Daubeny Project: Light Relief

November 19, 2009

The last few weeks has seen me concentrating on the big questions of light and consolidation.

The Daubeny Library both benefits and suffers from being in its original laboratory setting. The context is wonderful and really adds to the uniqueness of the collection, but the light exposure it suffers from several 3 metre+ high windows which face the book presses is less great. I have been logging light levels over a number of months, as well as setting up a long term light test using samples of the dyed textile used for slotting. Light levels have become somewhat of an obsession due to the work I did on the reactive dyes, as traditionally, and somewhat unfairly, they have always had a reputation of being less light fast than direct dyes. At Daubeny, the UV light levels are encouraging but the visible light levels are slightly too high. It is a difficult space to regulate in light terms as it is used both as a library and a lecture room. Consequently I have been encouraging users to lower the blinds in the room after use, but this has had a variable degree of success. However, any lowering of light levels is a big improvement on the relatively uncontrolled exposure the collection has experienced up until the recent refurbishment of the laboratory.

Consolidation in progress. Image reproduced with the kind permission of the President and Fellows of Magdalen College, Oxford.

The chemically degraded nature of the majority of the leather covering the Daubeny books has also been a challenge. Early tests with the traditional consolidant mixture of klucel g in IMS showed considerable and unacceptable darkening of the leather, and a coarsening of the leather surface. Having done some research into the water content of common solvents, I settled on isopropanol as the solvent of choice. Unlike IMS, with a water content of up to 1%, isopropanol has a water content of less than 1%, and as such seemed a better bet not to darken the leather. I made a 2% solution in isopropanol by gradually adding the solvent to the klucel g, stirring all the time, and leaving it to fully dissolve overnight. This resulted in a very smooth, gelatinous liquid which when applied with a brush caused neither darkening nor streaks across the leather surface.

Victoria (Stevens)

The experiments on the dyeing of spine materials for the Daubeny slotting programme has taken up my time and almost all my thought since my last post on this project.  This is due to it being uncharted waters for me and the criteria being fairly demanding.  I needed a process that was simple and could be achieved in a normal studio setting with the equipment available, and which provided a strong depth of shade using a dye recipe that was easy to accurately replicate.  As the Daubeny books are stored on open shelving good light fastness was also important.  Finally, I did not want a dye which altered the texture or handling properties of the aerocotton chosen for the new spine material.

This search for the holy grail of toning and dyestuffs was quickly narrowed down to 2 dye systems: direct and reactive dyes.  Direct dyes, specifically the Ciba-Geigy direct dye Solophenyl, are used extensively by textile conservators.  They have excellent reproducibility and light fastness but their relatively low wet fastness is an issue.  They also require heat and pH monitoring during the dye cycle leading to a reasonably elaborate procedure.

Reactive dyes, such as Procion MX and Cibaron, or its new incarnation Novacron, are highly solvent resistant due to the strong covalent bond they form between the dye and the fibre.  The dye cycle does not necessarily require heat as the dye is extremely reactive under normal ambient conditions.  This category of dyes have fair to very good light fastness, with the reds being the poorest.  However, this is so with all dyes types.  On the negative side, the highly reactive nature of the dyes can make them difficult to reproduce accurately and can cause unevenness in colour, or unlevellness, across the textile.

Having worked with collections stored in historic buildings I was all too aware of the water based events that can occur involving library and archive materials.  Also, having attended a course on dyeing, arranged by the Textile Group of Icon at the much mourned Textile Conservation Centre (TCC), and witnessed first hand the relatively complicated procedure involved in using direct dyes, I knew reactive dyes were the way forward.

My early results with Procion MX dyes have been very encouraging.  I have benefited from the advice and expertise of Stuart Smethurst at Kemtex, a UK distributor of these dyes, my colleagues at the Oxford Conservation Consortium and the Bodleian, and the mass of literature available on the subject.  I have listed supplier’s information and a brief sample of essential reading for anyone embarking on a reactive dyeing programme below.  These sources also detail recommended dye colours and the dye cycle very clearly, so I will not repeat it here.  However, the problems I had with levellness and reproduction of an exact shade may be avoided by taking care in the following areas:

1. Wetting out: it is important that the fabric is thoroughly wetted before making contact with the dye bath to ensure even uptake into the fibre.

2. The thorough mixing of the salt in the dye solution is also crucial.  The sodium sulphate used is very reluctant to dissolve, and the course information from the TCC recommends making a strong solution of the salt and adding that the dye bath, rather than trying to dissolve it in the bath itself.

3. Agitation: you can not rock the dye bath to much!

4. Rinsing and drying: the smallest amount of residual dye can cause unlevellness, so thorough rinsing in hot water to include a brisk boil wash for around 5 minutes is also important to achieve even dyeing.

With regard to light fastness, the 3 colours I am using have fairly good to very good light fastness.  I have set up light tests on my samples and will report in due course.  Finally, with regards to the inconsistencies in colour reproduction, I am looking into more accurate methods of measuring.  The quantities of dye in solution are so small that even minor discrepancies may cause differences in colour when a recipe is repeated.  A more accurate pipette has been ordered so hopefully this will result in more accurate colour reproduction from the ratios of the stock colours than I have so far been able to produce.  I’ll let you know how I get on.

Toning cloth for boardslotting using Procion MX dyes. Reproduced with the kind permission of the President and Fellows of Magdalen College, Oxford.

Sources of information and suppliers:

Ruth Norton, Dyeing Cellulose-fibre Paper with Fibre Reactive Dyes, The Paper Conservator, Vol 26 2002

Edward Simpson, Dyeing Aerolinen and Aerocotton with Reactive Dyes, Paper Conservation News 71, September 1994

Dyeing Techniques Manual, Textile Conservation Centre, 2008

Timar-Balazsy and Eastrop, Chemical Principles of Textile Conservation, Butterworth Heinemann, 1998

Lerber, Karin von, Cibaron F (reactive dyes) versus Solophenyl (direct dye) for Support Fabrics in Textile Conservation, Newsletter, ICOM Committee for Conservation, 1/96, 3-5

Stuart Smethurst, Kemtex Educational Supplies, Chorley Business and Technology Centre, Euxton Lane Chorley, Lancs, UK, PR7  6TE.  www.kemtex.co.uk, 01257 230220.  Suppliers of dyes and auxiliary chemicals.

Victoria Stevens

Sometimes, a board to be slotted is slightly longer than the maximum allowed by the carriage.  It is still possible to slot these, and the example below illustrates the temporary modifications to the machine and outlines the technique.  In this case, board slotting was used on a small edition of 12 books.  The large (46 x 31 cm) medium density fiberboard covers were covered with burl veneer, and the artist, Accra Shepp, and I decided that slotting would be an ideal method of firmly attaching the laminated paper/ linen spine to to heavy boards, while keeping their clean, unobstructed visual appeal.  More information about the book including images is available at my blog.


First the clamping bar is removed and a four cm. thick plywood spacer is added so that the boards will clear the edge of the carriage.  In this case, 2 clamps proved adequate to keep the MDF from shifting during the slotting process.  For typical binders board, it may be necessary to clamp it between plywood during the slotting.



As the slotting progress, the clamps are moved so they do not hit the blade guards.  As long as only one clamp was moved at a time, the position of the board did not shift.  The MDF was very easy to slot.



Once the left side of the carriage cleared the motor, the board was clamped on the on left side.  It is necessary to turn the machine on and off a number of times to adjust the clamps– it would be dangerous to leave the blade spinning when adjusting the clamps.



When the machine reached the end of the available space, the carriage was brought back to the center of the machine.  If you look at the position of the board relative to the plywood spacers you will notice that the board has been shifted about 5 cm to the left, then reclamped.    In this case, it was necessary to release both clamps, and slide the board to the left so that the right side of it could be slotted.  Depending on how exactly the board is repositioned at the front of the machine, it may be necessary to readjust the height of the blade to reenter the exact position of the previous cut.



Once again, the clamps are moved and pictured here the board is finished being completely slotted.  If a number of oversize boards were to be slotted, it might be prudent to glue the stacked plywood together, so that they don’t shift, or even attach them to the base in the pre threaded 1/4″/ 20 tpi holes for the original clamping bar.  The book board itself could be clamped in a simple press (two pieces of plywood with 4 carriage bolts at the corners) to eliminate some of the shifting of the various components that I encountered.  This would make the repositioning of the board much easier and more accurate.


After a long run in due to pressures of other work, the slotting project at the Daubeny Library, Magdalen College, Oxford, is now underway.  A preliminary selection survey showed that the books were mostly of a similar level of deterioration, giving a wide choice of suitable material, and thankfully of a broadly similar colour.  This will mean that time spent dyeing will be reduced and so more books can be repaired in the time available.

Charles Daubeny, under copyright of and reproduced by kind permission of the President and Fellows of Magdalen College, Oxford

I have selected in particular a very large folio volume to work on, as up until now I have only ever slotted small octavo sized volumes with relatively thin boards.  It will be interesting to see how the slotting process differs on a large book.  Slotting this book is further complicated by the method in which it was originally bound.  The text block is made up of single sheets whip stitched or over stitched together in a very impressive display of chunky sewing.  This may create problems when attempting to attach the first slotted lining by sewing, which will definitely be required given the size of the book.

The next area to look at is dyeing the aerocotton.  I have decided to go down the Procion MX route, and any advice and help that anyone can provide on this dyeing method would be very gratefully received.

Victoria Stevens

Board Slotter Light

April 22, 2009



I bought this small led light at a local hardware store.  Not only does it come with three batteries, a ball head and a magnet, but it only cost USD 2.99.  It is easy to either clip on to around the blade guards, or the magnet will stick to any steel nut or bolt.  It is obviously not extremely well made, and the vibration of the machine causes it to vibrate excessively, but it is quick to take it on or off.  It would also be fairly easy to make a small stand, out of binders board to mount it on. This light could be useful in a number of instances where one needs a simple, quick way to get a little more light and color temperature is not important– into the gutter of a signature while sewing?




Added on May 6, 2009

I guess I’m not the first one to want more light while sewing.  The illustration below is from C.E. Prediger, Der Buchbinder und Futteralmacher, Vol. II.  Anspach, Frankfort & Leipzig, 1745.


Earlier this month, the Oxford Conservation Consortium trialled a new sequence of procedures for slotting.  This study day was intended to iron out potential problems relating to common aspects of damage within a range of book structures.   One of our main areas of focus was on how to solve aesthetic issues relating to slotting, and in particular how to accommodate large back corners and reinstate headcaps on slotted books.   As part of this we compared the finish given by paper backed toned aerolionen and aerocotton as well as toned paper backed by undyed aerolinen and aerocotton.  As the number of books we were working on was small we used surface applied diluted acrylics for toning.

It was initially also intended as a time study to be used to project per volume times and so costs, particularly as the Daubeny Library slotting project has been scheduled in to commence in April this year.  However, solving the more practical issues and discussion of working procedures took precedence and another day is scheduled to measure the time taken for an individual item.  I hope to post the outcome of this in due course.

We worked on several books with various problems including regular hollow backed books, books with missing spines, a tight back with slightly warped boards, a book with a partially missing spine and a hollow backed book where the boards and spine had become detached but the joints were not split.

Several interesting developments came as a result of the day.  It was shown that a spine stiffener was essential where the whole or part of the spine was missing.  On creating a new headcap, it was our initial intention to shape and turn in the headcap once the boards were attached.  However, a better result was achieved by turning the headcap in before the toned material was attached to the book or slotted and by putting the turn in into the slot.  Either method has a bearing on the extent of the 1st lining on the backs of the sections to prevent the cloth from being doubled up in the turn in area.  The appearance of the headcap area was improved by rolling in a thin piece of cord with the turn in.  It was also necessary to angle the flange at the head and tail by removing a v shaped piece of material from the turn in to prevent the material being visible above the edge of the board.

Our large backcorner problem was solved by hand splitting the board at the extreme head and tail after the main slot was cut and shaping the new covering material into a “p” shape so that it was firmly attached at the head and tail of the joint.

My colleague, Katerina Powell, worked on the hollow backed book with  joints largely intact.  The boards and spine had come off as one unit, the hollow having failed, and the cover was effectively now a case.  Given the relatively strong condition of the joints and the frequency with which this type of damage is seen we decided to attempt to slot the boards without detaching the spine.  This was very successful, and the joints withstood the considerable flexing and pressure required to allow the board to be effectively slotted.  The attachment procedure was obviously made more tricky as the new covering material to be slotted had to be bent back on itself and pushed into the slot at the same time – not easy when you’re dealing with a flange only a few millimetres wide!  If the original leather/cloth of the joint is robust enough and the original appearance of the book is a high priority it would justify the extra time spent on this procedure.

The different results of toned paper and cloth were also interesting.  The aerocotton in particular had a distinct clumped, fibrous texture which was accentuated by the toning process.  This may have been reduced by dyeing the cloth in a bath or by pressing between melinex after toning, which has given us good results in the past.  The paper gave a good even result and the texture and surface finish may be further inproved by an application of SC6000.

Victoria Stevens

We have been experiencing problems with the syringe tips for applying adhesive into the slot.  Standard metal blunt tipped syringe needles are prone to clogging and frequently the adhesive is difficult to apply in an even and controlled way.  They can also be difficult to clean.

An alternative is the clear tapered syringe tips available from Preservation Equipment Limited, UK.  These tips are made from flexible translucent plastic with a diameter of 0.041mm.  This will allow a more even flow of adhesive, whilst the flexibility of the tip enables smoother and more accurate application.  The flexibility and translucency of the tips also makes cleaning easier and more effective.  They are sold in packs of 10, catalogue reference is 870-1055  from www.preservationequipment.com.  Any feedback would be welcome.

Victoria Stevens

The Roots of Board Slotting?

December 11, 2008

I was rereading Clarkson’s article on Romanesque bookbinding, and he notes that “The earliest recorded English bindings where the bands do not enter the boards through tunnels, but are drawn around to the outer face of the boards, is dated to 1230-40…. ” (Clarkson 1993, 190)  Band slips that enter through a tunnel in the edge of the board are mechanically stronger than a lacing pattern that relies on adhesive and covering material to remain in place.  Indeed, I have noticed many conservation problems with later wood board structures where the slips lie on the outer face of the board. 

I wonder if his observations of Romanesque board attachment, not mentioned in the 1992 board slotting article, contributed to the invention of board slotting.  The idea of entering into the edge of a board, although at different angles, is somewhat similar. If so, it is yet another reminder of how careful observation and analysis of specific structural features can have much broader implications.



Clarkson, Christopher.  “Board Slotting- A New Technique for Re-attaching Bookboards,” Conference Papers Manchester 1992, London: The Institute of Paper Conservation, 1992.  Pp. 158-164.

Clarkson, Christopher. “English Monastic Bookbinding in the Twelfth Century,” in Ancient and Medieval Book Materials and Techniques, ed.  Marilena Maniaci and Paola F. Munafo. Citta del Vaticano: Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, 1993. Pp. 181-200.

slotter dust cover

November 21, 2008

I tend to batch items to be slotted, and as a consequence the slotter often sits unused for a while.  I made the dust cover pictured below out of binders board and covered it with cloth.  It is is simple step shape that covers the clamping bar.  This way it is not necessary to clean the carriage each time the machine is used.


The OCC purchased a board slotting machine in 2007and it immediately became a useful addition to our studio.  So far we have used the board slotter for several individual items with great effect.  However, we realised from the beginning that its use was particularly relevant where there are large numbers of similarly bound volumes with similar binding problems and repair issues.

Since this time we have been viewing our collections with this in mind and with the aim of establishing a large scale board slotting programme.  Two collections have been identified as potential candidates for this programme.  The first is the Daubeny Collection at Magdalen College and the Law Reports at Corpus Christi College.

The Daubeny Collection was established by Dr. Charles Daubeny (1795-1867) who was an undergraduate at Magdalen but went on to study alongside Charles Darwin. He was the the College’s most noted 19th century scientist, specifically in Botany.  This large (500+ volumes) collection is formed from his personal library.  They are housed in Daubeny’s original laboratory which has recently undergone substantial refurbishment.

The collection is predominantly mid nineteenth century half or quarter hollow backed bindings, most of which belong to a series of identical volumes.  The collection is experiencing the predictable signs of deterioration due to the inadequacy of the original binding materials and subsequent environmental conditions.   Many have one or both joints broken and missing or detached spine portions but on the whole the sewing structure is sound.  Very little repair work has been completed on this collection, adding to its suitability for boardslotting.

The Law Reports series at Corpus Christi College are an heavily consulted collection of periodicals dating from 1865 to the present day.  As several editions were produced within a year this collection numbers many hundreds of volumes.  They are bound in a variety of materials including identical light tan quarter and half leather with a hollow back and fully case bound in grey or tan buckram.  The older volumes bound in leather are experiencing similar problems to the Daubeny Collection: broken joints and loose and missing spine portions.   However, many volumes have been traditionally rebacked.  This makes this collection particularly suitable for comparison with boardslotting in terms of longevity and speed of repair.

Over the next quarter I aim to chart our progress with these two projects through the blog so you can see the trials and tribulations of a board slotting programme.  It would be great to have feedback from others who have already gone through this process as a means of guidance and to provide useful pointers for the success of our programme.  Likewise, our blog posts will hopefully provide information for anyone who is contemplating doing this on how to do, or indeed not to do, it!

Victoria Stevens