VOLUME 14 NUMBER 3
SUMMER 2013

Seeing Red: Bookbuilders of Boston Interns at the John J. Burns Library

Jen O'Brien '13 and Juliette San Fillipo '13, Bookbuilders of Boston scholarship recipients, have been working as interns at the John J. Burns Library this semester. Bookbuilders of Boston, a non-profit organization founded in 1937, has a membership representing all areas of the book industry: editing, design, production, manufacturing, and marketing. This organization created a scholarship fund to support, encourage, and promote publishing-related education. Participating educational institutions, such as Boston College, award the scholarships to students who plan to pursue careers in publishing anticipating that, upon graduation, they will contribute their knowledge and unique talent to the field.

Juliette and Jen were an excellent fit for this program; they already have strong backgrounds in publication through campus organizations such as: The Heights, Elements, Laughing Medusa, and Stylus. Their time in the Burns Library has been filled with training by colleagues in all departments, and includes a major assignment issued by Bridget Burke, Associate University Librarian for Special Collections. This article is focused on the conservation department portion of the students' training, the "My Book" project, and the collaboration with the Boston College Integrated Sciences Cleanroom and Nanofabrication Facility.

The "My Book" project was envisioned as a format for the two students to learn about historic book structure in an engaged way—each was assigned a particular book to study and describe in a paper as they learned the process of making a hand-crafted book. Jen O'Brien had already been working as a Burns Library aide prior to her selection as a Bookbuilders of Boston intern, so her interest in 16th century books bound in pigskin was known. Her book, titled Compendium Manualis D. Navarri, was printed in 1593 and is bound in pigskin. Juliette San Fillipo has a deep interest in sustainable living and re-purposed materials, so she was given a book with a "re-cycled" medieval manuscript as the cover, titled Appendix ad Grammaticum Proteum de Alphonsi de Vargas. Both students were given book history reading assignments, met with Barbara, the conservator, to discuss the structure of their books, and then wrote papers outlining their findings.

Jen and Juliette, in addition to receiving instruction in the conservation lab, also spent considerable time with David Richtmyer, Rare Books Librarian and Senior Cataloger, learning rare book cataloging and early printing processes, thereby rounding out their knowledge of the assigned books. They did an excellent job of researching historic books, but were also eager to find out facts specific to their books. Their books, as well as an 18th century book in the process of being repaired in the lab, all had in common some sort of red pigment on their surfaces. Juliette's book has bold red initial letters on the vellum leaf covering it, Jen's book has deep red colored residue on the leather, and the 18th century book has some bright red lettering. Their interest was also piqued by a red ink recipe in the 18th century book. Was it used to create the red color of the lettering? The surest way to know the chemical makeup of these red pigments was to do materials analysis. Dr. Greg McMahon, Multibeam FIB/SEM Research Associate at the Boston College Integrated Sciences Cleanroom and Nanofabrication Facility, had collaborated with the Burns Library conservation department on other book history projects and graciously aided it again.

Compendium Manualis D. Navarri (on the left) and Appendix ad Grammaticum Proteum de Alphonsi de Vargas (on the right). Compendium Manualis D. Navarri (on the left) and Appendix ad Grammaticum Proteum de Alphonsi de Vargas (on the right). Photo Credit: Gary Gilbert

Jen and Juliette brought extremely tiny samples of the three red pigments to the Cleanroom, suited up in protective gear (special clothing to prevent harm to the delicate equipment and samples—after all, since the samples were about the size of a few flecks of dust, we did not want to confuse 16th-18th century ink particles with 21st century dust). Through observing Dr. McMahon as he conducted the materials analysis procedure, they learned about scanning electron microscopy (SEM) and energy dispersive X-ray spectroscopy (EDS). Briefly, in scanning electron microscopy, a beam of finely focused electrons is scanned in an x-y fashion across the sample, and the magnitude of the various signals produced at each rastered point can be used to form the image and provide information about the chemistry of the sample within that micro- or nano-region. Therefore, the resolution of the image is dependent on the diameter of the electron beam scanning the sample, rather than a set of lenses as in an optical microscope or camera. In the case of the equipment in the Boston College cleanroom, the resolution is roughly 1.5 nm under ideal conditions. For the operating parameters necessitated by the types of samples that Jen and Juliette brought, it was closer to 5 nm for this study. Energy dispersive X-ray spectroscopy relies on the fact that as the energetic electron beam scans the sample, it is capable of ejecting electrons from inner shell atomic orbitals. This results in an electron transition from the next outer shell, whereby an electron falls to fill the vacancy resulting from the ejected electron, and resulting in the emission of a characteristic X-ray (and X-ray energy) which can be used to identify the atomic element from which it was emitted. Using these techniques, we were able to image and analyze the fine specks of ink that Jen and Juliette brought to the lab.

A SEM image from one of the flecks of Juliette's samples of ink from Appendix ad Grammaticum Proteum de Alphonsi de Vargas is shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1:  SEM image from ink from Appendix ad Grammaticum Proteum de Alphonsi de Vargas. The 200um bar shown represents the size of about 2-3 human hair diameters. Figure 1: SEM image from ink from Appendix ad Grammaticum Proteum de Alphonsi de Vargas. The 200um bar shown represents the size of about 2-3 human hair diameters.

The area outlined by the pink box represents the region where we performed X-ray analysis. The resulting X-ray spectrum is shown in Figure 2. Here, the x- or horizontal axis represents the energy of the detected X-ray in keV, and the y- or vertical axis represents the number of those X-rays detected.

Figure 2: EDS spectrum showing X-ray peaks corresponding to X-rays from elements in the sample. Figure 2: EDS spectrum showing X-ray peaks corresponding to X-rays from elements in the sample.

Carbon (C) and oxygen (O) are frequently found in many materials, but most interesting are the mercury (Hg) and sulfur (S) peaks. The identification of strong peaks from both mercury and sulfur is an indication of the presence of the pigment vermillion in the sample - a red pigment known to be in frequent use at the time (and before) this particular "recycled" cover was made.

Jen's book also showed the presence of strong Hg and S peaks, indicating the use of vermillion, but also of other interesting materials such as barium sulfide, which may have been used as a pigment, but may also have been used to treat the pig's hide.

Finally, the lettering on the manuscript Barbara had been working on was also definitively vermillion. So although this manuscript gave a recipe for a red ink made of organic materials (containing Alum which would have easily been spotted), the red ink used in the manuscript was clearly vermillion. In all of the samples analyzed, the sulfide mineral known as cinnabar would have produced the red color for the vermillion pigment.

The results that Dr. McMahon determined using the Cleanroom equipment came as a surprise to the students because the three reds appeared, to the human eye, to be entirely different shades of red and therefore could have been made from different materials. Without the materials analysis, they would have had to identify the reds visually and by investigating what materials would have been available historically. The ink for 18th century lettering might have been assumed to have been made from the recipe in that book. The Cleanroom visit helped the interns to learn to investigate using all methods available; the library, in this case, served to make the connection.

At Boston College the Bookbuilders of Boston interns, Jen O'Brien and Juliette San Fillipo, had a unique library training experience. While assisting with all the Burns Library staff, the interns learned the daily workings of a special collections library. The conservation department, in assigning them the "My Book" project, gave them the opportunity to learn historic book structure by focusing on one book intensively while using the library's resources. The collaboration with the Boston College Integrated Sciences Cleanroom and Nanofabrication Facility allowed Juliette and Jen to learn specific details about their books and enhanced their "My Book" project in a meaningful way. So that a wider audience can share in greater detail what the students learned, their papers are posted on the Burns Library Blog.

Dr. Greg McMahon
Multibeam FIB/SEM Research Associate
Barbara Adams Hebard
Conservator, John J. Burns Library, Boston College