1518 copy of Ovid
May 17, 2009 9:45 AM   Subscribe

The Ovid Collection was posted previously.
posted by homunculus at 9:46 AM on May 17, 2009

I did a museum internship last summer. On the third day, they took us down to the basement where they were washing medieval manuscripts. I think they had a 13th century Bible that they had dismantled, and were rinsing VERY CAREFULLY, page by page, in a highly diluted chemical bath. They also mentioned that one of the techniques for restoring books that are too fragile to open (compressed pages, water damage, etc) is to "relax" them by dipping the book in its entirety in a bath of water. It was intense.

Kids, don't try this at home!

(and thanks for posting!)
posted by puckish at 9:58 AM on May 17, 2009 [2 favorites]

I know very little about book conservation, but I'm curious as to the choice of materials. They've chosen to use modern adhesives (PVA), but use linen as the "thread". Do conservators ever use higher tensile strength line, like Spectra, which is a brand of polyethylene? I would think polyethylene would have an even lower risk of chemical reactivity than linen, which is surely a concern with long term preservation.

I think I have a bias here, as I use Spectra in a sewing awl for my own sewing projects.
posted by Tube at 12:41 PM on May 17, 2009

reminds me of the rare books room at the art institute of chicago...they took us on a tour when i was in school there...i remember them passing around a book on color by albrecht durer and being impressed by how brand-new it looked with its tooled pigskin cover, bright-white pages with crisp deckled edges and vibrant (hand) colored plates. i decided to put the m&m's down when i learned it was printed (and probably hand-colored) by the man himself in the late 1400's, but the librarian insisted, "no, go on, touch it...it's acid-free, it will last for-ev-er"
posted by sexyrobot at 12:59 PM on May 17, 2009

I was wondering, is there much call these days for careful digital scanning/photography of the pages of early printed books? I would think a rebinding would be a convenient time for this to be done.
posted by gubo at 1:07 PM on May 17, 2009

polyethylene doesn't last that long...i've seen samples from the 60's that are starting to fall apart...linen samples have survived since ancient egypt...linen is also particularly appropriate for old books since that's what a lot of the paper itself was made of (if not vellum). polyvinylacetate (PVA) is very similar to elmer's glue and is acid-neutral. though it hasn't stood the test of centuries (yet), it is often used in archival work because it is so reversible (removeable)...it will dissolve completely in alcohol, leaving no residue. a major aspect of doing conservation is fixing the 'conservation work' (i.e. 'ruining') done before you got there...
posted by sexyrobot at 2:02 PM on May 17, 2009

also, tensile strength isn't a huge concern as it just has to hold paper in place...
posted by sexyrobot at 2:23 PM on May 17, 2009

The danger in commenting on a Metamorphoses post is that you might accidental show some character flaw and start turning into some animal before you meow meow meow meow dammit.
posted by JHarris at 2:46 PM on May 17, 2009 [6 favorites]

The layout of this page, the materials used (including PVA, but not vellum), and topic remind me of my own little book-related project webpage: printing and binding the Java Language Specification. I have to agree with the above comments about PVA's longevity -- some of my earlier projects are already getting brittle. This Ovid project makes me realize that the delta between my cheap paperback book projects and a fancy-schmancy hard-bound book isn't as huge as I'd imagined.
posted by dylanjames at 2:57 PM on May 17, 2009

I also love the mechanical soundness and utter lack of ornamentation to this project. It's beautiful.
posted by dylanjames at 3:06 PM on May 17, 2009

I am awestruck.
posted by Xoebe at 7:51 PM on May 17, 2009

The Dartmouth College Librarians have created a wonderful guide for repairing books at home. I've used some of those techniques myself on my own books. None of my books are valuable, though.

I once had a governmental report from the French government about official French Army brothels during WWI sent to me on ILL. It was so fragile because the paper had decayed so badly that I didn't dare to open it more than once. I wrapped it up in a bag, loosely taped the bag shut and sent it back with a note that perhaps the book should go on reserve. I wonder how you could save the information in the book - the book seemed far too delicate to scan.

A book nearly five hundred years old that is still usable seems fantastic.
posted by winna at 8:16 PM on May 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

A book nearly five hundred years old that is still usable seems fantastic.

not at all...see, back in the 1850's or so, they developed a fantastic new way of making paper that involved using wood pulp treated with acid...problem is, the acid continues to eat away at the wood pulp, causing the paper to age and become brittle, and eventually disintegrate. it's a huge problem for conservators and librarians and is leading to the loss of huge tracts of history, particularly 'ephemera' like newspapers and paperbacks. now that the problem has been recognised, there is a big move back to 'acid-free' paper made from cotton or linen stock. but this is mostly just for hardcover books and 'trade' paperbacks (the larger ones), regular 'mass-market' paperbacks (the kind at the drugstore) and newspapers are still printed on acid-bound stock and will eventually all but disappear from history. but books printed before the 1850's? yeah, they'll be around forever...or until they get burned at the beginning of the next dark ages ;)

preserving books from destruction by acid is a laborious and expensive process involving completely dismantling the book, sandwiching each sheet between random-spun-wove paper, and dousing it with wei t'o solution (named after the ancient chinese god of books and ~$40US/quart/liter). however, if the pages have already become brittle, there is little that can be done. i have seen one example where two copies of an old book were preserved as one copy by de-acidifying the pages and then gluing them into a blank book...you need two copies because otherwise you lose the back side of evey page, so this is very rare. more commonly you will see this done with image plates from old books. my favorite, though (and veeerrry expensive), is to store these books in a chilled helium atmosphere...the low temperatures and lack of oxygen prevent the acid from doing its damage...

I was wondering, is there much call these days for careful digital scanning/photography of the pages of early printed books? I would think a rebinding would be a convenient time for this to be done.

funny, i was just looking at this early 14th cen. prayer book from the cloisters (in NYC) and apparently they did just that, scanning it while the book was dismantled. in this case, not for conservation, but for display, which is not uncommon...
posted by sexyrobot at 11:47 PM on May 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

A book nearly five hundred years old that is still usable seems fantastic.

But, is it available on the Amazon Kindle®?
posted by ericb at 11:52 PM on May 17, 2009

Good old limp vellum! The paperback cover of its age.

Which I see is still with us. Good on them for the choice.
posted by IndigoJones at 12:59 PM on May 18, 2009

Don't miss the Limp Vellum Binding page, which is pretty great on its own.
posted by jedicus at 4:27 PM on May 18, 2009

I love this stuff, and book arts in general. Which reminds me, I should spend some time reading The Bonefolder.
posted by BrotherCaine at 12:59 PM on May 19, 2009

« Older Onward Christian Soldiers   |   Odds are if you're a hipster, you'll laugh... Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments