Spectral Analysis of Leather Surface Treatments for Conservation-Report

University of Illinois Library

Seed Grant Status Report July 2014

Preservation and Conservation

Spectral Analysis of Leather Surface Treatments for Conservation

Jennifer Hain Teper



Project Description

Seed Grant funding was used to fund exploratory research on the use of spectroscopic imaging to anticipate appropriate conservation treatments based on their interactions with leather materials as well as the long-term effectiveness of such treatments. 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.


Progress to Date

Sadly, this project’s completion is at the whim of the availability of the ATR spectrometer in Dr. Rohit Barghava’s lab at the Beckman Institute, which is also being used for many other research projects, so progress has been slow.  All leather treatments were prepared according to the guidelines provided in Appendix A , photomicrographs were taken of all samples, and samples were sent along to Dr. Barghava (and his postdoc Prabuddha Mukherjee, who is my main contact) in October of 2013.  Since that time, due to the time necessary to scan so many samples (each final “scan” is an average of 10,000 individual scans, the scope of the project has been scaled down to include only calf skin leathers and the analysis of the surface treatment compounds.  To date, samples have been taken of the new calf skin leather and the isolated surface treatment compounds and is underway for the old calf skin leather sample.



While the analysis is still underway, I do hope to publish my findings (provided there are any worth reporting, and it’s too early to tell for certain) in the Journal of the American Institute for Conservation of Artistic and Historic Artifacts (JAIC), which is a premier journal in the field of conservation.



We are currently planning on starting depth readings for the two leather samples at 500 micron depths (.5 millimeter) after microtoming the samples under frozen nitrogen can be scheduled.  Once FTIR scans of the microtomed samples can be completed, they will be artificially aged in aging ovens provided by Dr. Thomas Rauchfuss (Chemistry Department) and then reimaged.  At this point, I hesitate to even guess about a completion date, since this has already taken many more months than I had anticipated.


Appendix A: Guide to Leather Samples

The samples are number clockwise starting in the upper right corner when looking at the back of the board (the side without leather).  When looking at the front of the board (the side with the treated leather), there is a sample in the lower left with a black mark on it.  Should the numbers on the back be worn off or otherwise removed or destroyed, this can serve as a point around which to orient the board.   There are two samples that were left untreated as controls.  I think it would be helpful to test these as well so that we can see the relative effects on treated and untreated leather.


SAMPLE  1: Treated with Klucel G

SAMPLE 2: Treated with Renaissance Wax


SAMPLE 4: Treated with Cellugel


SAMPLE 6: Treated with Leather Dressing

SAMPLE 7: Treated with Red Rot Cocktail (SC6000 and 2% Klucel G)

SAMPLE 8: Treated with SC6000



Treated with Cellugel


NOT Treated

Control Sample


Treated with Renaissance Wax


Treated with Klucel G


Treated with SC6000


Treated with Red Rot Cocktail


Treated with Leather Dressing


NOT Treated

Control Sample


FTIR spectra of Chemicals

Appendix B: Preliminary Spectra (in anticipated thumbprint region) for new calf leather samples