Tag Archives: Conservation

How to make an inexpensive book cradle for your treasures

Two rare volumes from the Institute Archives and Special  Collections supported on Tyvek + air cushion book cradles. Back: need title. Front: Theodore Reisch's Margarita Philosophica, 1508.

Two rare volumes from MIT Libraries Institute Archives and Special Collections rest on these easy to make book cradles.

Book cradles are a type of support that help to reduce stress on the spine of a book, stress that over time can cause book covers to pull away from the area where they connect to the text pages. Cradles help prop a book open, usually at an angle less than 180° so that the book doesn’t lay flat on a tabletop. Reducing stress on the book opening is a preventative measure and helps reduce the need for expensive and time consuming repairs.

Here is a quick, easy, and inexpensive way to make one with simple materials. You’ll need Tyvek™ envelopes and recycled air pillows to make this support for your bound treasures. This type of book cradle has other benefits:

  • Replenish envelopes and pillows as needed (after the bags are soiled or air pillows deflate)
  • Lightweight and portable (easy to set up and break down)
  • Great for working with books that require mold abatement (throw away supports after exposure)
  • Easy to use and easy to store when not in use
  • Adjustable by filling in more or fewer air pillows
  • Also useful as a spacer to keep books vertical (while in a partially filled box or during transit).
  • Cost: probably less than $1.00 to acquire materials, $0 if using recycled envelopes and air cushions

Time: 10 minutes or less


  • Two Tyvek™ side opening envelopes (new or recycled) slightly larger than the size of the book to be cradled
  • Recycled air pillows often found as cushioning material inside shipped packages.

Here are instructions to make the simplest version of this cradle:


  • Place your book in the palm of your hand and open it, feeling how wide the book will open without forcing either side down. Is the angle less than 180 degrees? This action will help you determine how many air cushions to place inside each Tyvek™ envelope.

inserting air cushionAir_Pillow_made_of_PLA-Blend_Bio-Flex

  • Insert an air cushion (or more than one) into each envelope pouch.

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  • If you need to use several air cushions or Styrofoam peanuts to create the amount of cushion you’ll need to support your book, place them into a resealable bag or Tyvek™ envelope to contain the cushioning material first before inserting it into either side of the book cradle.

overlapping envelope flaps

  • Remove self-adhesive guard strip from one of the envelope flaps and adhere it to the flap of the other envelope. By adhering the two flaps together, you create an area for the spine of the book to rest in. Apply pressure over the adhered area to ensure firm attachment.

rare book in cradle

  • Place the book on the book cradle. Use different air cushion sizes to support the desired opening. Use book snakes (light padded weights) as needed to help hold the pages down while consulting your treasured book.

Dandy Roll: A Papermaking Security Device


Detail of watermark found in Vannevar Bush’s handwritten note about integraphs, circa 1920s, Harold L. Hazen Papers, MC 106.

When we hold a sheet of paper to the light, sometimes we can see designs, letters or symbols embedded in it. These images are called watermarks. They can be found in both hand– and machine-made paper crafted in the western tradition.

One type of watermarking device used in machine papermaking is the dandy roll. This is a lightweight hollow cylinder that has a raised design attached to its surface. After the paper sheet has been formed on a conveyor belt, it travels to the dandy roll which lightly presses the design into the wet fibers. The roll displaces and thins the paper fibers in the area where the design appears.

Once the paper sheet is dried, the watermark can’t be changed, and remains in the paper permanently. For this reason, watermarks can provide security and authenticity, and may be used to help distinguish an original document from a copy.

In the current exhibit in the Libraries’ Maihaugen Gallery, Thanks for the Memory: 50+ Years of Computing at MIT, there is a handwritten proposal for research funding that was prepared in 1927 by MIT professor Vannevar Bush. If you look closely at the document, you can see the MIT logo in a watermark that was created using this Dandy Roll technology.

This post was written by guest blogger Ayako Letizia, Conservation Assistant, Wunsch Conservation Lab.

Adventurer in Light and Color: Stained glass exhibit

Stop by the Jackson Homestead in Historic Newton before the end of July to catch the “Charles J. Connick: Adventurer in Light and Color” exhibition. It features drawings, photos, studies, and stained glass works by Charles J. Connick a prominent stained glass artist from Newton, Massachusetts. Included in the exhibit are several reproductions of drawings held by MIT Libraries as well as a stained glass window (Sir Bors Succours the Maid) from the Libraries’ collections. For more information about the Charles J. Connick Stained Glass Foundation Collection held at MIT, visit our Special Collections page or watch the video at TechTV.


Design inspired by E. Dickinson poem “There is no Frigate Like a Book.”

The exhibition features the cartoon, or full-size study for a work in another medium, shown here.  This design was executed in pencil and gouache and later realized in stained glass in 1939 for the Newtonville Public Library, which is now the Newton Senior Center. The work was inspired by the Emily Dickinson poem, “There is no Frigate Like a Book.” For more information about this image, please visit the Charles J. Connick image collection in Dome.

For more about the work of Charles J. Connick and his studio, visit the Charles J. Connick Stained Glass Foundation website and the Boston Public Library’s Charles J. Connick Gouaches: Massachusetts Flickr collection.

The following details were captured when the cartoon was in the Wunsch Conservation Lab for examination.

This post was researched written with Lorrie McAllister, Digital and Special Collections Strategist.

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Connick’s initials “CJC” and date 1939.

This detail reveals underdrawing in pencil.

This detail reveals underdrawing in pencil.


White drips of paint may suggest that Connick worked some areas upright.

White drips of paint may suggest that Connick worked some areas upright.


This detail shows the painterly quality of the work.

This detail shows the painterly quality of the work.


Historic Letterlocking: The Art and Secrecy of Letterwriting


Would you like to have your very own “locked letter”? One that’s based on a historic manuscript letter folding format used by Elizabeth I, Queen of England? If so, plan on attending our talks on “The Art and Science of Document Security: Past, Present, and Future” on April 29th. Each attendee will receive their very own locked letter with a secret message. This event kicks off Preservation Week at MIT, April 29-May 1, 2014.


Historic letterlocking refers to any movable object (such as paper, parchment, or papyrus) that has been written on, folded, and secured shut to function as its own envelope. The tradition dates back 4,000 years in Western and Mediterranean cultures. Documenting the physical details of well-preserved original manuscripts has helped to define the different locking formats with their multiple levels of built-in security and their various authentication devices. In some instances the letters employ anti-tamper and authentication devices that enhance the format protection.

All events are free and no registration is required.


Monuments Man and Art Conservator George Stout

George Leslie Stout was one of the United States of America’s first art conservators. Stout worked in Cambridge, Massachusetts as the head of the first Conservation Department in the Fogg Art Museum at Harvard University before being called into active military duty in 1943. Soon after, he was recruited to serve on the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives section (MFAA) also known as the Monuments Men. Stout later lead the Monuments team of men and women dedicated to safeguarding cultural property in war areas during and after World War II. After the war, he returned to Massachusetts and was the director of the Worcester Art Museum and later the Isabella Stewart Gardner Art Museum. He was a founding member of the International Institute of Conservation.

George Stout was one of the first names I learned when I became interested in the field of art conservation in 1989. Rutherford Gettens and George Stout’s Painting Materials: A Short Encyclopedia and Stout’s The Care of Pictures were the first two books I purchased, read cover to cover, and still reference today. The Foundation for the American Institute of Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works’ (FAIC)  “George Stout Memorial Fund” afforded many students, including me, the opportunity to attend our first annual AIC meetings to become active members of this extraordinary field that George Stout and many other Monuments men and women helped to create.

Today, The Monuments Men movie opens. It is based on this true story about a local hero (played by co-screen-writer and producer, director, and star George Clooney) who worked with several hundred others to save countless works of art we may still have the pleasure of enjoying. Thanks George!

Binders’ Tickets in the Peterson Telegraphy Collection

Binders’ tickets are one type of signed binding and are rare finds. They would have been placed in the book by the binder for a little “PR”. Here are the only two found in the books in the newly donated and catalogued Peterson Telegraphy Collection.

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Leighton Son and Hodge.

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Binder’s Ticket #2

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Wyman and Sons. Publisher binding. London. 1880s.

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Wyman and Sons advertised themselves as printers, engravers, lithographers, bookbinders, and stationers. They made the books from scratch, literally, from the printing of the text pages to the binding of the books. They were located at 74, 75 and later 81 Great Queen Street, Lincoln’s Inn Fields, London, W.C. Check out their many advertisements in The Academy and Literature. The one in volume 12, August 25, 1877, p. 205 is informative. See Google free eBooks.


Shown above (left to right) are Marianna Brotherton and Leslie To, who have just completed an internship in our lab. For the past few months, Marianna and Leslie have been helping to process and conserve the Peterson Telegraphy Collection–a total of 42 boxes of books, pamphlets, photos, and artifacts. Stay tuned for a “farewell guest blog post” from Marianna and Leslie about their favorites treasures from the Peterson Telegraphy Collection.

Thanks, MIT music, for your dulcet tones.

This week was an all-things-MIT-Music for the conservation lab. We de-installed the “Noteworthy Connections” exhibition in the Maihaugen Gallery  featuring the music treasures from the Lewis Music Library and the Institute Archives and Special Collections.

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MIT’s Chorallaries, an a cappella music group, provides cheerful music to listen to while we make protective enclosures for some of the illuminated music manuscripts folios that will be used for teaching next semester. We are curious to discover more “whistle-while-you-work” music created by MIT faculty, staff, and students.

Bound by Hand–Bookbindings created in the Libraries’ Conservation Lab

Today is the first day of two Individual Activity Program (IAP) classes the conservation lab is offering. Participants are learning how to transform paper, cloth, board, thread, and glue into two types of blank books–pamphlet and flat back case bindings. Fabricating these foundational book structures reminds us here in the conservation lab why we love books, why we love to make them, and why we are dedicated to preserve them for access-old and new.

Pamphlet bindings made by hand with thread and paper.

A participant is creating the cover for the flat back case binding. Case bindings are made by creating the text block and cover separately; they are attached to each other to create a book.

Instructors for the class: Conservation Assistant Ayako Letizia and Preservation Associate Kate Beattie from the Wunsch Conservation Laboratory, Curation and Preservation Services.