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)

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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

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