Common Conditions: Part 1


Having all but finished surveying the items in the collection, I thought it pertinent to create a series of posts that explore certain states of condition that occur consistently and predictably for materials from this area and time period. I will start from the inside of the book and work my way out. In the first episode of the series: the textblock.

One of the fields in the survey I have conducted describes the repair needed for an item’s textblock as either “none”, “minor”, or “extensive”. The distinction between minor and extensive was based on the ratio of pages needing repair to the total number of pages in the volume. Because all of the items in this collection were printed before 1800, a common characteristic throughout is strong, high quality paper. Therefore very few of the volumes surveyed exhibited more than a few tears. One particularly common site of damage to the pages, however, is due to one of the selection criteria for the collection: fold out maps and illustrations. The volume pictured below, a 1674 work edited by Henri Justel describing European voyages to Africa and the Americas, shows one of these maps folded into the pages as the reader would encounter it.


A close look at the bottom left corner of the folded section (near the gutter) will reveal a large tear running in to the page. A different view of the same volume with the map unfolded appears below – better illustrating the damage.

textblock02This particular map, when unfolded, is approximately six times the size of a normal (quarto sized) page in the book. Anyone who has used a large road map will recall the difficult (and sometimes violent) process of unfolding and re-folding large sheets. At times the size and nature of the folds are not immediately obvious, leading the user to pull too soon or in the wrong direction and tear the page. This complicated process is only made worse if the map you are trying to view is tipped into a book! Items in this collection consistently exhibit tears in the same position as in the example above due to the stress placed upon the paper. Damage to these foldouts also regularly occurs along the folds and at the point where two folds cross.

Many items in the collection have been repaired at some point in their lives. The map in the folio-sized 17th century Dutch volume below was separated along several folds in the past, rendering it unusable. When the volume was rebound, the map was backed with a piece of white textile.


Only a trained conservator can judge if this repair will ultimately prove beneficial for the condition of the map; however, I can say that the benefits of this  material are that it acts as a strong substrate for the pieces of the map, while being flexible and thin enough to fold flat. Faced with an item in similar condition, the library’s conservators would probably not choose to carry out such an extensive treatment because they would anticipate more careful handling by patrons.The image below illustrates that same map unfolded.


Another area that often sees a lot of wear and tear on a book are the pages at the immediate front and rear, usually encompassing the half-title (if one exists) and the title page. These pages see the most use – being thumbed through almost every time that the book is opened. Many of these damaged title pages have seen some repair and certain of those repairs are, while well intentioned, somewhat overzealous and potentially harmful.   The example below, a 1664 text by Antoine Biet, illustrates different means of repair accumulating over the life of the item.


The lacuna in this leaf was originally repaired with paper and unidentified adhesive; however, at some point in the volume’s more recent life, additional tears along the edges were repaired with pressure sensitive tape. More than likely, this tape repair was perpetrated when the book resided in the general circulating collection some years ago.


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