Monday, December 15, 2014

A Collection of Arms and Armor

During my preservation internship at the State Library I worked on a fascinating volume by Bashford Dean called The Collection of Arms and Armor of Rutherfurd Stuyvesant (1914). Stuyvesant (1843-1909) was a member of several prominent New York families, and a great collector of arms and armor as well as European art of all kinds. During his travels to Europe to see art first-hand and to purchase pieces for himself and for the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Stuyvesant’s purchases resulted in a collection of 120 pieces of armor, 14 shields, 135 swords, 84 daggers, 83 shafted weapons, 12 crossbows, 17 guns, 29 pistols, and assorted other objects such as horse trappings, spurs, and powder horns. The objects ranged in date from 1400 B.C. to the eighteenth century.

Through his long association with the Metropolitan Museum of Art as an advisor and board member, Stuyvesant helped start the Museum’s own collection of arms and armor. The author of the book I worked on, Bashford Dean, established the Museum’s Department of Arms and Armor in 1912.

Dean’s catalog of the Stuyvesant collection was the first to describe an American collection of Early European arms and armor. The catalog describes 218 items, with 54 leaves of plates. The volume came to the State Library in 1915, as a gift from the author and at the bequest of Stuyvesant’s widow.

When the catalog came across our desk, it was in relatively poor condition. The front cover had become detached, dust and grime had infiltrated the book and discolored the edges of the pages and the flyleaves, the spine was fraying, and the leather binding was coated in red rot. Our goals for the repair were to fix the spine and cover, clean the book, and treat the red rot.

I began my repair by cleaning up the spine, separating the front and back covers from the text block, trimming away the frayed parts, and making clean edges. This allowed me to have discrete pieces that I could clean and treat before putting the book back together.

Notice the difference between
the left side of this page, which
has been cleaned, and the right
side, which has not.
I first applied Cellugel to all of the leather on the remaining spine leather and the leather of the covers. Cellugel is a combination of cellulose ethers and isopropanol, which treats red rot by helping to bond the leather layers back together and protect it from further atmospheric damage. While the leather dried, I began to surface clean the pages of the book. With each stroke of the cleaning tools, you could see a noticeable difference in the color of the page as the dirt was removed from the surface.

Once all of the parts were cleaned, I re-bound the book in a brown bookcloth. This created a stronger spine and cover attachment than the old, crumbling leather. I reinforced the interior joints with Japanese tissue to help reinforce the covers. Finally, I re-applied the remaining spine label.

This project, one of the last completed before the end of my internship here, was also one of the most fulfilling. It was a pleasure to work with the catalog, with its beautiful plates and rich history, so it can once again be safely used by researchers.

Andra Langoussis
Preservation Intern