Volumes from the Cassel Collection on the Digital Horizon
For the last several weeks and for the next several weeks I'll be working with the Cassel Collection # 1610. So far, cataloguing and digitizing them for online use has been challenging.
Handling these often fragile volumes is something that requires delicate attention. They have fragile pages and tight binding which doesn't lend to being photographed easily. I often have to use a book cradle which, is two wedge shaped pieces of foam, to support the book. The cradles go underneath the book and when photographed from above the book usually looks slightly angled.
Due to the book cradles and the fact that the writing on these old volumes usually goes far into the gutter it is really important to try to get the pages to lay as flat as possible. This often means holding them in place gently, with clear mylar strips. You may have noticed on our Digital Library that some volumes have thin, strips running vertically in the image? That is what the images look like when they have to be secured in this way. While not ideal, this is the least intrusive way I have to gently secure pages for digitization while not covering up any of the information in a volume.
Photographing in this way requires a great deal of attention to: the angle and tension of the mylar. Pulling it too tight can cause unwanted reflections and/or damage to the book binding. As well, to photograph every page the mylar often has to be released and then re-positioned. This is because pages of old volumes are fragile and can be brittle. Any unnecessary friction between the mylar and the pages can cause damage and so extra care must be taken to avoid this.
Another interesting challenge to photographing Cassel volumes is the language barrier. The collection of volumes we have are in German, a language which I unfortunately cannot read or speak. This is particularly frustrating for me because I love to work with the collections at HSP. Understanding the content of the collection is part of this experience and when there are barriers, like this, it can make photographing a rather boring task.
This is unfortunate because the Abraham H Cassel collection has an intriguing set of volumes ranging in topics from the religious/mystical to practical advice about cooking, medicine and bee keeping. The collection demonstrates the taste of Abraham H Cassel who lived in Montgomery County, PA and whose life spanned the years 1820-1908. His passion for reading and collecting volumes existed during a time when acquiring something of interest meant traveling sometimes west of the Mississippi River! What is most surprising however, is that Mr.Cassel was literate at all. His only formal schooling was for six weeks when he was eleven years old. Raised on his family's farm, chores took up most his time. Until, he broke away completely to become a teacher at the age of 20. This unlikely career for his background was a cherished break and it was during this time that he met his future wife, Elizabeth Rhoads and was able to fill his academic passions.
After a seven year interlude from farming he returned to take over his family business and remained there until his death. The story of Mr. Cassel is in many ways as interesting as the content of his many volumes. Lucky for us, even if you can't read German script, you can enjoy HSP's finding aids which include biographical information about collections. To this end, I am grateful to know what I do about this collection and know that my work may give someone who can fully enjoy Cassel's volumes the opportunity to do so from anywhere in the world!