Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Space Oddity: Dartmouth Canes

The American Library Association annual conference concluded in early July and while at the conference I gave a presentation to the Book and Paper Interest Group of the Preservation and Reformatting Section of the Association for Library Collections & Technical Services. The theme was "Space Oddity" and the presentation had to be given in an Ignite Talk style, in our case 15 slides at 20 seconds each for a total of 5 minutes.

What follows are the slides and my comments for each.

Canes of Dartmouth College

This storage solution for Dartmouth's collection of canes was created by North Bennet Street School summer interns, Becky Koch and Laren Schott, with oversight from Deborah Howe, the Collections Conservator.

The problem was how to store these wooden canes. The bulk of the collection were canes hand carved by Dartmouth students during their senior year. The most common embellishment of the cane head is what is know as the "Indian Head Cane".

Here Deborah and the interns are arranging the canes by size.

Prior to this treatment the canes were stored in a type of umbrella stand with open sides and very little protection. The canes were not stable and would slip and slide within the stand. The enclosure solution used both pre-made boxes and custom fit inserts. To begin, the canes were sorted by size. Most of the canes were a standard length. 

The canes were surfaced cleaned prior to rehousing them. To surface clean them our interns took dry and sometimes slightly moistened (with water) cotton swabs and wiped away soot and dust. No repairs were necessary. All of the canes were in generally good shape.

The housing solution consisted of adapting a pre-made box to hold an insert tray, and thus created two layers for storage: a bottom layer and the insert tray forming the second layer.

Pre-made box.
The pre-made box was purchased from Gaylord. It was made of polypropylene measuring 
38 inches x 24 inches, and about 6 inches deep.

Using heavy, natural cotton webbing, handles for the pre-made box were created and reinforded with Vyvek to help support the weight. The Vyvek is shown inside the box, where the cloth webbing is threaded through. Deborah suggests that in the next iteration of this box she would improve it by adding support stops for the insert tray to the pre-made box.

The insert tray was fabricated from 2 pieces of blue, acid free corrugated board. Adaptations were made because a single sheet was not large enough to build the walls up.


For the insert box special attention was also paid in building handles that could withstand the weight of the canes. To do this the cotton webbing was threaded through the bottom of the tray that had been reinforced with a layer of 40pt board for extra support.

In order to separate the canes from each other dividers were made from 10 point map folder stock. The folder stock was creased and folded to create a pocket. Each pocket was about 2 inches deep and 3 inches wide. Two pieces of folder stock were needed to create each divider layer.

To construct the dividers score lines were determined and a pattern was made from a strip of paper. These marks were transferred to the 10 point folder stock.

Both short edges of the 10 point were marked, then the pencil marks were lined up on the edge of the table. The 10 point was creased cross grain to maximize length and to improve rigidity in the walls of the dividers. Because of the length creasing on the board shear was not possible.

The dividers were placed on both the bottom layer and the insert tray. They were not attached in any way – although they could be if desired. Deborah suggests sliding in 40 point strips inside the divider walls to give additional support and rigidity.

With the dividers in place the canes were arranged on each layer and the insert tray placed on top. Each box can hold 16 canes: 2 layers of 8 canes each. When each box set was constructed it was bar coded and labeled with the archival series number.

Bottom layer with canes.

Insert layer in the box with divider and canes.

There were also canes of irregular size: longer than the rest or with heads that made it difficult to apply a standard approach. For these canes the divider was placed diagonally in the box and the canes arranged accordingly.

By the end of the project over 100 canes were cleaned and stored in 8 custom boxes for 24 linear feet, and shelved in the Special Collections remote storage facility. A finding aid for the cane collection now lists the canes by individual box number thus improving not only the storage but also making it easier to retrieve a single cane. By this single conservation treatment both storage and retrieval have been improved.

Thanks to Deborah Howe for collaborating with me to create this Ignite Talk and to Becky Koch and Lauren Schott who designed this storage solution.

Written by Barb Sagraves


  1. Ny father, Moe Frankel '34, sadly lost his cane at his 50 th reunion in 1984. Is there any chance that it is among your collection? I would so like to have it and would buy it from you.

  2. Hi Debbie,
    That is unfortunate that your father lost his cane during his 50th reunion. These canes are stored and managed by Rauner Special Collections Library staff so you should contact them with your questions. If you click on the link "finding aid" near the second to the last photo that should take you to the Rauner Special Collections Library website. From there you should be able to find a link to send a question. Best wishes. Barb Sagraves.