Preservation and Conservation of the Eldon Collection
I. Condition of the Collection
Having survived centuries of use and various storage spaces, the Eldon Collection of books and bound manuscript are generally in fair to good condition. The binding structures are mostly tight back, full leather on paper boards with raised bands and laced cords. The decorative elements of these calf bindings include blind tooling on the spines, and board surfaces including the edges and inside squares; some gilt tooling; gilt stamping to the spines; marbled endpapers; marbled, speckled or gilt decorative edges; sewn headbands; and, metal clasps on the bound manuscripts. A handful of vellum, quarter leather with marble paper, and paper bindings are also found in the Collection.
Damage and wear to these books include detached boards, cracked leather joints, leather deterioration, and bumped corners. The rag paper text blocks are stable with some foxing and discoloration. Many of the volumes are also sooty.
The books that are stable and show the least amount of wear are those that were rebound or leather re-backed in the past with new endpapers and false headbands attached. A few are no longer sewn, their folds having been cut and reattached with glued along the spine edge. Kelly & Sons Bindery, London, performed the majority of this work in the 1930s.
II. Care and Conservation of the Collection
The best conservation care for these materials is providing a stable environment with appropriate temperature and relative humidity levels. These materials may have experienced additional physical and chemical deterioration during transit due to exposure to extreme and fluctuating conditions. The Special Collections vault has a separate HVAC system that keeps conditions stable around 67F and 45-50% RH; this slows the deterioration processes that all organic materials experience. Actual treatment of these books will be limited to relatively non-invasive techniques to stabilize and clean the bindings and text blocks.
Possible treatments include:
- Dry cleaning: Due to previous storage conditions, many of the books in the Collection are sooty. Left in the paper, these particulates can cause physical damage and chemical deterioration of the paper. These books will be brushed with a fine haired brush and dry-cleaned with nylon eraser crumbs.
- Clamshell boxes: Custom fit book boxes provide physical and chemical stability for the organic materials housed within. A micro-environment is created inside the box which does not experience as much change as external conditions fluctuate. Book materials are hygroscopic by nature, and thus affected by these fluctuations. Materials expand and contract as moisture in the air is absorbed and released. These dimensional changes cause physical damages such as warping, cockling, cracking and desiccation of text blocks and bindings. Vellum is particularly susceptible to these changes in moisture content, leaving bindings misshapen or detached from their text blocks. All vellum books will be housed in clamshell (drop spine) boxes. Other damaged books with loose or vulnerable parts, will also be boxed until conservation treatment can be performed.
- Leather treatment: Leather bindings with signs of leather deterioration will be treated with Klucel-G, a leather consolidator. Leather that has dried out and powdery cannot be re-hydrated. Treatment with Klucel-G only prevents further flaking.
- Board reattachment: Due to the deterioration of the binding leather and the laced cords, boards have detached from their text blocks. Boards will be reattached with either tinted Japanese paper or cloth, and their hinges reinforced.
IV. Digitizing the Collection
The manuscripts, along with receiving the same physical treatment as the monographs, will also be digitized for access and preservation purposes. Digitizing the manuscripts will prevent further damage from being handled and exposed to damaging light. The full color images produced will give scholars and patrons full access to the substantive content with the visual look and 'feel' of the original manuscripts themselves.
V. Further Preservation Treatments and Questions
For questions on these treatments and other preservation issues concerning the Eldon manuscripts and the books, please call:
Erin Kidwell, Curator of Legal History, 202-662-9149
Hannah Miller, Special Collections Librarian, 202-661-6602.