Old Specimen Books - Removing Mildew/Mold Smell

Chris Keegan's picture

Ok, maybe a strange question here, but I've got some old specimen books, lettering books, etc. and I love looking through these things, but the moldy "odor" is really almost unbearable. Does anybody have any tips on how to safely remove treat this?

oldnick's picture

I feel your pain: I had a copy of The Book of Oswald Cooper that curled my nose hairs anytime I removed it from solitary confinement, until I applied "the cure."

Book preservation pros recommend zeolite: place the offending article in a heavy-duty zip-lock bag with a couple tablespoons of the stuff, and change it out every three months or so. Less expensive and more readily available: kitty litter. Neither is a complete cure, but both definitely reduce the pungency.

JamesM's picture

I recently called my public library for advice on this very subject. They told me that the best advice could be found at book restorer sites. Do a Google for "book restoration mold" or "book restoration odor" and you'll find articles such as these:

How to remove mold:

How to remove odors:

Chris Keegan's picture

Nick/James, thanks for the info guys, I'll definitely look into this!

russellm's picture

A scanner

Diner's picture

Separately but related, I have started assembling the seeds of an idea for an online type specimen book and ephemera library via ebook or printed on-demand. It seems regrettable that all these great type books are hoarded up and cannot be shared, also they have no path to the future if they end up as estate sale winnings . . .

The origin of this thought was because of working with the Filmotype and Lettering Inc libraries with tons of amazing specimen books from the 1930s through 1960s many of which aren't likely to be reprinted again and I cringe flipping through the pages as they are fragile and I don't want to damage them further while being able to enjoy reading them . . .

Granted, I would admit copyright concern is a major priority but in most cases, many of the original companies and publishers no longer exist . . .

Any thoughts?
Stuart :D

blank's picture

An online specimen library is definitely something we’re all going to need to work on. Between the growing numbers of type designers and the popularity of specimens with non-type designers (including people who should be hanged for cutting the books up to sell as prints!) these books are in very short supply. And the quality of Google Books scans is often abominable, making it useless for anything small. Maybe we should all get interns to scan everything and start uploading to Flickr.

blank's picture

Has anyone out there purchased one of those German DVD sets? I’m interested but I want to know a little more about the quality and if they’re individual images (good) or PDFs (very bad).

crossgrove's picture

There's also Octavo for high-res digital editions.

JamesM's picture

> Granted, I would admit copyright concern is a major
> priority but in most cases, many of the original companies
> and publishers no longer exist . . .

But you have to be careful, because long after a company closes its doors it may still exist as a legal entity with an owner somewhere.

Mark Simonson's picture

I've got volumes one and two of the German DVDs. Each DVD contains a collection of specimen books organized by country then by foundry. Within that structure, each specimen (books, pamphlets, cards, etc.) is a PDF made up from 150dpi scans (best guess).

I think they are a wonderful survey of what was available in the world of metal type, good enough to get an idea what typefaces look like (for identification purposes for instance), and perhaps for judging whether or not you want to get hold of a certain physical specimen or not, or whether it's worth the asking price. I don't think the quality is good enough for doing tight digital revivals, but good enough to inspire and inform new faces.

Chris Keegan's picture

Russell: the 1923 ATF specimen is around 1,100 pages. That's a lot of scanning.

I think an online repository or even p.o.d. site for these would be a fantastic resource. The logisitics of it though - I have no idea. It's something that I'm sure many graphic designers as well as type designers would love to have access to.

Maybe even an informal flickr group would be great, as James mentioned. I've seen some stuff posted, but nothing too exhaustive. The craftsmanship and beauty of some of the pages is really impressive, and some of the pages are works of art.

oldnick's picture

the 1923 ATF specimen is around 1,100 pages. That's a lot of scanning.

The 1912 ATF book is even larger. It's so heavy that my scanner tends to drag under the weight when I scan from the middle of the book.

BTW, I also have the first two volumes from Spatium: great stuff. Also available on eBay: a scanned CD of Barnhart Brothers & Spindler's Catalog #25, for $16.95 or so. Since I already have three copies of the book, I haven't checked out the CD...

BeauW's picture

Barnhart Brothers & Spindler's Catalog #9 for free:


Fantastic to flip through.

JamesM's picture

> the 1923 ATF specimen is around 1,100 pages

My first real design job was a summer internship at a corporation. Each afternoon we'd send our marked-up copy to the typesetter, and the next morning we'd receive our type galleys.

One morning the typesetter's delivery guy walked in and dropped an enormous envelope on my desk with a thud. "Here's your type." The package must have weighed 5 pounds. I stared at it in horror. Had I made some horrendous mistake when spec'ing type? Was I going to get fired?

With trembling hands I opened the package. My type was in there all right, but so was something I didn't expect -- the typesetter's massive new specimen book. Wheh.

Diner's picture

Thanks for the thoughtful input gang! I spoke with a tech buddy of mine and this isn't as difficult to do as we may think . . .

The problems are the problems . . .

Flickr only allows a max resolution and knowing what I know about this group, I don't think any of us would be satisfied without seeing the grains of the paper upon full zoom. OpenLibrary nor Flickr gave me this piece of mind . . .

The flip side of it is that nobody can print above 300 dpi, so at some point you hit diminishing returns on scans created for screen vs scans created for print . . . And as James mentioned, Google Books just ain't cuttin' it . . .

I guess the solution is something much closer to an OpenLibrary but even that isn't close enough . . .

I think there are multiple things that need to be solved:

* The POD problem since most of them only deal with fixed sizes and who can attest to quality?

* A host for 4-6mb images PER page at minimum

* An online reader

I presume perhaps naively that any contributors will do their own scanning and uploading and their own due diligence on legal issues pertaining to copyright . . .

Any thoughts on how to solve the rest of it?

Stuart :D

blank's picture

The POD problem since most of them only deal with fixed sizes and who can attest to quality?

POD could do some B&W specimens really well, but only if someone devoted a great deal of time to cleaning up all the images. I’m not a big fan.

A host for 4-6mb images PER page at minimum

Eek. We might need to just have a central repository for ordering DVDs.

An online reader

I think we would be better off just zipping everything up as CBZ files for use with comic-reading software. It’s much faster than trying to view big images through browsers or PDF readers.

I presume perhaps naively that any contributors will do their own scanning and uploading and their own due diligence on legal issues pertaining to copyright . . .

We could always just start with the public domain stuff and move forward from there. And we might also find that some of the people who have bought up the rights to old type libraries own the rights to the specimen books.

It might be worthwhile to try finding a private library where we could set up a camera stand and a server and work on something like this. Maybe the TDC library would be good given it’s proximity to some pretty exceptional collections of type specimens and other rare book.s

eliason's picture

I wonder if an academic library might have interest in this. Maybe RIT?
(They could set up something like Iowa has done with the Digital Dada Archive...)

Diner's picture

Actually, McGill always seems to show up with top search results whenever I look up a specimen book . . .

@ James - Is there a CBZ reader for those luddites among us who don't have an iPad like me?


blank's picture

There are lots of CBZ reader. A CBZ file is just a zip file of sequentially numbered image files, so they’re a pretty simple programming projects. I find it better than PDF readers for dealing with images because PDF software, particularly Acrobat, is text-oriented and usually has a number of problems related to viewing and creating a document out of a lot of images.

BarbHauser's picture

Regarding Stuart's comment, "I cringe flipping through the pages as they are fragile and I don't want to damage them further while being able to enjoy reading them . . . ," there's a machine for that.


Diner's picture

Honestly Barb, these folks have EXACTLY what we would want including an arrangement with McGill . . . THANKS!

I have written them to determine how we may take advantage of their services as well . . .


oldnick's picture

I cringe flipping through the pages as they are fragile and I don't want to damage them further while being able to enjoy reading them

I had the same problem with a copy of BB&S Catalog #9: small chips of paper moulted from the edges upon perusal. I chose simply to sever the spine with a guillotine paper cutter, and box the results...perhaps not a purist approach, but a lot neater in the end.

russellm's picture

Chris K, Russell: the 1923 ATF specimen is around 1,100 pages. That's a lot of scanning.

Yes, it is. It will take a few hours. On my (not very fast) scanner, maybe about a day to a day and a half of actual scanning.

Nick Shinn's picture

Eventually, some form of microscopic, stereoscopic scanning will be invented.
The reading device (flexible, of course) will have high-res "pixel pistons" that mimic the effect of intaglio and letterpress printing.
At any rate, it is never a good idea to trash the original, as Nicholson Baker has pointed out with regards to the microfiche catastrophe.

blank's picture

On a related note, it would be incredible if we could figure out how to connect Google with a library that has the complete run of The Inland Printer. I am convinced that The Inland Printer is a key that would unlock a lot of doorways to understanding nineteenth and early twentieth century type design if it were scanned, OCRed, and indexed by Google books.

William Berkson's picture

James, if I remember rightly—from when TypeCon was in Boston—the Museum of Printing in Andover Mass has a pretty complete library of the Inland Printer.

Diner's picture

I shot off an e-mail to the folks at Kirtas who informed me they would be interested and do have the ability to perform this service for us . . . They are interested in the potential number of items we'd have to send in to their Service Bureau to digitize, likely this would all be done on their equipment which is suited to this use . . .

I for one will be happy to and have always planned on making the Filmotype and Lettering Inc materials available in this manner . . . I honestly don't care to make a profit on this but rather make sure it's available to everybody . . . I'm OK if Kirtas wants to make a buck though . . .


PS: Oddly enough they also would like to know where each book owner would be sending materials in from as they have a sales force that needs to know where to assign the relationships. . .

russellm's picture

My son had a job at his university library for a while. The management's view of scanning books was that it was the answer to all their storage problems. (With permission) he'd brought home a number of old, leather-bound, musty smelling books and maps that, having been scanned, would otherwise have ended up in the recycling bin.

My suggestion to scan, was not to replace a real book with a digital one, but to spare Chris' lungs from mould spores and such, and the book from constant handling.

bojev's picture

I would suggest reading: Double Fold, Libraries and the Assault on Paper by Nicholson Baker. A book detailing what we have lost due to microfilming and other recording processes for books. Sometimes ink on paper is the best - and a scan does not impart all of the information on paper in the same way as the real object can.

Bleisetzer's picture

In Germany, since some weeks we are working on a project to upload around 1,600 so called "Typokartei" DIN A5 (800 of it, two-sided). All scans are done already (300 dpi), each scan has around 180 KB. I guess this is close to maximum of what might be alright for the users of the website later on.

The cards show german lead letters from all german foundries, developed between 1910 and 1980 and in general they show all the same informations about the font - see pic below. We'll edit important informations about font name, foundry, year of first production, artist, DIN 16518 group/subgroup and more in a XML or ITCP format.

Yes, its a lot of work. Right now I start we renaming the pics, so font name is file name. fontware, a norwegian company out of prepress, specialists on archives and handling of large number of pictures, sponsored the project by giving us server and software.

I hope anywhere in three months or so, a visitor will have the chance to call a font on www.bleisetzer.de or he can select e.g. all fonts, first produced between 1920 and 1933. Or all fonts of Rudolf Koch or whatever.

Florian Hardwig's picture

this is great news! Thank you.

However, I wonder why you chose to save the scans as JPGs? The artefacts are horrible.

I disagree with this being the optimal quality, or the maximum acceptable file size.
Today, 180 kb are not really a lot; for comparison, the homepage of SpOn often is ten times as ‘heavy’, with all its graphics etc.


Bleisetzer's picture

Well, Florian, I for myself need font alphabets to classify unknown lead letter fonts. Others might be interested to see text samples to get an idea about this "font in action".

But what, please, is a higher resolution good for?

Yes, I know what for. But just think about it. Would it not include a high risc of copyright probs? With a 300 dpi scan, its not senseful to try to digitize the scans. By the way: The printed quality of most of the old specimen (including the Typokartei one) is not as good as some of you may think. The lead letter CDs someone asked for, offers PDF files, where the pics were included before. So a question for quality depends on what you want to do with it? Both - our project scans and the ones from Hans Reichardts CDs are very nice tools for searching and studying fonts. But I do not see a must to offer it in a quality, able to produce reproductions. For my opinion.

Nick Shinn's picture

From my perspective as a type designer and student of typography, no resolution can be too fine. I want to see every fibre of paper, because it is the effect of inked letter shapes on metal as it is pressed into paper that concerns me, and I want to see it exactly the way the type founders of the day saw it, because it is this degree of detail upon which they based the subtleties of their designs.


Resolution is not the only issue.
What should be the scanner's setting?
For different subject matter, contrast and brightness may be varied to optimize the image.
Then there is the somewhat postmodern question of whether a scan should represent the artefact as it is now, or be adjusted (i.e. "improved") to represent its original condition.


I have a nice facsimile copy of 200-year-old Bruce Foundry book, reproduced so accurately they even went to the trouble of printing the foxing in a special colour!

afonseca1974's picture

I want to add some comments on this.
I do believe that what is being spoken here is a digital library of Old Specimen Books.
There are lots of definition (and attempts) of what a digital library is.
For the Digital Library Federation:

"Digital libraries are organizations that provide the resources, including the specialized staff, to select, structure, offer intellectual access to, interpret, distribute, preserve the integrity of, and ensure the persistence over time of collections of digital works so that they are readily and economically available for use by a defined community or set of communities."

As we can agree, a digital library includes several layers.
The main layers are:
-providing the resources
-Organize them
-Distribute them
-Preserve the integrity of them
-Ensure the persistence over time of collections of digital works

When I study this issues some years ago, we came up with a solution in using a Open-source software that was built in order to guaranty this all issues as they are of main concern when you developed a digital library. There are lots of software out there but this solution was fine for us: FEDORA and FEZ an interface for it.
These software working together can be what is need here. Lots of different users working together with the same application with several levels of permission (from user to administrator of collection responsible for checking who can add documents and validating them).

This software address some issues referred here by Nick Shinn: "as a type designer and student of typography, no resolution can be too fine" and "Then there is the somewhat post-modern question of whether a scan should represent the artefact as it is now, or be adjusted (i.e. "improved") to represent its original condition". I do agree with Nick "no resolution can be too fine and I want to see every fibre of paper, because it is the effect of inked letter shapes on metal as it is pressed into paper that concerns me". The software allows us to create this High-Res digitalisations and store them and develop all kind of disseminators(like a low-Res JPG or grayscale doc- everything you want).

Of course that the implementation of these software are not easy (not that difficult either- I'm no programmer and manage to install it) and a dedicated server. But in my opinion if the purpose here is to develop a real usable archive/digital library these matters have to be addressed.

António Fonseca

afonseca1974's picture

Does anyone here knows if this matter (build of type specimen book and ephemera library) had any developments?
I would like to contact Stuart Sandler to know if he made any development on this, but cant find any email...


Diner's picture

Hi António,

I continue to study this matter deeply but haven't made much progress I'm afraid . . .

There are it seems two concerns . . .

1) Scanning/Offering the materials

2) Institutionalizing the materials

Insofar as issue one goes, I have some e-mails out to high end book scanning resources that won't destroy the book in the process of digitizing them . . . I will advise once I have heard some results . . .

As far as issue two goes, unless the originals are donated to an institution or provided to a large enough source whereby they can be hosted infinitely there is a fear that they will not survive archival storage if they are maintained at only one source . . .

I'm likely getting ahead of myself, but I think insofar as a digital copy goes, it can and should be scanned and shared and even a Print-on-demand solution would be desirable . . .

As far as the actual physical materials go, they should likely eventually end up in the hands of a library that can archive and store them for future generations rather end up at an estate sale marked for 5 cents each . . .


gibarian's picture

You could have the books re-bound, especially if they're falling apart as you said (I am a hobbyest binder, which is why I found this discussion). There are plenty of hand binders in every city. It doesn't really take an institution. One nice thing is when a book is completely disassembled it is much easier to scan. The only thing that really can't be fixed is very brittle paper. I'm always surprised how many people never consider rebinding books when they see what is actually just superficial damage. Sometimes it's just the cover that's damaged but the book doesn't even need to be re-sewn. If the edges look dingy, sometimes you can just trim the margins in a guillotine and the book looks almost new.

Another fun thing about rebinding is you can personalize the books imprinted with your initials or choose or color or so it matches your apartment. I've often taken a series of different books of similar sizes and made them look like a set.


cerulean's picture

By the way, I have a copy of Frank H. Atkinson Sign Painting (Up To Now), 1915, that came from a friend's grandpa's attic. It's in very poor condition, but it seems worth mentioning to anyone who might be interested in it, as otherwise it will just continue to decay in my apartment and probably have to be dropped in the trash at some point.

oldnick's picture


That Atkinson book is a wonderful resource, which is probably why most of the copies available are in such poor shape: they got used extensively by the signpainters of an earlier era.

blank's picture

Cerulean, my book buying budget is maxed out right now, but if you want to send it my way I will be happy to photograph/scan (whatever works best for the format) the book and post it to Flickr.

wisedocks's picture

I hate to be a spammer lol but I have an old type font book from 1885 on my site for sale at http://www.wisedocks.com/shop/61-the-sixteenth-specimen-book-from-the-cincinnati-type-foundry.html
I think it would be better off in someones hands that could appreciate it and put it to work.

Justin_Ch's picture

Dover have recently reprinted that Atkinson book in a combined volume with Charles Strong's lettering book from the same era.


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