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TSLAC Conservation recently worked on a remarkable volume called the Revised Statutes of the State of Texas, 1879. While most of TSLAC’s state House and Senate publications share the same format – legal-style print publications bound in brown sheepskin leather with one red and one black spine label – this volume had an unusual, custom cover label that indicated something special.

Binding with label “Senate Bill No. 54”

The custom label on the volume’s front cover says “Senate Bill No. 54”

Inside is the text of an omnibus bill, plus a surprise – extra, tipped-in sheets throughout the volume that feature hand-written annotations and revisions. The additional sheets are either unnumbered or hand-numbered to match the neighboring, printed pages, which are often correspondingly marked with edits.

Printed text and corresponding manuscript edits.

Manuscript edits on the left page correspond with the crossed-out text at the top of the right page.

Manuscript signatures are present throughout the volume, indicating approval of the proposed textual changes by relevant authors and staff. A final sheet near the end of the volume features signatures of Senate President Joseph D. Sayers, Speaker of the House John H. Cochran, Secretary of State John D. Templeton, and Governor Oran M. Roberts, among others.

Manuscript leaf with signatures.

Signatures shown: Wm. A. Fields, 1st Asst., Secretary of Senate; Will Lambert, Chief Clerk, House of Representatives; O.M. Roberts, Governor.

Treatment for this volume focused primarily on reattaching the back board, or cover. Additionally, two manuscript leaves were found to be attached with brads instead of tipped in with glue. Typical preservation strategy would be to remove these brads. However, inspection revealed that the brads are not rusting or tearing the paper. Given current archival storage conditions and the item’s non-circulating status, the brads were left in place as part of this volume’s one-of-a-kind structure and as evidence of its authors’ working methods.

This unusual hybrid print/manuscript volume captures legislation as a work in progress. Additionally, it has now become an autograph album of 19th century Texas politics.

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In preparation for our exhibit, “Texas Moves Toward Statehood: Stories Behind the Mural,” TSLAC Conservation conducted treatment on a small notebook belonging to German immigrant and Fredericksburg founder John O. Meusebach.  This notebook is displayed along with several other Meusebach artifacts, including his famous 1847 Comanche peace treaty.

Meusebach notebook before treatment

Meusebach notebook before treatment

Meusebach’s notebook, just 5 ½ x 3 ¾ x ½ inches, features leather-trimmed, shaped wooden boards with a gold-tooled leather spine piece.  Boards are hand-illustrated with German verse and drawings relevant to Texas.  Gold-tooled leather loops at the boards’ front edge hold a small pencil; when the pencil is inserted, the volume is fastened shut.  Inside, the boards are lined with cream-colored silk.  Silk pockets inside each board are further lined with bright, turquoise-colored paper.  The notebook itself is separate from the boards, sewn into a flexible cover of cream-colored silk, turquoise paper, and gold foil decorative strips.

Meusebach notebook components: case (boards), notebook, and stylus (pencil.)

Meusebach notebook components: case (boards), notebook, and stylus (pencil.)

The outer case had been previously repaired with pressure-sensitive tape along the inside and outside of its spine, with tape adhered to both leather and silk.  During treatment, tape and adhesive were mechanically removed from the leather, revealing losses in the spine and the full detachment of the front board.  Tape removal from the degraded silk was more problematic, especially because much of the silk was baggy and loose across the spine region.  Working with a heated spatula allowed partial success.  Toned Japanese tissue was then adhered to support and fill the remaining silk.

Tape removal

Tape removal

The next step was to reattach the front board and fill the revealed spine losses with toned tissue.  This step required some testing and adjustment of tissue placement and adhesives, since the small, ornately decorated notebook allowed very small adhesive surfaces.

Notebook after treatment

Notebook after treatment

You can see the resulting notebook on display in “Texas Moves Toward Statehood: Stories Behind the Mural.”  The Texas State Library and Archives is now open on the second Saturday of every month from 9 AM to 4 PM.

 

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Surprise Spine Lining

A book’s spine is often held together by some combination of sewing, glue, and linings of textile, leather, or paper.  Usually, paper linings are made of solid-colored, text-weight paper.  Occasionally, a surprising paper lining can shed light on the fast-paced, sometimes improvised nature of bindery work.

The Index to the Executive Documents of the Senate, 1859-60 presented a surprise when it came to the conservation lab.  Opening the spine region for treatment revealed a bucolic scene:

Spine lining with lithograph image

Printed image caption text: “Short horned Cow Fidelle, and Calf, bred by Thomas Robinson, Esq., of Burton on Trent, 1848. W.H Davis Pinxt. T. Sinclair Philada.”

The paper lining seen here supports both the book’s spine and the back of its spine covering in a common structure known as a hollow tube.  Though binderies typically stocked raw materials for their work, recycling was not unfamiliar, especially when circumstances, resources, or economy dictated its application.  This lining, then, is likely a piece of binder’s scrap – unremarkable in its day, but more notable to discover 150 years later.   The lithographic image looks similar to those from 19th century popular illustrated magazines, such as Harper’s Weekly.

This charming image must be covered once again in the course of conservation treatment for this book.  However, our lab database allows a photograph of the paper lining to be attached to the book’s treatment documentation.  In this way, the conservation process can return the book to working condition and document its hidden surprise along the way.

 

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A unique item came to the lab for treatment in April: The Journal of the First Session of the Senate of the United States of America, 1789.   Though federal documents are not uncommon in our collection, this book stands out for its age and historical significance.  The Senate’s first item of business is of special note:

Senate Journal 1789

“Whereby it appears, that GEORGE WASHINGTON, ESQ. Was unanimously elected PRESIDENT, – And JOHN ADAMS, ESQ. Was duly elected VICE PRESIDENT, OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA.”

This book had a common condition problem.  Its hinges were broken where they had been repeatedly flexed with use.  Rather than apply repair tissue over the top of the hinge, as is a common, quick working method, a more delicate approach was chosen.  The leather that covered the spine and boards was carefully lifted and repair tissue was adhered underneath.  This created a mend that was less visually intrusive.  A drop-spine box was also created.  This type of box is typical of special collections materials and helps signify the item’s stature to users.

Since much of TSLAC’s conservation work focuses on 19th century Texas materials, this early American item was a surprise and a treat.

Senate Journal 1789

The Senate Journal of 1789 and its drop-spine box, after treatment.

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Several items are in the lab this month in preparation for TSLAC’s Civil War exhibit this fall.  At many institutions, exhibit materials compose their own workflow for conservation.  This month’s items represent the strengthening integration of conservation with our growing exhibits program here at TSLAC.

Conservation work for exhibit usually combines item stabilization with aesthetic improvements and display planning.  The goal is to have the item looking its best and displayed in a non-damaging way.  Just what kind of work might this generate?  I’m glad you asked!

Military Board Blotter

Military Board Blotter for exhibit, before treatment.

The loose paper covering on this 1860s military board blotter will be re-adhered to decrease the risk of further tearing and to improve the volume’s aesthetics.  The paper tabs at the book’s head contain significant information; rather than being removed, they will be tucked down into the volume.  Most importantly, the book’s opening will be chosen from among the pages most relevant to the exhibit, with preservation in mind.  The selected opening will create as little stress on the binding as possible over several months of display.  The book will also be fitted with a cradle to further minimize stress at that opening.

Harper's Weekly Engraving

Harper’s Weekly hand-colored engraving of the Battle of Galveston for exhibit, before treatment.

This 1863 hand-colored engraving from Harper’s Weekly illustrates both the Battle of Galveston and the effects of tape repairs.  Treatment will attempt to reduce the staining left behind by this previously applied tape.  Stain reduction is a case-by-case effort dependent upon many unknown variables, such as the materials in the paper, the materials in the tape’s adhesive, and how those materials have aged and interacted in varying conditions over time.  Here, the age and condition of these stains may limit the treatment’s effectiveness; the tape’s plastic carrier and adhesive are long gone, leaving the stain to set for many years.  Special care will also be taken not to disturb the hand-coloring with solvents.

Regimental Return

Regimental Return for exhibit, before treatment.

Several items, such as this 1862 regimental return document, simply require flattening and basic mends.  This will improve exhibit appearance and also stabilize the documents to guard against further damage during handling and storage.  There are many items in this condition at TSLAC and other libraries and archives.  For them, exhibit serves as an additional selection method to bring them into the lab.

You can see these items and others on display in TSLAC’s lobby starting September 24.   Also unique to this exhibit will be a display devoted just to conservation – stay tuned for more.

 

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When discussing conservation, it’s easy to lavish attention on flashy, full treatments that bring tattered items back from the grave.  A far greater number of treatments, however, simply aim for basic stabilization.  Oftentimes, restricted time and resources drive treatment compromises focused on just the most urgent needs.  Several examples are in the lab this month.

Item 1: Personnel of the Texas State Government from 1892 has serious condition issues.  Both boards are detached and the spine covering is missing.  The spine lining and the sewing have failed.  Worse, the paper is brittle and torn at its exposed edges and along the spine.  Many leaves are detached, and the book has been stored in a repurposed box that doesn’t fit well.  

item before treatment

Personnel of the Texas State Government, 1892, before treatment

Full treatment: Extensive paper mending would be required, especially in the spine region, which must be strong enough to support sewing.  The book would be re-sewn and re-lined, the boards would be re-attached, and a new spine covering would be created to match the boards.  This treatment might absorb half of the contributing department’s allotted conservation time for the month, with many other needy items in the queue.

Actual treatment: The most immediate concern is that paper fragments break and scatter every time this book is opened.  Accordingly, approximately 25 of the most damaged and vulnerable leaves will be mended.  A new box that fits the book will reduce shifting and resulting breakage.  This treatment will take just a few hours and does not preclude more extensive work in the future.

Items 2 and 3: The Climactic Conditions of Texas, also from 1892, is a relatively rare item existing in two copies here at TSLAC.  Both items have been side-sewn, a sewing style that requires the paper to be extremely flexible.  Unfortunately, this paper is brittle and acidic, and has broken where stressed.  Additionally, both copies are bound in improvised cases made of office supplies and other low-quality materials.

items before treatment

Climactic Conditions of Texas, 1892, two copies, before treatment

Full treatment: Both items would need to be disbound and re-sewn in a style that better distributes the book’s flexing action between the paper and the sewing.  Paper would be mended along its broken flex lines.  The spines would be lined, and new cases would be built from acid-free materials in a style aesthetically sympathetic to bindings of the late 19th century.  This treatment would take slightly more than half of the contributing department’s monthly conservation time, leaving many other items waiting for attention.

Actual treatment: Having multiple copies can broaden treatment options.  In this case, the full treatment will be pursued for Copy 2, which is in better condition and requires less paper mending.  Copy 1 will have approximately 15 of the most damaged pages mended, and will be fitted with a box to minimize future damage.  Rare items like this often warrant fuller treatments.  Here, we will also have a stabilized backup copy that could be more fully treated in the future if needed.

Factors like condition, rarity, use, and available resources combine to determine responsible conservation decisions.  In these examples, choosing stabilization treatments left time to treat other needy items.  In this way, conservation can focus deeply on single item treatment or more broadly on collections care.

Three books for treatment.

These three books will be treated with the time saved by choosing stabilization in the examples above.

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I recently completed a condition report on an extensively fire- and water-damaged book believed to be a diary of the legendary Gulf Coast pirate Jean Lafitte.  There are many layers of complexity to this item, whose authenticity has long been questioned.  Its condition is poor; its maker’s identity is unclear; it has unexplained structural features that could indicate alteration; and its subject was himself a near-mythical figure whose life story is difficult to pin down.  Discussing this item in full is beyond the scope of a single blog entry; it was nearly beyond the scope of a lengthy condition report!  However, I would like to address one intriguing issue that demonstrates how the information in books goes beyond the written word and into the physical artifact.

Lafitte Diary

The Lafitte Diary is a puzzling artifact with extensive physical damage.

First, to dispel the romantic notions that inevitably arise regarding a pirate diary, physical evidence suggests that this volume incurred much of its damage during a 1960s-era house fire, rather than a daring rescue from a sinking ship.  Water damage frequently accompanies fire damage due to efforts to extinguish the flames.  Tidelines and cockling typical of a water event appear throughout the volume.  However, a stranger phenomenon is observed in the writing, as the brownish-black ink shifts to unexpected purple and red colors.

Ink shift to purple

The ink shifts to purple.

 
Ink shifts to red.

The ink shifts to red.

As would be expected for this time period (1845 – 1850,) chemical tests confirm that the ink in this volume is iron gall.  However, iron gall ink does not typically display these color shifts, which indicate that some kind of water-soluble or pH-sensitive dye was added to the ink mixture.  I began to wonder if this added dye could help us address some of the item’s authenticity issues.

Feasible dyes for the time period might have included traditional, organic materials like brazilwood or cochineal.  But in 1856, a major change occurred in the dye industry: William Perkin invented mauve, the first synthetic chemical dye.  Aniline dyes like mauve were relatively easy to make in bulk, and they became extremely popular in the second half of the 19th century.

Mauve is a lavender color not entirely dissimilar from the color shifts observed in the ink in the Lafitte Diary.  If the Lafitte ink tested positive for aniline dye, then we could safely say that the ink was made after the dates attributed to the diary, which might help settle the authenticity debate once and for all.  But there’s a catch: after research and consultation with colleagues, I can’t identify a test for aniline dye!

Should any readers be familiar with such a test, please do pass it along!  And in the meantime, remember that books, as physical artifacts, carry significant information that goes beyond the written word, and that cannot be captured in a digital transfer.  Perhaps one day we’ll find the physical clue that helps us understand the true nature of the complicated Lafitte Diary.

Lafitte Diary

Who am I?

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