Test Subject: A Sacrifice for the Good of Science

by Liz

As I mentioned previously, I found a neat old Classical Dictionary rotting away into fine, spongy leather dust. This sad , fat volume is helpless, after all, there is no cure for red rot. There is , however, a stopgap that can extend the life of a book. For my birthday today, my parents surprised me with some CELLUGEL! I stole the manufacturer’s description so you can get the gist of what the stuff does:

“Cellugel uses cellulose ethers (specifically hydroxypropylcellulose) and isopropanol to treat red rot by penetrating the surface of leather. It consolidates the leather substrate, depositing a thin film which provides resistance to atmospheric conditions but does not darken or discolor leather surfaces. It will not stain other materials it comes in contact with. Cellugel dries quickly and the book may soon be handled safely. A second coat may prove necessary for extremely thick or badly deteriorated volumes. It is an excellent choice for consolidating powdery leather surfaces prior to conservation treatments.” – Conservation Resources

Okay, so that may be a bit much hoity-toity talk for us average Joes and Josefines. Basically, Cellugel makes a film over the book, keeping it from powdering up your hands. It’s easier to apply than frosting on a donut and golly, it works! In less than the time it takes to get through a commercial break, I had zapped that red rot into submission!

My super-technical workstation full of high-tech equipment, including a state-of-the-art butter dish.

The applying Cellugel is so much easier than applying to grad school!

I’ve never been this giddy watching paint dry…

Sadly, it won’t heal the flaking and splitting in the spine of the book, but the covers are now almost powder free! The little flakes I’m going to fix up with some unholy glue (conservationist everywhere begin sharpening their pitchforks).


Glue will have to do ! This book is pretty dead already. If I’m going to bring it back to life, I’m going to need to get all Dr. Frankenstein up in here!

I have applied the first coat and will see how the covers hold up with just that. I find it kind of ironic that something that contains 100% isopropyl alcohol– the industrial version of the stuff used in hand sanitizer and by evil fathers to singe the germs right out of your roadrash– will preserve powder-dry red rot. After all, isopropyl dries out your hands like nobody’s business! I made the mistake of getting some on my fingers. My hands are now as dry and crackly as the old dictionary used to be!

I only dipped my hand in it one time. ONE TIME.

Anyway, I am beyond pleased with the Cellugel. Along with the amazing bookbinding dictionary and book care guides my parents gave me, I am well set to forge ahead into my conservation experiments on this sad old tome! Huzzah!