Preservation Metrics and their Applications to Prioritize Treatments Proposal

Application for Library Innovation Funding

(June 2013 application cycle)

Submitted by: Jennifer Hain Teper & Cher Schneider (in cooperation with Dr. Rohit Bhargava, Beckman Institute)

Project Overview:

We request seed money funding to pilot research on the use of cutting edge spectroscopic imaging and other current analytical testing approaches to anticipate appropriate conservation treatments based on their interactions with materials and long-term effects. This project is a small seed project to catalyze a larger effort at bringing together Library Sciences and Analytical Sciences/Engineering. Results will be used to develop research grant applications to the National Science Foundation for both research funding (chemistry in conservation) and for educational efforts such as the IGERT (Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship) program. While the larger research project we are planning proposes to look at a range of historic materials and the effects of conservation applications on those materials, here we propose a focused, smaller project. In this project, we will determine effects of various leather consolidants and surface treatments on historic leather to show proof of concept of the types of information this approach could produce.

Leather deterioration is due to the oxidation and acid hydrolysis acting on collagen fiber structure, gradually decreasing its strength and flexibility.  Over time, the breakdown of the collagen fibers results in the complete destabilization of the skin structure, which cracks and fractures with movement (necessary in a book binding). As deterioration reaches its peak, “red rot” or the orange/red powder formed on the surface of leather bindings can be seen with a complete loss of structural integrity. Collagen structure has long been measured using IR and Raman spectroscopy and is currently used in the Bhargava group to determine differences between breast cancer tissues. The same methods’ application to leather will greatly help understand its degradation.   In this project, IR and Raman spectroscopy as well as scanning electron microscopy will be used to baseline data on a range of historic and modern vegetable tanned leather used in book bindings, including samples exhibiting common historic methods of decoration which could affect the chemical and physical structure of the leather (such as tree calf which uses hydrated ferrous sulfate followed by potassium carbonate to etch a permanent pattern in the leather). Once a baseline of data is collected for untreated historic and modern leathers, similar tests will be performed on samples of the same materials treated with current leather treatments commonly used in modern conservation (cellulose ethers, microcrystalline waxes, and common leather dressings such as lanolin, neat’s-foot oil, and beeswax). This information will increase our knowledge about how vegetable tanned leathers deteriorate and how they interact with conservation treatment applications.  Accelerated aging will be undertaken to also evaluate long-term effects of the treatments.

Project Plan and Timeline

Working over the Fall of 2013, Conservation staff will collect historic and modern leather samples to be used in the tests.   Samples will be catalogued with both descriptive terminology (place of manufacture, age, decorative finishes, degree of deterioration) and photographically.  Samples will be physically divided into multiple pieces as controls and various conservation treatment applications and conservation treatments will be applied to sampled and allowed to complete any immediate off-gassing of volatile organics (common in waxes in particular).  Samples will then be run through both spectroscopic imaging and microscopy protocols and resulting data will be collected. The data collected will be analyzed against collagen standards with varying levels of cross-links and fibril size. Similarity measures and image analysis will provide metrics for degradation and changes in collagen structure upon treatment. Artificially aged samples of treated leathers will also be created by conditioning samples for 28 days at 70ºC at 75% relative humidity[i] prior to the last phase of analytical tests and imaging.  Results will be interpreted and inform not only how we approach leather conservation treatment here in our conservation lab, but will also be disseminated via professional literature and possible conference presentations.  Findings will also be used to show proof of concept and value of data to future granting agencies including the NSF.


Funding Class Amount Description
Test Materials $500 When at all possible, discarded leather bindings from institutional donations and our collection will be used, however, to fill out sample sets, a small materials budget will be needed to purchase historic leather bindings.
Services $1,000 Accelerated aging fee for Image Permanence Institute (price confirmed by e-mail for 10 samples)
Services $ 3,750 Fees to support hourly labor for Spectral analysis and microscopy at Beckman Institute ($ 20/hr for 50 hrs of acquisition and 5 hrs/week of  graduate student effort)
Personnel $2,045 Graduate Hourly labor in conservation to collect leather samples, prepare items for testing and assist in the analysis of the results and summarization of the project.  5 hours/week for 5 months = 105 hours @ $19.47/hr = $2,044.55


Total project request: $7,295

Total Budget: $X,XX

[i] Pippa Cruickshank, Vincent Daniels and Jonathan King.  A Great Lakes pouch: black-dyed skin with porcupine quillwork.  The British Museum Technical Research Bulletin.  3(2009), 63-72.