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Cleaning in progress, with tools at the ready.

Today I’m working on a treatment that is basically the rare book equivalent of cleaning under the couch cushions. This 2-volume herbal was used by a previous owner as a plant press, and many leaves, flowers and other assorted plant parts were discovered in-between its pages by our special collections librarian.

The plants had already caused damage, such as acid-burn and staining, and also made it difficult for readers to handle or read this book. So we made the decision to remove the inserted plant matter. We photographed all of the pages with plants in them, then carefully removed all of the larger material. However, there were a lot of smaller plant pieces that got wedged down in the gutter of the pages, so I gathered up all of my favorite small tools and got down to work!

The majority of the pages were fairly easy to sweep clean with my soft squirrel-hair brush, but there were three that were literally FULL of dirt. Those took me almost 30 minutes each to clean out fully, using a combination of tools that included a dental scaler, microspatula, a stiff small brush and a mini-vacuum. While using the dental scaler I had to be very careful not to poke holes in the paper or get caught on the sewing thread, but it turned out to be a very useful tool indeed!

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Before cleaning

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After cleaning