Tag: Wunsch conservation lab

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.

IMG_1475 IMG_1476

  • 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.

photo 3

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.