A Special Song Book from the Illinois History & Lincoln Collections

On Tuesday, February 12, the Illinois History and Lincoln Collections and the History, Philosophy, and Newspaper Library will celebrate Abraham Lincoln’s 210th birthday. The event will take place from 4-6 pm in room 246 of the Main Library and will include several fun activities, as well as a pop-up exhibit of rare and unique Lincoln-themed items.

One special item will not be on display at the birthday celebrations, as it is currently receiving some TLC at the Conservation Lab: The wide-awake vocalist: or, Rail splitters’ song book. : Words and music for the Republican campaign of 1860. Embracing a great variety of songs, solos, duets and choruses, arranged for piano or melodeon. 

Illinois History and Lincoln Collections’ curator Krista Gray shared that during the 1860 campaign, the “Wide Awakes” – political groups of young Republican men marked by a paramilitary style, distinctive garb, and torch-lit rallies – organized on a grassroots basis throughout the north and west in support of Republican candidates, including Abraham Lincoln (Grinspan). This particular song book contains lyrics and musical scores for more than 60 songs from the 1860 Presidential campaign for Lincoln. It has certainly seen better days; the paper is in poor condition, with significant mold staining and damage. The damage is most significant on the front and back covers, but mold spots and tears in the paper occur throughout.

Conservator Quinn Ferris is working to repair the song book; so far, she has frozen the object to deactivate mold, vacuumed the covers to brush away soiling and mold, surface-cleaned the object to reduce remaining grime, washed the pages in several chemical baths to remove yellow degradation products and strengthen the paper, and used gelatin to consolidate flaking materials and create a fungal-resistant coating.

Currently, Ferris is working to repair tears in the pages by using a thin Japanese tissue paper – Yukiyushi – and a diluted wheat starch paste.  This process is called mending, and once it is complete, Ferris will resew the loose pages and text blocks together, reattach the cover using more tissue paper, and create a custom enclosure for the item.

While the finished product might not look significantly different than the initial item (though hopefully it will look less beaten-up), the treatment process involves many precise steps to stop chemical degradation in the paper, stabilize the item, and make it usable to those wishing to see it in the IHLC reference collection. The goal of library conservation is not to return an item to a pristine or ‘original’ condition, but to show its long and interesting life and to make it accessible for patrons to use. Hopefully this special song book can have a long life still to come!


Jon Grinspan, “‘Young Men for War’: The Wide Awakes and Lincoln’s 1860 Presidential Campaign,” Journal of American History 96 (Sept. 2009): 357-378, http://archive.oah.org/special-issues/lincoln/contents/grinspan.html

Sir Isaac Newton comes to the Conservation Lab

It is amazing to work at an institution that acquires so many interesting objects for its collection. A recent acquisition to our Rare Book and Manuscript Library is Sir Isaac Newton’s Latin translation of “Opus Galli Anonymi” in April 2018. While a fascinating piece for researchers, this antique manuscript needed some conservation help.  Continue reading “Sir Isaac Newton comes to the Conservation Lab”

The Spanish Play Collection at Illinois: An Interview with Conservator Jody Waitzman

One of our previous blog posts introduced our ongoing project to disbind and rehouse nearly 12,000 19th and early 20th-century Spanish plays.  The Conservation Lab has just finished this massive disbinding process, and future steps will include cataloging and digitization.

We talked to Jody Waitzman, the General Collections Conservator at the Conservation Lab, who has overseen the unbinding process of the 669 volumes of Spanish plays. Jody shared some of her reflections about this project:

Continue reading “The Spanish Play Collection at Illinois: An Interview with Conservator Jody Waitzman”

When Good Intentions Create Chaos: The Spanish Play Collection at the University of Illinois

Last year, the Conservation Lab took on a sizeable project: disbind and rehouse almost 12,000 19th and Early 20th Century Spanish plays. Sounds fun, right?

This project garners several questions: why so many? why are you disbinding them? Who wanted 12,000 plays in the first place?

All great questions and only a few good answers.  Continue reading “When Good Intentions Create Chaos: The Spanish Play Collection at the University of Illinois”

Building a Library: The Cavagna Sangiuliani Collection at Illinois

We are looking forward to seeing our hard work on display at this upcoming exhibit!

Exhibit Description

In 1921, the University of Illinois purchased the Cavagna Sangiuliani Collection of Italian imprints and manuscripts from the descendants of Count Antonio Cavagna Sangiuliani di Gualdana (1843-1913) as part of a wider effort to establish the University as a leading center for advanced study.  Continue reading “Building a Library: The Cavagna Sangiuliani Collection at Illinois”