Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Marcus Design Books

Sometimes when an institution digitizes an object from their collections, the book, manuscript, or other piece of ephemera in question is disposed of afterwards.  It might be that physical storage is not available, or the cost of a conservation treatment is prohibitive.  In other cases, once the content has been saved digitally, ownership of the actual book itself might be deemed unnecessary.  However, a digitization project does not always spell the end of its physical counterpart.  In fact, it is sometimes the very thing that casts new light upon a long forgotten artifact.

Such was the case with the Marcus Design Books.  This collection consists of 8 volumes that once belonged to Marcus and Co., a jewelry firm that operated in New York City between 1892-1962.  Each volume contains a series of intricately rendered pen and ink drawings that have been adhered to the bound pages.  Representing the years 1890-1910, the drawings feature a wide array of jewelry designs including brooches, necklaces, and hair ornaments.

When they originally made their way to Dartmouth, the Marcus Design Books were housed in the Jewelry Department, where they served as reference materials for the students.  The books were later very nearly disposed of before ultimately being acquired by the library, where they were processed and cataloged.

This might have been the end of the story, until the Metropolitan Museum of Art learned of their existence.  It was at their request that the entire set was pulled from the library's stacks and brought to the conservation lab where they could be repaired before undergoing digitization.

During my time as the summer conservation intern at the Dartmouth College Library, I had the privilege of assisting with the conservation treatment of the Marcus Design Books.

First, each book was surface cleaned with Absorene sponges.  As you can see, they were quite dirty!

After the surface dirt was removed, any tears that were present were mended with Japanese tissue and wheat starch paste.  Additionally, each volume had an accompanying envelope filled with drawings that had fallen out over time.  Throughout the process of cleaning and mending, these drawings were returned to their original positions as faithfully as possible. 

It was not an easy task, as each drawing's proper location was not always evident.  However, much like putting a puzzle together, the context of the image and the shape of the residue left behind by the old adhesive often indicated where a drawing belonged.

 After the text blocks were repaired, the exteriors were reinforced.  Several of the books were missing spine pieces.

The spines were subsequently cleaned and relined, before being fitted with a new exterior piece.

Another aspect of repairing the exterior of the book involved consolidating the delaminated book board on the sides and corners, and lining them with cloth and Moriki, a heavy weight Japanese tissue.

After the conservation treatment was complete, the Marcus Design Books were delivered to the Northeast Document Conservation Center in Andover, Massachusetts where they would be digitized before being returned to the library.

Written by Rebecca Metois

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