey confirming the existence of these anthropodermic curiosities.

What is anthropodermic bibliopegy?  Anthro is a prefix meaning human, podermic is a suffix referring to skin, and bibliopegy is the art of binding books. The practice of binding books in human skin began in the 18th century for reasons foreign in our contemporary American culture today.

Before the digital age, family members found unique ways to remember their loved ones.  Beyond painted portraits, women commonly saved lockets of hair and integrated braided strands into unique and personalized jewelry.  In the early days of photography, family portraits were an expensive and rare endeavor for most families, as a result, post mortem photography became a common practice during the Victorian era.  It’s possible that a post mortem photograph may be the only image a family would ever own of that person!

Likewise, not all anthropodermic books stem from a gory past such as tales told of procuring human corpses for the sake of science.  Surprisingly, there are a handful of libraries around the country that claim to have a book or two within their collections with a direct connection to a historic figure, by being bound in human leather.

As part of the Anthropodermic Book Project, two Cincinnati anthropodermic books, one owned by the University of Cincinnati and another owned by the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County have been recently identified as bound in human skin.

Interestingly, both bindings contain 18th century works by Phillis Wheatley – one of the earliest African American writers.Both books appear to be bound by the same binder showing similar gold tooling along the spine, but with one major difference.  The UC binding is a half leather binding, covered in parchment boards while the PLCH boards are covered in full leather.  The source of the human skin – we do not know.

     

Public library copy on the left is covered in full leather.  The UC copy on the right is covered in half leather with parchment covered boards.  Both contain the title tooled in gold on the spine.

Documentation of the PLCH copy shows the Phillis Wheatley poems were presented to the Director of the Public Library in 1958, Ernest Miller, by the General Manager of Acres of Books, Bert Smith.  Smith refers to, “two copies” of this title which he was able to obtain (the other copy owned by UC).  At the bottom of the correspondence, Smith notes that the particular copy is “referred to in paragraph three, page seventy eight, of Walter Hart Blumenthal’s Bookman’s Bedlam…”

In 2016, samples taken from the books by the lab conservator were sent to scientists to confirm the source of the covering materials.  Peptide Mass Fingerprinting (PMF) analysis concluded that there were three species involved with the bindings: human, cattle, and sheep.  All leather showed positive results for human, the parchment for sheep, and traces of cattle – most likely present as an adhesive.

Books such as these remind us that in the 18th and 19th century, the human experience of death was much different than we experience today.  While today we tend to think of death from a more sterile and distant vantage point, the experience was much more personal in the past.  Books bound in human skin would not have had held the same macabre connotations as they do today.

Further reading:

Poetry Month and ARB-Phillis Wheatley's Poetry

http://www.newsrecord.org/for_the_record/rare-books-library-home-to-skin-bound-book/article_5591898a-3be4-11e3-a399-001a4bcf6878.html

Ashleigh Schieszer — Conservator (PLCH)

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

 

NEW! Preservation Lab Channel on UCL MediaSpace

The Preservation Lab now has its own channel on the UC Libraries MediaSpace, a YouTube-like media platform powered by Kaltura!  You can find the Lab’s channel, here.

We currently have 8 videos on the MediaSpace, most of which relate to RTI.  But I recently created this fun little time-lapse video of sewing conservation endbands on a Classics collection item.  (If you enjoy twangy bluegrass music, then make sure to turn your volume up!)

Stay tuned for future videos from the Lab!

Jessica Ebert (UCL) – Conservation Technician

The Codex Symposium

On August 4th, the Ohio Preservation Council hosted a full day symposium in celebration of the book, The Codex: History, Art, and Practice.  The lab shut down for the day so that staff could attend this great event.

Keynote speaker, Julia Miller

Panelists James Reid-Cunningham, Macy Chadwick, and Bonnie Mak discuss the idea of a post-codex at the Jessing Center in Columbus.

Panelists James Reid-Cunningham, Macy Chadwick, and Bonnie Mak discuss the idea of a post-codex, with moderator Ed Vermue.

Julia Miller shows off historical examples of various codices.

Kyle Holland from the Morgan Art of Papermaking Conservatory and Educational Foundation discusses his project that’s been years in the making.

Symposium attendees admire Kyle’s finished product.

Carrie Phillips, archives and special collections librarian from Bluffton University, shares one of the most significant codices to be produced in pre-revolutionary America.

Attendees peruse vendor goods during one of the breaks.

Attendees peruse vendor goods during one of the breaks.

Conservators Jayme Jamison and Ashleigh Ferguson Schieszer discuss two Ohio Public Library conservation treatments performed on scrapbooks significant to the collection/the community.

Many thanks to all the wonderful guest speakers, exhibitors, and fellow Ohio Preservation Council members for a wonderful day dedicated to celebrating the history of the book!

Ashleigh Schieszer (PLCH) – Book & Paper Conservator

Jessica Ebert (UCL) – Conservation Technician

Basement Finds

We follow that old rule of conservation labs always being in the basement (though we do have a window!).  Well, technically we’re not actually in the basement.  While our lab space was originally storage space when the library was built, there is actually another storage space below us, i.e. the real basement.  Or, more accurately, the deep, dark void full of stuff…random chairs, pieces of shelving units, leftover carpet tiles, etc.  Recently we heard a lot of activity going on down there and when Holly made a little trip down to check out our PackTite she found the space completely different.  Dare I say, verging on organized.  And front and center was this little gem with a thick layer of dust on it…

A little letterpress printing press!

Needless to say, Holly scooped that puppy up and whisked it away to the lab (and then promptly called our facilities manager to make sure that was ok)!  We have every intention of fixing this beauty up and doing some very fun and exciting things with it in the future.  So stay tuned!

Jessica Ebert (UCL) – Conservation Technician

The Codex: A Symposium August 4th 2017 in Columbus, OH

The Ohio Preservation Council and the State Library of Ohio are pleased to offer a full day symposium in celebration of the book.  This symposium will highlight the history and art of the book with panel discussions, concurrent talks, and hands-on learning.

Keynote speaker, Julia Miller, will discuss various topics including the urgency of historical book description and why conservation and preservation is everyone’s responsibility.

Book Artist, Macy Chadwick, Assistant Professor in Medieval Studies, Bonnie Mak, and Book Conservator Jim Reid Cunningham will speak about the future of the Codex in a post codex panel.

A curated set of breakout sessions will further the registrant’s knowledge and appreciation of the codex in a number of creative and historic applications.  These sessions include a presentation by Kyle Holland from the Morgan Paper Conservatory, a dramatic history presented about the 1748 Ephrata Martyrs Mirror by Carrie Phillips, a discussion about the conservation and preservation of scrapbooks by conservators Jayme Jamison and Ashleigh Ferguson Schieszer, and a session with Julia Miller who will present her collection of bookbindings.

Additionally, attendees will have an opportunity to purchase one of a kind materials from local craftspeople, bookbinders and artisans at the exhibitor hall(way).

Located at:

The Jessing Center

7625 N High St, Columbus, OH 43235

Please visit the Ohio Preservation Council’s News and Events for registration and symposium information.  See also: http://opc.ohionet.org/opcjoomla/news-and-events/.

Fun with PhotoDoc – RTI Viewer Video (Edition 6)

In my last “Fun with PhotoDoc” post I discussed the my recent RTI training with Cultural Heritage Imaging at Yale University.  If you missed that post you can check it out here.  In that post I discussed our first RTI capture session on a book entitled, Aller Bücher und Schrifften des thewren, seligen Mans Gottes Doct. Mart. Lutheri …, which is part UC’s Archives & Rare Books Library’s collection and is the eighth volume in an eight volume set.   The binding is most likely age-hardened alum-tawed leather (though possibly vellum) on wooden boards with embossed paneled decoration that is barely visible under normal illumination.  In that first RTI blog post I shared some snapshots of the various RTI modes you can explore within the RTI Viewer software, but I knew that I ultimately wanted to create a video capture of the RTI Viewer in action.  I was finally able to do that using a free software called TinyTake.

This video can also be viewed through UCL Media Space:  https://stream.libraries.uc.edu/media/AllerBucherUndSchrifften_i17632730_VideoCaptureRTI/1_s13c9opc

In this video we explore the following modes built within the RTI Viewer as the light position is moved around the object:

  • Default Mode (HSH)
  • Specular Enhancement Mode with color removed (HSH) – notice the “1571” inscription that becomes more apparent.  This volume was printed in 1568, and we believe that 1571 was when the publication was bound.
  • Normals Visualization Mode (HSH) – allows the human eye to better determine is convex and concave on the surface of the cover.
  • Diffuse Gain Mode (PTM) – This mode is ideal for visualizing surface abrasions and losses. Take notice of the “ID” inscription that becomes more visible, and when we switch back to the default mode you can see that this “ID” inscription is virtually invisible to the naked eye.

I have to say, Catarina and I really enjoyed the capture process for this binding, but when we found that “ID” and then looked at the physical binding and could barely see anything…we were kind of giddy!  I’m hoping to create more RTI Viewer video captures like this as we carry out more RTI capture sessions for collection materials.  When I do, I will make sure to share them here.

Jessica Ebert (UCL) – Conservation Technician

Fun with PhotoDoc – RTI (Edition 5)

At the beginning of April I was lucky enough to attend a RTI (Reflectance Transformation Imaging) workshop offered by Cultural Heritage Imaging (CHI) at Yale University.  CHI is a non-profit organization  that shares and teaches RTI and Photogrammetry technology with cultural heritage institutions around the world.  The class I attended was a 4-day NEH grant sponsored course taught by three RTI experts from CHI, and it was amazing!

This is a composite image of all the highlight points from one RTI section. The software uses these highlight points to map the surface shape and color of your object.

So, what is RTI?  CHI describes it on their website as “a computational photographic method that captures a subject’s surface shape and color and enables the interactive re-lighting of the subject from any direction”.  For highlight RTI, which is the least expensive and most accessible method for most institutions and what I was taught in the class, you basically take a series of 36 to 48 images of an object where everything is constant (settings and position of objects, camera and spheres) except for the light position.  With a reflective black sphere (or 2) set up next to your object, you move you light source around the object at varying angles.  Then, you take that set of images and plug them into the free RTI software provided by CHI and the algorithm detects the sphere(s) and the highlight points (from your light) captured on the sphere(s) and voila!…you have an fun and interactive way to look at your object’s surface texture.

Before I attended this fantastic training opportunity, our conservator and I knew right away what the subject of our first capture would be when I returned…a 16th century German Reformation text by Martin Luther with a highly decorated cover that is practically invisible under normal illumination.

Here’s a time lapse video of our first (and second) capture in the Lab…

That day (Tuesday) were were able to capture the upper and lower covers of the Reformation text (from ARB), the original silk cover from a 17th century Chinese manuscript (from Hebrew Union College) and an illuminated page from a German vellum prayer book (from PLCH).  And here our some snapshots of our results from two of those captures (click on the thumbnails for a larger view of the image)…

This possibly 13th century German Prayer Book has a full stiff vellum binding and an illuminated first page.  The varying modes highlight condition issues like worn/abraded parchment and flaking gold illumination, as well as the overall surface texture of the illumination.

I hope you’ve enjoyed getting a little sneak peek into RTI.  I will be demoing and discussing in further depth this afternoon from 1:30 to 3pm at the Lab’s annual Preservation Week Open House.  I also hope to do more RTI captures/processes in the future and share them here.

Jessica Ebert (UCL) – Conservation Technician

Fun with PhotoDoc – Edition 2

I’m back for another edition of “Fun with PhotoDoc”.  If you missed the first edition you can check it out here.  Originally I had planned for that to be a one-off post, but then I thought it might be fun to make this into more of a series, sharing interesting facets of photographic documentation (aka PhotoDoc) as they come up.  Really, it just gives me an excuse to share all the things about PhotoDoc that I think are just plain cool and to make gifs out of treatment documentation photos, which is so much fun!

This time around I wanted to share some interesting before treatment photos of two War Bond posters from the Public Library of Cincinnati & Hamilton County’s collection.  For both of these I photographed the posters using normal illumination and then used raking illumination to highlight tears, cockling and bends/breaks in the paper.

With this War Bond poster the raking illumination really shows off that large tear that extends from the center to the bottom of the poster. And while the normal illumination allows for better visibility of the water damage in the bottom left hand corner, raking light better highlights the resulting cockling and distortion of the paper in that area.

With this War Bond poster the raking illumination really shows off that large tear that extends from the center to the bottom of the poster. Under normal illumination this substantial tear gets lost in the pattern of the female subject’s dress. Also, while the normal illumination allows for better visibility of the water damage in the bottom left hand corner, raking light better highlights the resulting cockling and distortion of the paper in that area.

For this poster, raking light really highlights all the undulations and cockling that have been caused by the poster being partially adhered to a piece of board. You can also more clearly see the fairly large tear located under the word "Hun".

For this poster, raking light really highlights all the undulations and cockling that have been caused by the poster being partially adhered to a piece of board. You can also more clearly see the fairly large tear located under the word “Hun” under raking illumination versus under normal illumination.

Jessica Ebert (UCL) – Conservation Technician