Harry Ransom CenterThe University of Texas at Austin

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Book Conservation

Conservator in the Book Conservation Lab. Click to enlarge.

Mary Baughman examines a page in a 15th c. Book of Hours,
an illuminated manuscript from Flanders, to detect flaking
pigments.

Staff in the Book Conservation Lab repair damaged and deteriorated bound materials, treating them so that patrons can consult them without further damage. Artifactual qualities of a book, such as decorative, structural and printing characteristics, are of great interest to bibliographers and social historians, and where possible, conservators at the Ransom Center seek to stabilize problems with minimal treatment in order to preserve these qualities. Such minimal repairs are usually sufficient because of the careful handling by staff and patrons that collections receive at the Ransom Center.

Books can have a variety of problems, and there are a number of basic types of treatments which are tailored to specific volumes. Unique housings or boxes are constructed to protect books. Refurbishing and minor repairs such as repairing tears in the text paper or on the binding and reattaching loose or detached binding materials are performed. Boards are reattached with Japanese paper hinges, with tackets, or by rebacking using material similar to that of the original binding. Books are also partially and completely rebound. If the paper of the textblock is acidic or the sewing of a book is broken, conservators wash, deacidify, and alkalinize the text paper, and resew the book. When a book is rebound, sometimes the original cover is reused and in other cases a new cover is made for the book.

Current interests in the Book Conservation Lab focus on the protection of social and structural history of 19th-century photograph albums through the development of durable, less invasive treatment techniques.