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Re: Fountain of Youth

Just back from the cabin, so I am only now getting up to speed about
this inquiry.  By the way, what I was doing up there was some work on
the new papermill I'm building and an edited version of the saga is being
published in parts, in the Idaho Center for the Book's newsletter,
beginning with the October issue (Vol. 7/No. 2) which may (or may not) be
available on
their website: http://www.lili.org.icb under "Mill of Dunnydeer"

Firstly, in answer to Richard's question about microphotography of leather,
my answer is yes and no.  Yes, I have done some SEM (Scanning Electron
Microscopy) of leather after treating it with leather consolidants, but
no, the images are not available on my website.

The samples were law calf (a notoriously bad leather) approx. 100 years
old.  That was about 20 years ago, and the samples have been naturally
aging since then and it is about time to re-photograph the samples in
an SEM again.

Real-time aging and accelerated aging often gives different results, and
20 years is a fairly short time.

In a way, research is like Otto Nadler's response when I asked him
how he liked being married to my widowed grandmother (they were both
in their mid-70's at the time); he answered, "Ya got to learn to ad-yust."

Richard's question is perfectly natural.  Leather has been around for a very
long time, so a great deal must be known about it, and that is true.  In
a certain sense.

But when I once asked a senior leather chemist about long-term durability
of leather he explained to me that the leather industry, in general,
considers six months to be long term.

I have a couple hundred books and thousands of articles and off-prints
about leather tanning in my reference collection, going back over a fair
amount of time.

This information has not answered many of my questions, but it has informed
my questions, allowing me to narrow things down.

I now know that acid pollutants in the atmosphere is only part of the problem
with old leather.  Alkaline pollutants also contribute to the problem.

The 1905 _Report of the Committee on Leather for Bookbinding_ identified
acid as a major contributing factor to leather degradation.  A report from
the (U.S.) National Bureau of Standards from approx. the same period
mentioned that ammonia was a component of the gas used in gas lighting
(in homes and libraries).

Ammonia is highly alkaline.  Leather is stable in an acid (but not too
acid) condition.

Leather requires moisture to be flexible.  Anything which prevents
moisture from combining with leather fibers will make the leather
less flexible.

If you wash your hands many times each day and do not oil your hands
with a moisturizer of some sort, your cuticles will begin to crack and
pull away from your fingernails. This will eventually become uncomfortable
and attract your attention.

Books cannot cry out.  They depend on us, and we do not have enough
information.  Some of what we do know is that traditional fatliquors
(such as oil from sperm whales) are no longer available and that the
replacements do not produce the same feel or workability.

A conservator friend of mine took a fiber identification microscopy course
from the McCrone Institute in Chicago back in the 1970's, and during one
of the breaks she spoke with one of her classmates at the drinking fountain.

She learned that she was one of two conservators taking the course; he was
one of eighteen chemists from the tobacco industry taking the course in
cellulose chemistry to help them understand how to make a better cigarette

Research is a matter of priorities, and not all librarians are related
to Conan the Librarian.  And neither is the Library of Congress.


Jack C. Thompson
Thompson Conservation Lab.
7549 N. Fenwick
Portland, Oregon  97217

(503)735-3942 (voice/fax)


"The lyf so short; the craft so long to lerne"
Chaucer, <The Parlement of Foules> 1386 A.D.

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