Think ink!

Bright green husks of black walnuts sitting in paper bag

The Preservation Lab was approached recently by Carey Champion, Director of the Wylie House Museum, to collaborate on an upcoming First Thursday event in October, 2019. She had the idea to present writing materials as they existed in the 19th century for students to try out, along with correspondence (or facsimiles) by members of the Wylie family during this time. We rose to the occasion and said we could make some ink out of Black Walnuts (Juglans nigra). In spite of what one can find online, I don’t know of any reliable historic source or scientific analysis that has definitively attributed walnut ink to historic documents or artwork. If anyone out there can send me a citation to a reliable study, I’m interested! Nevertheless, it was likely used as a quick ‘frontier’ ink and is certainly fun to make.

Here in southern Indiana, the green husks of Black Walnuts are coming into maturity and even falling from a few tree specimens around campus and county.  We gathered about 40, and gathered around the bag with smashing implements in gloved hands to strip the green husks off of the nuts themselves. The hulls sat in a bucket overnight to oxidize a bit. The next day they were beginning to turn quite black. The hulls were about 4 liters in volume and were boiled in several stages with additions at certain points. Although the recipe follows, it’s worth pointing out a couple of things:

-Steel wool (ie. iron) was added in order to darken the ink and create what is called a ferric tannate pigment which is insoluble in water. The ink we created is not too dissimilar from iron gall ink, which those of us who work around historic documents are all too familiar. IG ink was the chief manuscript ink for at least the first half of the 19th century.

-Gum arabic was added not as a binder or gloss agent, but as a suspension aid to keep the very fine precipitate particles of ink floating around in solution.

-A small amount of alcohol was added as a preservative, and cloves were added for the same purpose as well as to improve the smell.

People gathered and removing the husks from walnutslarge beaker filled with husks and water, ready to be boiled to extract color

Please stop by the Arts Plaza the evening of October 3 to say hi and try out our ink!

writing samples using the ink


Craftint Doubletone: 20th Century Time-Saver

I recently mended and made folders for items in a Lilly Library manuscript collection. The collection contains the papers of Charles A. Halleck, who served in the U.S. Congress from 1934 to 1968. There was nothing unusual about the contents of one particular box, just original drawings of political cartoons and ads regarding the congressman from the mid-thirties. Then I looked a little closer at one of Halleck’s portraits.

The hatching in the illustration looks too good. It looks manufactured, not hand-rendered, but the perimeter of the shaded areas follow the form of brush strokes, just like on Halleck’s inked lapels. I found two other drawings of Halleck with the same perfectly hatched and occasionally crosshatched tones filling out the shadows on his face and neck. Fortunately, the backs of the illustration boards are marked “Craftint Doubletone,” so that’s where I started my search.

The Ohio-based Craftint Manufacturing Company offered Doubletone and a similar paper called Singletone from 1929 until they sold the product to the Ohio Graphic Arts Center, now Grafix. Grafix renamed the product Duoshade and it was available until 2009 when it was determined obsolete in the face of programs like Adobe Illustrator, and discontinued.

A 1988 Grafix Duoshade ad from Wittyworld Magazine. From Mike Lynch Cartoons,

Twentieth century reference books and journal articles describe Craftint’s seemingly magical paper as an illustration board with a latent pattern on its surface that, when brushed with a liquid developer provided by the company, appears where desired. In these books, there is no mention of the chemical response in these latent patterns. However, as commercially successful products, I knew there must have been a patent on them.

After some digging, I found an application filed by Henry M. Baker in 1927 and patented in April 1929, the same year that Craftint started offering its product. Baker explains that by developing a silver nitrate image (a pattern of dots or lines) and blanching it with a substance like mercuric chloride to render it undetectable, a sensitized and lightfast image remains dormant until activated with a liquid developer.

Illustrations from Baker’s patent showing the linear pattern (fig. 1) before it is blanched. Figure 2 is the finished ink drawing, and Figure 3 is the completed illustration with the redeveloped tones throughout.

Baker does not specify the chemical agent used to redevelop the pattern in his application. However, a patent issued to Carl Maier and William Swaysland in 1930 also listed on Craftint’s July 1948 product catalogue uses a different approach, by which a lead sulfate (lead white) pattern is applied to the paper’s surface and a soluble sulfide is brushed on where desired, turning the lead sulfate to lead sulfide, a dark compound. And if you made a mistake on the paper? Hydrogen peroxide would convert the lead sulfide back to a white compound. Other inventors built off Baker’s initial process, leading to various combinations of chemicals and developers.

A few detail images of Halleck’s inked portraits show the blank, undeveloped surface, the India ink drawing, and the developed pattern. Since these images are on Craftint’s Doubletone paper, there are two different patterns printed on the paper’s surface. Independently, the patterns make up two groups of parallel lines that, when both are activated, appear as crosshatching. A light tone developer makes visible one set of lines. For a darker tone, another developer is applied, but only after work with the light developer is finished.

Detail of two depictions of Halleck on Craftint Doubletone. The left illustration was drawn on Doubletone No. 202, the right on No. 213. Time has affected the paper, making what was a previously hidden pattern of undeveloped lines more visible.

What made Craftint toned papers so useful for twentieth century graphic artists? The potential to bring out large areas of tone with no more effort than a brush stroke is one of Craftint’s most attractive qualities. Compared to hand-rendered hatching and stippling, the results would be swift and concise, and mistakes were easier to hide via hydrogen peroxide than scraping or masking ink. Other methods of achieving tones and patterns were not always as effective and, in the case of halftone reproduction, not as affordable. Ben Day dots, as they are known now, did not offer the same precision as Craftint’s toned papers and had to be applied one large area at a time and burnished to complete the transfer of pattern, although they were available in a variety of colors. The tonal variety seen on and around Halleck’s mouth would have been difficult to achieve with Ben Day dots. Additionally, Craftint reproduced well at reduced sizes. A proof of Halleck’s ad shows the artist’s rendering reduced to smaller than one-quarter of the original. At such a size, the hatching on the original appears as a smooth, even tone across his face.

Printer’s proof of Halleck’s ad with Doubletone illustration.

This process is very far from magic, though it surely seemed that way for artists. After dipping their brushes in clear liquid, the path of their brushstrokes immediately turned dark as it traveled across the paper. The phenomenon was easy to overdo, leading to images with many toned areas that, when reproduced into small comic strips and magazine ads, turned out cluttered and unclear. Artists commended peers who knew when to stop.


Anderson, Murphy with R.C. Harvey. The Life and Art of Murphy Anderson. North Carolina: TwoMorrows Publishing, 2003.

Baker, Henry M. Camera copy, and method of, and medium for making the same. 1709600, 1929.

Chow, Dave. “Grafix Duo-Shade Developer and Board.”

Ives, Ronald L. “Fabricated Diagrams.” The Journal of Geology, Vol. 47, No. 5 (1939): 517-545.

Legion of Andy. “Ben Day Dots Part 8: 1930s to 1950s- the Gold Age of Comics.”

Lilly Library. Halleck Mss, catalogue record.

Lynch, Mike.

Maier, Carl and William Swaysland. Method of producing designs and article for use therein. 1778397, 1930.

Wallace, Clarence Earl. Commercial Art. New York: McGraw Hill, 1939.

Writings of Brilliance

We recently had two documents in the lab exhibiting a noteworthy effect. They were contracts for a violinist’s performance in Lyon dating from the time of the French Revolution, from a Lilly Library collection. Interesting enough, but what really caught my eye was how the ink in selected areas sparkled when turned in the light. Low-power microscopy suggests some type of micaceous material. For me, the question is, was this used as a drying pounce with the bonus of adding some ‘bling’ to one’s signature? Or was the effect alone the chief reason for use? In working with manuscripts for many years, the two other times I’ve seen this were also in French Revolution-era documents. Incidentally, this effect should not be confused with the well-documented and studied crystalline growth one can sometimes see on iron gall ink (whitish or yellowish crystals).

I tried to capture the effect as best as I could by taking multiple exposures with the angle of incident light varying, and then stitching them all together in Photoshop for a rough .gif animation. The effect is restricted to the area associated with the word ‘Bowes’ and the passage of text at the bottom of the view ending with the name “Carpentier”.

gif animation of sparkling ink

There’s a date visible too- 14th of Fructidor, year 13. This references the French Republican Calendar which is itself a fascinating topic. I found a calendar converter online and it looks like this is August 31, 1806, for us Gregorian-minded folks.

p.s. if you want to see a higher resolution animation leave a comment with your email and I’ll send you a file.


The Preservation Lab at IU Bloomington shares the same address as our Auxiliary Library Facility (ALF)- a compact storage facility on the edge of campus designed to hold 6 million book volume equivalents. Most of the time, we enjoy being away from the parking hassles and student congestion of the main campus libraries, but increasingly we’re finding issues are cropping up with transportation of collection materials. ALF currently stores 3.2 million books, manuscripts, maps, architectural plans, film reels: you name it! Combine this with transport needs for the items we’re working on in the Paper Lab and General Collections Lab and quite a lot goes back and forth each day.

Much of the work the Paper Lab handles is transported using personal vehicles, for a number of reasons:

  • It’s often easier and quicker to just do it yourself.
  • I can be available to consult with subject librarians and archivists if they deliver items in person.
  • Flat paper items often do not fit into the totes utilized for book delivery.
  • I get a chance to visit satellite libraries and reinforce professional relationships.
  • I can rule-out mishandling of items during transit.

However, recent developments are causing us to reassess some of these habits. Our Geosciences Library closed, with much of the collection coming out to ALF. I’ve also implemented a rolled-storage method of housing campus architectural plans out here (representing a significant portion of the University Archives holdings). Additional pressures have arisen to store items from other campus entities that don’t always fit the mold of tote-able goods. There are also liability issues with the transport of university property in personal vehicles. All of this means that more and more requests are coming in for items whose transport needs haven’t been formally considered.

ALF employees currently make a five mile round trip once a day to deliver requested items to patrons at campus library locations. A second trip to the main library (Wells Library) occurs too. Books are packed onto shelved A-frame style carts and strapped to the walls of a box truck. There is also a separate Library-wide mail service originating at Wells; rigid plastic totes are used by this unit. In order for oversized materials (either on a rigid tube, or foldered/flat boxed) to be transported by either service, they must be packed securely and robustly, strapped down when appropriate, be weatherproof and capable of delivery by one person. Packing must also be straightforward on both the shipping and receiving end for conservator and general library employee alike.

So, after some searching for products to meet these specifications, we’re going to pilot two types of cases: a rigid tube and a reinforced case.




The interiors of both cases can be filled out with Plastazote and/or Volara foam for clean, discrete and archival padding. Existing delivery routes and workflows should not need to be changed. I forsee some training needed by those who manage collections and staff reading rooms, but nothing that an instructional session and some printed guidelines can’t solve.

Shop Tools and Tips

As Necessity is the Mother of Invention, I thought I’d share with the wider preservation world some tools and tips we’ve developed in the lab to solve some very specific problems. Undoubtedly other labs have their own solutions to similar problems; I know I’ve travelled with a few from place to place. *Anyone out there know of the NEDCC paper towel roll method to absorb excess water from a lining?
First off is the Clam-Rule. This tool developed from the need to measure a stack of manuscript materials in order to construct a clamshell box for storage. Numerous papers of varying sizes are all but impossible to fit into a MeasurepHase. What is actually needed is a height gauge, such as this Mitutoyo 514-102 Vernier Height Gauge, but with a further reach.

I developed this decidedly lower-tech version, using a shop ruler, some wood, woodstain, brass and a bubble level. Once the horizontal arm is placed level on the stack, the height is read across the top edge of the bar, where it meets the millimeter gradations.clam rule

Along similar lines of box making is this simple jig- utilized when creating build-ups for the interior of clamshells. We make ours out of cloth-covered corrugated board. Multiple layers of board are laminated together; it helps greatly if two sides of this laminated stack are jogged up, ensuring less cutting in the end, and a neater product. Our jig is made out of scrap MDF counter-top, screwed together.
build-up jig

For gluing items and keeping tabletops clean, many labs use scrap paper under constructions while they dry. The trouble is, the paper ends up sticking and can only be used once. Much better are scrap sheets of polyester film (generated from encapsulation trimmings or errors). PVA peels readily off plastic film, so the sheets can be used again and again. An alternative to both of these solutions is waxed paper. We get ours from ULINE. It’s relatively inexpensive, can be used repeatedly, and my colleagues in the book unit tell me it is a much better product than conventional white butcher paper or translucent waxed paper. We’ve found another use for it too, in interleaving rolls of archival double-sided tape. Over time, the adhesive can creep a little, sticking rolls to each other if you have them stacked up. Dust also gets adhered. The interleaving solves both problems.
wax paper

Finally, and perhaps most used, is the Brass Nevada. Though not invented by us, the moniker was apparently one Garry Harrison gave to it. It is indispensable in trimming cloth to fit interior corners of box constructions. The Nevada allows for 45 and 90 degree angles, provides an edge to cut against and has a much more satisfying weight during use compared to plastic, or card.
brass nevada

What sorts of tools and methods have been developed in your lab that may be unique to your institution?

Doug Sanders

Conservation insights from the 1870s

In the Paper Lab, we’ve been working on a collection of “Journals of useful knowledge, romance, amusement, &c.”, but in actuality they seem to be morality themed newspapers filled with serial stories of ladies in distress and/or fallen women, swashbucklers, highwaymen, and dandies with a side of “Dear Abby”-style courtship and etiquette advice. While mending these papers, we couldn’t help but indulge in a little reading only to discover a few tidbits that might be of interest to conservators and library types.

Continue reading “Conservation insights from the 1870s”