THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Collection Care blog

18 posts categorized "Exhibitions"

11 November 2016

The British Museum Bindery heroes

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In the British Library Conservation Centre there is a small plaque commemorating four members of the former British Museum Bindery staff who were killed in the First World War.

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Until 1927 the work of binding and restoring the library's collections was contracted out to private concerns. The earliest contractor was appointed in 1760 and in 1881 the firm of Eyre and Spottiswoode was awarded the contract to supply binding services to the Museum Library. In 1927, His Majesty's Stationery Office (HMSO) took over the Bindery and continued until April 1982 when the staff of the binderies became employees of the British Library.

The four men commemorated are Pte Horace Crawley, L/Corp Horace Davis, Rifleman Thomas Wickham and Pte Alfred Williams. I have been trying to discover a little about who they were and when and where they died. The main source of information is the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC)’s website, which gives details of all casualties and where they are buried or commemorated. Further information can be found at The National Archives in the War Service records and the battalion War Diaries. The War Service records show when and where each person joined up – unfortunately they are incomplete as many were damaged or destroyed by enemy action during the Second World War. The Commanding Officer of each battalion wrote a brief summary of each day’s events in a War Diary: these usually state where each unit was and may give details of the actions they were involved in.

Three of the men could be identified without difficulty from the CWGC website.

Horace Charles Davis

Lance-Corporal, 21st Battalion, The London Regiment (1st Surrey Rifles). Service no. 1786. According to his War Service record, Horace Davis joined up on 7 August 1914, one of many who volunteered in the wave of patriotic enthusiasm that swept the country immediately after the declaration of war on 4 August. He gave his age as 17 years and 4 months, and his occupation as Catalogue Assistant at the British Museum. He was the son of Edwin and Maria Davis of Chryssell Road, Brixton. He died on 15 September 1916, aged 18, at the battle of Flers-Courcelette and is buried in Warlencourt Military Cemetery, on the road between Bapaume and Albert, Pas-de-Calais. (If the age on his gravestone is correct, he would only have been 16 when he joined up.)

The 1st Surrey Rifles moved to the Somme front in July 1916, and on 10 September joined the line at High Wood. As part of the battle of Flers-Courcelette they moved into Mametz Wood on 15 September and then attacked a German trench, the Starfish Line. According to the War Diary:
4.45pm. Battn advanced in artillery formation to the attack with a fighting strength of 19 Officers and 550 ORs [Other Ranks]. Arrangements could not be made for artillery support or adequate covering fire, and as the leading platoons came under observation they were subjected to an intense artillery bombardment and later to heavy rifle and machine gun fire. The casualties in this advance amounted to 17 Officers and 490 other ranks, of whom a large percentage must have been killed by heavy shells. The remaining officers and a few NCOs and men dug themselves in and held on to what ground they could occupy until the Battn was ordered to withdraw at 7.30am on the 16th.

This was the first battle in which tanks were used, though in a different part of the field.

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Horace Davis’s gravestone in Warlencourt Military Cemetery.

Thomas Frank Wickham

Rifleman, 1st Battalion, The Rifle Brigade. Service no. B/203615. Son of Thomas and Elizabeth Wickham of Twisden Road, Kentish Town. Died 23 June 1917, aged 41. No known grave, but commemorated on the Arras Memorial, which honours those who died in the Arras sector between Spring 1916 and August 1918.

In June 1917 the 1st Battalion was operating east of Arras, south of the River Scarpe. The War Diary states:
June 22/23. During the night of 22/23 Battalion HQ moved to [map reference] H30 d2.5 in bank near Lone Copse [south of Fampoux and west of Pelves]. I Coy moved up to Welford Trench.
June 23. At 1030pm B Coy made a raid on the enemy’s trenches in I25 b, resulting in the capture of 1 officer and 6 ORs, and accounting for about 35 others.

The account is incomplete but it is possible that Wickham was killed in hand-to-hand fighting during this raid on the German trenches, which would explain why his body could not be recovered.

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Thomas Wickham’s name appears on one of the huge walls of the Arras Memorial.

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The Arras Memorial lists the names of 34,785 men who have no known grave.

Alfred George Williams

Private, 18th Battalion, The Middlesex Regiment (1st Public Works Pioneers). Service no. 204113. Son of Alfred and Charlotte Williams of Eresby Road, Kilburn. Born in Willesden on 20 December 1897 and worked in the Book Department at the British Museum. Joined up on 28 June 1915, giving his age as 19 though he was only 17 years and 9 months. Died of wounds 11 October 1918, aged 20. Buried in Etaples Military Cemetery, Pas-de-Calais.

The Pioneers provided support services to the front line, repairing trenches, tunneling, laying rail tracks, revetting canals etc. Many of the men were miners or had experience in heavy construction. In September 1918 the 18th Battalion was working west of the Canal de St Quentin, between Cambrai and St Quentin, making roads passable and demolishing damaged bridges. The War Diary gives little information, but records that on 26 September the battalion was working on the 33rd Divisional HQ and approaches, and on the preparation of the Etricourt – Heudicourt horse transport tracks. 2nd Lieut. Howell and four men were wounded and eight killed. Williams was seriously wounded in the left arm, left leg and chest and was evacuated to the 3rd Canadian General Hospital in Dannes-Camiers (between Etaples and Boulogne) where he died on 11 October.

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Alfred Williams’ gravestone in Etaples Military Cemetery.

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General view of Etaples Military Cemetery.

This leaves us with Horace Crawley. Nobody of this name appears in the CWGC database; the only casualties named Crawley from the 6th Battalion, London Regiment are T H Crawley (no first names or age given) and Ernest Victor Crawley. Further searching revealed that T H Crawley is commemorated on the Mill Hill War Memorial, and the related website suggests that this was probably Thomas Horace Crawley, who is also commemorated on the Crawley family gravestone in the churchyard of St Mary’s Catholic Church, Kensal Green. His date of death matches that in the CWGC database, so we can be reasonably certain that this is the right person. However, his parents lived in Barnsbury, so it is not clear what links Kensal Green, Mill Hill and Barnsbury.

T(homas) H(orace) Crawley

Rifleman, 6th Battalion, The London Regiment (City of London Rifles). Service no. 3396. Son of Horace and Bridget Crawley of Barnsbury. Died 7 April 1916, aged 19. Buried in Hersin Communal Cemetery, 5km south of Bethune, Pas-de-Calais.

The 6th Battalion, London Regiment was known as the Printers’ Battalion because many of its members were recruited from Eyre & Spottiswoode’s printing works. Early officers included George and William Spottiswoode. The battalion was stationed near Vimy Ridge from March 1916, and according to the War Diary:
6th April. Battn in billets at Villers au Bois [about 5km NW of Arras]. Baths at the disposal of the Battn from 8am to 12 noon and from 2pm to 6pm. All ranks bathed according to orders issued. All ranks washed and greased their feet before going into the trenches. The major, adjutant and Company Commanders went to reconnoitre the left sub-section, Carency section prior to taking over. 5 officers and 250 ORs detailed to work under REs [Royal Engineers] on Cabaret Rouge. Lieut Col M A Mitchell CMG returned from England.
April 7th. Battn in billets at Villers au Bois. Battn paraded at 9.45pm for the purpose of proceeding to the trenches, left sub-section, to relieve the 17th Battn London Regt. Owing to heavy shelling by the enemy of our communication trenches relief was delayed for an hour. Order of relief, Front Line C Coy, Quarries B Coy, A Coy in cellars at Ablain St Nazaire, D Coy in dugouts, Sunken Road, Ablain St Nazaire. Relief complete at 1.25am. 1 officer and 60 ORs remained at Villers au Bois as a permanent working party (under RE).
April 8th. Battn in the trenches. There was good deal of sniping activity immediately after dawn. The enemy shelled Cabaret Rouge with shrapnel. 1 officer and 60 ORs wounded.

It is possible that Crawley was killed by the shelling of the communication trenches or by a sniper. He was presumably known to his colleagues in the Bindery as Horace rather than Thomas, which is why that name appears on the memorial.

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Horace Crawley is buried in the British section of Hersin Communal Cemetery.

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The Crawley family grave in Kensal Green (from the Gravestone Photographic Resource).

From this gravestone we can see the sadness of the Crawley family: Horace’s younger brother Joseph died when he was only 3 and Horace was killed when he was 19. Mr Crawley died in 1929 and Mrs Crawley lived on until 1943.

So there we have it: three young men who joined up, presumably thinking that fighting would be more exciting than book-binding, and an older man who certainly did not have to fight (conscription for men up to the age of 41 was not introduced until January 1916), but who maybe volunteered out of a sense of duty. We salute them.


Sources

Commonwealth War Graves Commission: http://www.cwgc.org/find-war-dead.aspx

Mill Hill War Memorial: http://www.roll-of-honour.com/Middlesex/MillHill.html

Gravestone Photographic Resource: http://www.gravestonephotos.com/

Alfred Williams: see Mike Hall, A Miners’ Pals Battalion at War, vol. 2, pp 273-274. Kibworth Beauchamp: Troubadour Publishing 2015. ISBN 978 1784620349

The National Archives
War Service records: file series WO 363 and WO 364
War Diaries:
6th Battn, London Regt. WO 95/2729/2
21st Battn, London Regt. WO 95/2732/5
18th Battn, Middlesex Regt. WO 95/2417/5
1st Battn, Rifle Brigade. WO 95/1496/4


Dr Barry Knight

03 November 2016

Mounting and Framing: Preparing the Maps and the 20th Century Exhibition at the British Library

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Mounting one of the largest maps in the exhibition.

In a few days the Maps and the 20th Century: Drawing the Line exhibition will open in the main exhibition area in the British Library. The preparation for this exhibition started well in advance and involved several departments within the British Library. As a conservator and project manager for this exhibition I worked closely together with the exhibitions department and curator.

The exhibition department conveys the wishes of the exhibition designers to the conservation department and together we discuss the possibilities of making that happen whilst ensuring the physical condition of the object remains unchanged throughout the whole process. At an early stage we evaluate each item together and discuss possibilities and potential practical issues. This includes assessing whether or not items need conservation treatment prior to mounting, what type of mount and what type of frame the exhibition designers have requested and will it be suitable for the item. If the object does need more than minor treatment before mounting and framing then that is further discussed with the curator.

There are many ways of mounting and framing. Museum standard conservation mounting and framing puts the best practice conservation principle of using methods that do not damage the object or speed up the degradation process in any way first. What little adhesive we do use is reversible and the different types of mount board are all acid-free archival quality boards. The works of art on paper are attached with different types of hinges made of Japanese paper and wheat starch paste. Self-adhesive tapes are never used in direct contact with any paper object, no exceptions. It is however used to attach different layers of mount board together to create a more rigid backing or when attaching the fillets to the inside of the frame to provide distance between map and Perspex. When possible we use non-adhesive solutions, such as photo corners made out of inert and transparent polyester sheeting.

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An example of two postcards mounted for this exhibition with handmade polyester photo-corners inside a window mount allowing the edges of the object to be visible.

Three commonly used methods are; a ‘window mount’ where the object is hinged to the backboard and the edges of the object are overlapped by the window mount. A second option is a ‘float mount’ with regular V-shaped hinges made of varying types of Japanese tissue in combination with fillets to create distance between object and Perspex. Distance between the two is necessary to prevent potential adhesion of media to Perspex. The type of Japanese paper chosen is based on weight, thickness and relative transparency of the paper substrate. A third option is a slot mount which will allow the hinges to be slid through incisions in the back board. This option is favoured for heavier objects and/or undulating objects. Depending on the needs of the object these methods are combined and adjusted in a variety of ways.

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Several mounted maps ready to be framed.

There is a difference between temporary framing and (semi-)permanent framing. While the same best practice principles apply to both, mounting and framing an item for potentially decades, as opposed to 3-6 months, requires a different approach with different materials. For instance using any self-adhesive materials is usually the weakest link in any long-term solution. However for an item that will be exhibited for less than 6 months, the use of self-adhesive tapes can be an effective time-saving option.

Conservation grade self-adhesive tapes are a reliable and useful material because they will not degrade significantly within six months. Using tapes also reduces the time required to remove items from frames and mounts as opposed to a conservation quality adhesive such as EVA, which makes it a desirable option for shorter exhibitions.

For permanent framing other factors become relevant. For instance the bare wood on the inside of the frame might off-gas and cause the paper to discolour over long periods of time. This might not happen with modern frames in combination with temporary framing methods, but it could potentially happen when works of art on paper are exhibited or stored in frames indefinitely. To prevent this, a barrier is created by applying a layer of inert material between wood and the mounted object.

The same idea applies to light sensitivity of media on works of art on paper. Longer exposure means a larger risk of fading or discolouration of the media and/or paper substrate over time. Our preventive conservators work with the exhibition department to establish the best compromise between causing the object the least potential damage whilst making sure there is sufficient visibility for visitors to be able to fully appreciate the objects.

However with (semi-)permanent exhibitions the amount of light accumulates over the years, increasing the risk of damage. One way to alleviate this risk is to invest in a type of Perspex that is not only anti-static, low reflectance, low scratch, light weight, but also 99% UV filtering. High quality conservation glass that is low reflectance, shatter proof and 99% plus UV filtering certainly does exist, but apart from being costly the sheer size of the maps in this particular exhibition exclude the option of glass due to weight.

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Lizzie Martindale framing one of the maps for the exhibition.

Almost all of the maps for this exhibition were mounted and framed exclusively for the four month exhibition that opens on 4 November 2016, but there are a few that were framed for permanent housing. After the exhibition ends on 1 March 2017, these objects will return to storage in their current frames. This was done at the request of the curator who expects these items to be requested for loans and other exhibitions in the future. One example of that is My Ghost 2000-2016 by Jeremy Wood1 (see picture) which was slot mounted onto white mount board with Japanese Paper hinges and wheat starch paste and further adhered to two sheets of cross-lined conservation quality corrugated board with EVA adhesive to make a more rigid mount. The inside of the wooden frame was covered with a barrier layer and the fillets were adhered to the inside of the frame with reversible EVA adhesive.

2 5Left: Frame in front has barrier and fillets adhered to inside of the frame and is ready for the map. Frame in the background shows fillet drying with weights keeping them in place. Right: Mounted object ready to be framed. 

1 My Ghost 2000-2016 by Jeremy Wood (Maps CC.6.a.83)
From the 1990s Global Positioning Systems (GPS) technology became increasingly available to civilian use, most prominently in car navigation. Artists also came to appreciate the use of GPS for capturing, commemorating and commenting upon patterns of existence. Jeremy Wood pioneered drawing with GPS, using a receiver to track his movements, using his body as a ‘geodesic pencil’. This print shows 16 years of Wood’s movement around Greater London, the white lines representing his movement by foot, bicycle and motorised transport, the yellow lines by aeroplane. Lines occasionally abruptly stop, reminding us that even digital mapping can occasionally fail.

The majority of maps for the Maps and the 20th Century: Drawing the Line exhibition where float mounted with V-shaped Japanese paper hinges onto white museum mount board to complement the white frames. The joy of conservation mounting and framing is that one often has to come up with creative solutions in the moment because a work of art on paper will have special requirements that make it impossible to use one of the standard methods. One example within this exhibition was Maps C.49.e.56, Post-War New World Map published in Philadelphia in 19422. This map has its own decorative and protective binding. The map could not be temporarily removed for the exhibition without causing damage to both volume and map so it was decided to incorporate the volume inside the mount so as not to have to separate the two.

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Measuring the edges of the binding on to corrugated board.

2Author: Maurice Gomberg. Shows protectorates and peace-security bases. Title continues: As the U.S.A., with the cooperation of the democracies of Latin-America, the British Commonwealth of Nations and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, assumes world leadership for the establishment of a new world moral order for permanent peace, freedom, justice, security and world reconstruction.Citation/references note: The Wardington Library: important atlases & geographies, property of the late Lord Wardington and the Pease family.

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Left: The cut away was covered with self-adhesive tape with a paper backing to cover any sharp edges. Right: Making sure the binding fits; height and width as well as depth.

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The corrugated board covered with double sided archival quality self-adhesive tape so that the next board layer can be attached efficiently (without drying time). None of the tapes used are in direct contact with any of the objects.

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Layer of white museum mount board attached with self-adhesive tape to the corrugated board underneath.

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Left: Making sure the volume is secure within the multi-layered mount. Right: After unfolding the map the edges are adhered to the museum mount board using Japanese tissue V-hinges and wheat starch paste.

Within this exhibition many large maps were framed in standard frames, but there were four maps so large that a box frame was a better option. A box frame in this context is a frame built around the mounted object and attached directly to the wall. The maps were slot mounted onto corrugated mount board with a border of white Japanese paper to cover the edges underneath. The weight and undulation of these larger maps meant that it was needed to distribute the weight by not only using hinges around the edges but also dispersed integrally and to have one large hinge just above the middle. The hinges were attached to the back of the map with wheat starch paste. The hinges were slotted through and attached to the back of the corrugated board with EVA adhesive and a second cross-lined layer of corrugated was attached to the back for added support and rigidity. The benefit of this material, besides being of conservation quality, is that it is lightweight yet rigid and can be ordered in very large sizes. Finally the layer of white Japanese paper was adhered to the back of the corrugated with EVA adhesive.

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The positions of the hinges are marked with an awl and incisions are made along the edges so the side hinges can be slotted through. But first the hinges dispersed along the back of the object are adhered to the corrugated mount board with wheat starch paste and left to dry under weights.

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Seen from the opposite side.

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Hinges were slotted through and adhered to the backboard. Larger hinge can be seen above middle.

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Second layer of cross-lined corrugated board is adhered on top with EVA adhesive. The layer of white Japanese paper to cover the board edges is now ready to be wrapped around and adhered to the back of the corrugated board.

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The finished mounted map is attached to the backboard using non-adhesive Perspex clips. Finally the frame is attached to the wall on top of it.

Working on this project and getting to see the exhibition take shape over the last few months has been very rewarding. I’d like to especially thank Janet Benoy, Mark Browne and Tom Harper for their support every step of the way and to Lizzie Martindale, Julia Wiland, Daisy Todd, Rick Brown, Jenny Snowdon and Gavin Moorhead a wholehearted thank you for helping with the mounting and framing.

Kim Mulder

Book now to visit Maps and the 20th Century: Drawing the Line.

28 April 2016

Much Ado About…Possibly Something

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Conservator Flavio Marzo reports on his fascinating findings during the conservation of one of the books bearing the presumed signature of William Shakespeare.

As it is now the 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare and the British Library has unveiled a major exhibition about the Bard of Avon, I thought it was a good time to share the conservation work I carried out on one of the items currently on exhibition. In 2005 I was given the opportunity to work on an item here at the British Library bearing one of the few surviving (possible) signatures of the poet. The book, possibly part of Shakespeare’s personal library, is a copy of “The Essayes of Morall, Politike and Militaire Discourses” written by Michaell Montaigne and published in London in 1603. The volume was sent to the conservation studio to be treated before being sent out on a loan and presented some very interesting and unusual features.

The Examination

The cover and the book block were detached and the main task was to secure them together ensuring that any treatment was clearly visible and unobtrusive.

Front cover

Left: Front cover. Right: Cover and book block detached.

The sewing of the body of the book, most likely the result of a quite recent restoration campaign, was made on five narrow strips of tanned brown leather. Probably at the same time new end leaves were added and secured to the first and last sections through an over-casted stitching. There was no evidence of spine lining or glue applied to the spine. When the cover was removed the original sewing supports remained laced through the boards and the page with Shakespeare’s presumed signature was attached on the inside of the left board.

Detached cover

The inside of the detached cover with the signature page and the original supports laced with the cover.

The original sewing supports were made of strips of alum tawed leather with a second layer of tanned brown leather added to give thickness to the raised bands ensuring their visibility on the spine of the book.

Leather strips
Left (viewing from the inside): A strip of alum tawed leather with clear distortions due to the original passages of the thread of the original sewing. Right (viewing from the outside): One of the trimmed tanned leather strips used to create the raised effect on the spine cover.

Areas of the leather cover were missing at the head and tail. After a thorough examination of the cover I realised that the page bearing the signature, adhered onto the inside of the left board, was not originally attached as a paste down, and in fact was never originally placed at the beginning of the book. Careful visual examination revealed that a raised oval was showing through the page.

Signature page

An image of the page taken with raking light clearly showing an oval shaped imprint from the recto of the page.

Since the page was adhered to the board along the edges only, it was possible to insert a light sheet between the page and the board. Under transmitted light it was possible to capture an image of what became clearly identifiable as a British Museum stamp - proving that this sheet was, until quite recently, still detached. Under transmitted light it was also possible to locate and record the watermark present on this page.

Transmitted light
Left: British Museum stamp imaged with transmitted light. Right: Watermark of the page with the signature.

This watermark was subsequently compared with others found on the pages within the book block. Although no perfect match was found between the watermarks, there was a very strong similarity between them.

Watermarks
Other watermarks found within the book block.

Another detail that immediately caught my attention was the observation that the damages along the edges of this sheet did not match the losses and tears present along the edges of the first page of the book.

Damage comparison
Mapping of the stains and damages show how different and inconsistent they are along the edges of the two sheets.

Remarkably, these damaged areas matched almost perfectly to the last restored original end leaf of the book-block proving that this sheet was originally placed at the back of the book and not at the beginning.

Damage comparison
Matching damaged areas between the signature sheet and the last right end leaf.

The Repairs

The conservation of the volume involved the removal of the leather strip supports. These supports were failing and becoming brittle due to the acidic nature of the tanned leather. The strips were mechanically removed from the sewing thread passages and replaced with new linen tapes so that the book did not have to be re-sewn.

Leather strip removal
Removal of the leather strips (left) and their replacement with new linen tapes (right).

The leather of the cover was reinforced and in-filled with dyed Japanese paper and wheat starch paste.

Leather cover
Japanese paper and wheat starch paste are used because of their strength and reversibility.

A new spine lining made of light cotton fabric was adhered to the spine of the book-block to further secure the sewing. The extensions of this spine lining with the frayed linen supports were then inserted between the leather and the boards and adhered to the boards to secure the book-block back with its cover.

Secured book-block
The strips of cotton fabric are adhered between the leather cover and the boards to secure the book-block with the cover.

Conclusions

It is hard to say why this page was tampered with. Possibly it was thought that by attaching this page to the front board it would become more difficult to steal. Sometimes conservation needs some forensic skills, but it always requires great attention to detail. Physical features when correctly interpreted can tell us a lot about the history of an item. It is extremely important when repairing items of historical value that conservators are careful not to inadvertently hide or remove features which may later prove to be significant.

This work, carried out a long time ago, is today still one of my most cherished projects. I am very pleased to be able to share it with you, especially during this year so significant in the history of the Great William Shakespeare.

Flavio Marzo

See this intriguing collection item for yourself at our exhibition: Shakespeare in Ten Acts open until Tuesday 6 September.

18 January 2016

Hidden figure in Leonardo da Vinci notebook revealed

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Multispectral imaging at the British Library has revealed a figure, in previously unseen detail, on a folio of a notebook belonging to Leonardo da Vinci. Da Vinci expert Professor Martin Kemp believes the sketch may be part of a series of 'fugitive images' occasionally unearthed on da Vinci's work.

Fugitive figure

A comparison of the erasure as seen by the naked eye (left) and the revealed figure (right) after multispectral imaging.

Leonardo da Vinci (1452 – 1519) was a prolific note-taker with over 7,000 pages of his thoughts surviving today. The British Library is custodian of a notebook known as Codex Arundel 263 after its English collector Thomas Howard, 14th Earl of Arundel. These notes and sketches come from different periods in da Vinci's life, though most date to 1508, and cover a range of topics including mechanics, astronomy, optics, architecture and the flight of birds.

Codex Arundel 263 was not originally a bound volume, but was put together after his death. The variation in folio type and size show how many of da Vinci's ideas, studies and inventions were observed outdoors as he went about his day. The notes are written in Italian showcasing his famous left-handed mirror writing. Folios 137v and 136r, housed together and currently on display in the British Library Treasures Gallery, were taken for multispectral imaging analysis to enhance and potentially reveal a hidden sketch in a small area of discolouration visible in the lower half of folio 137v.

Dr Christina Duffy with Codex Arundel 263

Imaging Scientist Dr Christina Duffy with Codex Arundel 263.

The smudge measures no more than 6 x 3 cm and has been suspected by scholars to contain an elusive sketch of a figure by da Vinci - possibly erased by himself.

Folio 136r and 137v

Codex Arundel 263 folio 136r and 137v showing notes, calculations and diagrams including a mechanical organ and timpani/drums.

The analysis took place at the British Library Centre for Conservation where high resolution images of the folios and region of interest were captured. Multispectral imaging is one of the many tools our Conservation Science team use to non-invasively and non-destructively increase the body of knowledge on collection items for scholars, curators and conservators. The da Vinci sketch was placed underneath the monochrome sensor camera and exposed to light of various wavelengths ranging from the ultraviolet at 365 nm to the near infrared at 1050 nm.

Multispectral Imaging at the British Library

The Multispectral Imaging system is based in the British Library Centre for Conservation. 

These wavelengths reside on what is known as the Electromagnetic Spectrum - a wide spectrum encompassing radio and X-rays. The human eye can only detect light within the visible region of this spectrum limiting our ability to see potentially faded or invisible information. Multispectral imaging therefore enables the capture of detail which we cannot see with the naked eye.

The British Library imaging system acquired multiple images of the folio at several different wavelengths from the ultraviolet to the near-infrared.

Filters placed underneath the camera's lens were also used in combination with the lights to capture images of fluorescence resulting in the generation of vivid images highlighting the fugitive figure on folio 137v. The images raise fascinating questions about why the figure was drawn here, and why great efforts were made to erase it.

UVCompositeR15G17B19

This pseudcolour image was generated by combining three monochrome multispectral images captured using ultraviolet light with a red, green and blue filter respectively.

Multispectral imaging is an incredibly exciting process and has revealed many secrets from our collections to date, including recovering once thought lost text from the 'Burnt Magna Carta' last year. It is an incredible privilege to work with some of the world's most valued treasures and subject experts. Everyday brings new discoveries to light (quite literally!) and the prospect of unlocking more secrets from the British Library's vast and varied collections is thrilling.

The da Vinci folio can be viewed for free in the Treasures Gallery until the end of March. The entire notebook has been digitised and is available to view online.

Dr Christina Duffy (@DuffyChristina)

 

03 December 2015

Magna Carta (an embroidery) - now on display at the Bodleian Library

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If you visited the British Library during summer 2015 you may have seen the 13 metre long Magna Carta Wikipedia embroidery conceived by Cornelia Parker. Commissioned by the Ruskin School of Art, the embroidery was an original piece of modern artwork to complement and enrich the British Library Magna Carta exhibition commemorating the 800th year since Magna Carta was sealed. 

On display at the British Library

On display at British Library Summer 2015

The piece was a recreation of the Wikipedia entry of Magna Carta – an interpretation of its influence in a digital era. Much of the embroidery was completed by Fine Cell Work

The stunning pictorial elements were completed by members of the Embroiderers Guild

Detail of intricate embroidery

Detail of intricate embroidery

Smaller sections were embroidered by named individuals, some notable, Germaine Greer, Alan Rusbridger, Mary Beard to name a few. Others less so – the British Library Head of Conservation, for example, who was privileged to embroider the hallowed words ‘British Library’.

Mid-way through embroidery
Mid-way through embroidery on the Head of Conservation’s desk, December 2014.

Piecing together the many individually embroidered sections and making it ready for display was completed by the Royal School of Needlework (RSN).  Final touches were completed in the conservation studio at the library by the RSN. A 13 metre long textile was an unusual sight in our studios but given the variety of the British Library's collections, including textiles, nothing fazes us.

Final touches

Final touches are made prior to display

Detail of the reverse

Detail of the reverse of the embroidery

Sadly the British Library had to say goodbye to the embroidery in late July and it travelled to Manchester for a period of display at the Whitworth Art gallery. Yet the project remains a particular favourite in British Library Conservation from recent years, probably because we assisted in the creation of something new – a departure from our usual line of work.

If you have not had a chance to see this fascinating artwork you can now see it at the Bodleian Library in Oxford for a limited period.

Cordelia Rogerson, Head of Conservation

23 October 2015

Magna Carta Conservation Team at the ICON Awards

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The British Library conservation team that worked on the Magna Carta project attended a glamorous awards ceremony at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers last night. The team were shortlisted for the Institute of Conservation (ICONAnna Plowden Trust Award for Research and Innovation, which went to Tate for their impressive Rothko Conservation Project. A huge congratulations to the Tate team and to the Imperial War Museum who were also in our category for their amazing space vacuums, air bazookas and duster drones project in the War Against Dust.

Magna Carta Conservation Team

Left to right: Cordelia Rogerson, Christina Duffy, Gavin Moorhead, Julian Harrison

The Magna Carta Project was a collaborative process of sophisticated research and innovation that enabled a pragmatic solution for rehousing and displaying an iconic document. Our biggest challenge was overcoming long held preconceptions and expectations that a high profile artefact required an expensive high-tech approach. You can read more about our work here.

ICON Awards 2015

It has been a great privilege to work with Magna Carta and the curatorial team in the build up to the British Library's most successful exhibition Magna Carta: Law, Liberty, Legacy.

Many thanks to all colleagues across the British Library and other institutions who helped progress the project into something we are all very proud of. Thanks to ICON and their sponsors Beko for organising a terrific night celebrating an incredible range of conservation work going on around the UK.

Congratulations to all the entrants, shortlistees and winners!

Christina Duffy

06 July 2015

Under the Microscope with Magna Carta

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We recently held a very successful public event sharing our conservation work in preparation for the British Library Magna Carta: Law, Liberty, Legacy exhibition. The exhibition marks 800 glorious years of Magna Carta since it was granted by King John of England in 1215. The conservation project involved removing six manuscripts from their frames and rehousing them for display. While they were out of their frames, the manuscripts were examined using various scientific techniques. High-resolution digital microscopy enabled incredible magnification of the iron gall ink and parchment which make up the charters. Here is a selection of the images captured of Cotton MS Augustus ii.106; one of the British Library’s two original Magna Cartas dating to 15 June 1215. Enjoy!

Imaging Scientist Christina Duffy

Magna Carta 1215

Magna Carta 1215 (Cotton MS Augustus ii.106) – one of four surviving original 1215 copies.

Iron gall ink

Iron gall ink has been used since the middle-ages and is found on many of our most treasured collections including the Lindisfarne Gospels, Beowulf and Magna Carta. The main ingredients of iron gall ink include iron sulphate, tannins from oak galls and water. Overall the ink is in very good condition on this charter allowing us to appreciate the beauty in the detail of some of the intials.

Magna Carta 1215 detail  Iron gall ink at 20x

Iron gall ink at 30x

Iron gall ink at 150x

At high magnification we can see that some areas have experienced ink loss, but the Great Charter is still legible due to the remaining ink shadow left behind. Find out more about iron gall ink in a previous post here.

Magnca Carta 1215 detail right  Ink loss at 30x

Ink loss at 100x

Ink loss at 200x

Parchment

The parchment on which Magna Carta has been written is thought to be sheepskin. Parchment is an animal pelt which has had the hairs removed by liming or enzymatic action. It is then stretched and dried under tension creating a perfect writing surface with a thin opaque membrane. Below are some images showing damage to the  upper dermal layers of the parchment. Find out more about parchment here.

Magna Carta 1215 detail centre  Damage at 30x

Damage at 50x

Damage at 150x

CC by You can find out more about this charter on the British Library Magna Carta resource page.

Christina Duffy (@DuffyChristina)

07 May 2015

Public event - Magna Carta: Under the Microscope

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We’re delighted to announce that the conservation team behind the work done on the British Library collections in our latest exhibition Magna Carta: Law, Liberty, Legacy will be speaking at a public event on Friday 26 June 2015 18:30 - 20:30 to share their findings. Speaking on the night in the British Library Centre for Conservation will be Head of Conservation Cordelia Rogerson, conservator Gavin Moorhead, conservation scientist Paul Garside and imaging scientist Christina Duffy. Book your place here.

Magna Carta Conservation Team

 CC by Join our project team of conservators and scientists on 26 June 2015.

The project spanned over three years in preparation for this year’s 800th anniversary of the 1215 Magna Carta and involved the reframing and scientific analysis of all of the Magna Carta charters held in our collections, including the two 1215 original versions.

Gavin Moorhead

CC by Conservator Gavin Moorhead works on the 1215 Articles of the Barons (Additional MS 4838).

The team undertook an initial examination of the original frames to determine their structure and composition. At the event you’ll hear how probes were manually inserted into the frames to take samples of the air inside in order to determine what kind of micro-environment the charters were living in! The stability and compatibility of new materials, which would be used for mounting in the new frames, was ensured using infrared spectroscopy, pH tests, and lignin tests.

Mounting colours

CC by Mounting materials were tested before incorporation into the new frames. Join us to find out what the blue and red colours indicate.

With the frames removed the team had a rare opportunity to investigate the condition of the manuscripts using near-infrared spectroscopy and high resolution digital microscopy. Unpublished images of the ink and parchment at up to 200 times magnification will be shared with the audience.

Magna Carta Under the Microscope

CC by What does 800-year-old ink look like at 200 times magnification? 

You will also delve deep into the exciting world of multispectral imaging and see versions of the charters and their seals under ultraviolet and infrared light. The incredible results of the text recovery project on the damaged 1215 Canterbury Magna Carta, from which much of the ink was lost, will be shared.

Once our tests were complete it was time to rehouse the charters – you’ll hear from our conservator Gavin Moorhead about the challenges and decisions required to mount for display one of the most recognised manuscripts in the world which would feature as the dramatic finale to the exhibition.

Magna Carta 1215

CC by The British Library's London Magna Carta at our exhibition, Magna Carta: Law, Liberty, Legacy.

Don’t miss out on this great event and book your place now! We look forward to meeting you!

Christina Duffy

09 April 2015

The House Of Lords, Commoners, And Everybody Else

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Rob Sherman is the Interactive Fiction Writer-in-Residence for the current British Library exhibition Lines in the Ice. Part of his project involved inventing a new false history for a fictional explorer named Isaak Scinbank. With the help of our Conservation team, Rob created a journal which contained Scinbank's writings during his fictional voyage to the Arctic in 1852. Here Rob reflects on his time at the British Library.

Sewn book block

Not many visitors to the British Library realise that the institution's political fulcrum lies hidden at the very rear of the St. Pancras complex, just past the staff restaurant and the windy, suntrap terrace.

This powerhouse is low-slung and decidedly shy for such an important building. Entering through the double glass doors at its front, a visitor is presented with a small museum to the work done inside.

During my time at the Library as writer-in-residence I was one of the few who could descend into the Conservation Centre, perhaps the most important cabinet in the Library's governance.

It is in this building, far away from the readers and the meeting rooms full of priceless paintings and the baize-carpeted hall of the executive suite that the real debate occurs. These are debates with the most incorrigible and old-fashioned of politicians; time.

Conservation Centre

Entering the private corridors of the Centre for the first time last year, I was accompanied by the closest to a party Whip that the conservators have; Dr. Cordelia Rogerson, the Centre's Head of Conservation and a specialist in plastics and textiles (two areas which I have barely any space or knowledge to consider here). She was giving me a tour to show me what it was that the conservators did. With relatively few exceptions, every unit of knowledge, discourse, history and artistry that the archives contain, every book and pamphlet and poster and tome, is slowly degrading. We have so abstracted these bricks upon which we build a culture that we easily forget what they are, materially; globsters, monsters, amalgams of different corpses.

Bookbinding has always used glue made from boiled bones, mashed trees and the skins of goats, whose unassuming little frames still dictate the standard sizing of our trade hardbacks. From the moment the book is bound it is dying a second death. The 'old book smell' is so fetishised that there are now colognes available which emulate it. Frankenstein and his monster are no more tortured than the vellum in which their first edition was published in 1818. Thinking this way, it is perhaps easier to imagine the Rooibos towers of the Library, so stately and sterile and civic from the surface, resting on a strata of almost-endless decay, a medicine cabinet full of slow-drying herbs, aging adhesives and mummified flesh.

The Library is a sarcophagus of knowledge.

From this organic perspective we may lend the conservators another role; that of the court embalmer, of Lenin's apparatchik, Mao's physician, keeping the cadavers moist and public for as long as possible so that those who come after can venerate them, divine what they need, and be able to say that they had been there, just like tourists.

Conservation Centre

Cordelia took me deeper into the building, past displays of golden tooling seals immortalised in cabinets like butterflies. We walked past labs full of test tubes and near-baptismal fonts of strange chemicals. Between the staff they possess every tool, modern and ancient, that they could need to help slow the inevitable degradation. They repair split spines, suture wounds in leather, and reconstruct text and gold leaf from almost nothing. I met one conservator, Maria, at her desk in the vast main room of the Centre, a cross between a surgery and a railway shed. She was attempting to resuscitate a Hebrew text from the 1400s which had, at some point in its ignominious existence, been submerged in water. Maria worked on that book with quiet, intricate confidence, and told me that she could save it, and it would be read again.

Her work, and the work of her colleagues, will never finish. With hundreds of millions of items in the archives in various states of decrepitude, some so advanced that they are at risk of being lost altogether, it is all the conservators can do to keep up. Work is allocated not in terms of books to save or projects to complete but in terms of hours spent; attempts are made, the best is done in some cases, and then they must move on to the next.

Cordelia introduced me to the two conservators with whom I would be working; Zoe and Royston both were as quiet and assured as Maria, with keenly open minds. Royston had worked at the Library for over 30 years and retired only a month or two ago, taking his incomparable, irreplaceable knowledge with him. It was after this meeting that I started to lay out exactly why somebody like me was there, and what it was that I wanted.

Fictional explorer Isaak Scinbank

My project at the Library has been a petulant one, in which I essentially try to throw stones at the bedroom windows of history to get its attention. My artistic interests lie in how knowledge and rumour and rhetoric are transformed into unimpeachable historical record just by being written down, and what role the Library plays in storing and displaying such records for access. I was exploring these themes by attaching myself to the current exhibition at the Library, a diorama of Arctic exploration called Lines In The Ice, and inventing a new false history with all the attendant paraphernalia. I invented a polar explorer, and wrote songs about him, reams of false conjecture and essay, and drew maps of the journeys that he never took, parallel-parking him into the real stuff of the exhibition. It seems inevitable, then, that such an explorer needed a book of his own to legitimise him completely. I had come to the Conservation Centre to manufacture him one.

I wanted to make from scratch the journal that my explorer, Isaak Scinbank, would have written during his fictional voyage to the Arctic in 1852. My time at the Library has already impressed upon me the corporeality and authority of books, how very much the physicality of them affects how we interact with the information they contain. Because of this, I wanted the blank diary with which I was beginning to be as much a part of the story as Isaak's account written inside it. I described what I wanted to Zoe and Royston in the form of a 'biography' of the book, recounting not only its fictional creation but also its fictional journey through time to reach us in the present day. I designated it as a sort of fisherman's ledger, a present to Isaak from his father; clad in salmon-flesh leather, and embossed with the mark of its fictional publisher ('Thomas Whiflick, of Derby'). I described a large notch in its top edge, designed to be a rest for a gentleman's rods as he relaxed on the riverbank. More than this, I described the life of the book once its primary purpose was over; its existence since Scinbank had returned from the Arctic and died, passing through the hands of various collectors and dealers. I told of the times it had been forgotten and neglected, left to sit in the damp dark of a cellar, sat on and even used as a chopping board for a joint of beef. From this story Zoe and Royston began a complete reversal of their usual jobs as battlefield doctors, as undertakers and temple attendants; together we made Isaak's book, stitching and binding it, and then we began to simulate the infinitesimal, gradual torture which time enacts over hundreds of years. We had a few weeks.

Rob Sherman

I thought initially that the conservators would think me a bit kooky, or at the worst flippant about the difficult realities of their work. However to their credit they were as excited by the possibilities as I was, rejuvenated by this brief diversion from the Sisyphean task of patching, plastering and repairing. They took on the role of their nemesis with enthusiasm and began to pick apart what it was that made a book elderly or antique, where the beauty, rather than the nuisance, lay in that, and what stories they could tell separate from mine in the wrinkles, stains and folds of this old-not-old book. As every child everywhere knows, and we rediscovered, the best way to make a page look old is to dab it with a wet teabag; we didn't spare an inch of the book from the ministrations. The only element that we could not craft was that ambrosial, deathly smell of old paper. Apparently, the alchemy of that was beyond our skills.

The construction of the book took me to every corner of the Conservation Centre, and every facet of its work; from the handbinding cradles which made me feel as if I was lacing up somebody robust in a corset, to the storage rooms for the marbled paper which, when I went around opening the drawers and finding the ranked, swirling colours, seemed to me like a catalogue of oceans and explosions and nebulae. I met so many other talented artisans fighting the good fight, including Christina, the resident multispectral imaging minister. Her lab, a warm, silent sliver of a room filled with the always-drawn curtains, lamps and banks of machinery, has the air of an engine compartment, a police interrogation room and a disciplinary hearing in Westminster. It is here that the deepest, darkest corruptions of the Library's collections are revealed, at a microscopic detail that the Chilcot Inquiry can only dream of.

The Salmon Book

As I finish my time at the Library, and I grudgingly return my pass which got me through so many of the Centre's doors, I return to being a member of the public, a 'user' of the Library, with a realisation. As you can see, Zoe and Royston's work on my book is unequivocally art, not merely conservation. On display in the Lines In The Ice exhibition until the middle of April, our book sits alongside the 'true' artefacts of polar exploration almost imperceptibly, tricking the public without malice and camouflaging its story, its biography, amongst the degradation upon which the Library is built. In doing so it hijacks a small, respectful amount of the value, respect and meaning which the very old are due. The loveliness of this deception will be amplified when I finish Isaak's story, some day; then, the book will accessioned into the Library's archives, where it will begin to truly disintegrate rather than than just playing at it. One day even further in the future, the book will come back to its birthplace in the Conservation Centre, that squat building full of silent discourse and argument with the past, and plead its case.

It is in this way that I see the importance of the Centre's role at the Library taking on almost-legislative proportions. It is no secret that the public sector, of which the Library is a part, must now make do with less and less money as time goes on, even as the archives grow and the doddery old celebrities that they contain require even more work. The Conservation Centre is where such decisions on resources are made; it must be determined which books are to be rescued, where the hours will be spent and which items must, inevitably, wait until it is too late to save them. That book of Hebrew scripture was lucky, but in one hundred years Isaak's diary may not be as fortunate. It is a minor work, by three unheard-of artists. Who knows how difficult the choices that Cordelia's successor faces will be?

These thoughts are frightening ones, especially to those who believe in the immutability and the permanence of such collections. However, my time amongst the Conservation Centre's work has convinced me that such choices about what knowledge we shall retain and what shall be lost, and what will form the truth of the future, is being undertaken by the best people for the job. No matter how difficult time is to negotiate, how unbending and bullying, I know that the conservators will fight to make sure as much is saved as possible.

Even, I hope, those dog yoga books that I found in the archives, one bored Wednesday.

Rob Sherman

24 November 2014

‘The Salmon Book’: Conservation in Reverse

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The conservation team was recently commissioned by the British Library’s Artist in Residence, Rob Sherman, to create a retrospective binding to his specifications. This would form an integral part of his project whilst at the Library and would be exhibited in the ‘Lines in the Ice: Seeking the Northwest Passage’ exhibition. The book would begin life with blank pages which Rob would fill as part of his work, but the binding itself would already have a fictional material history, written by the artist but to be created by Conservation.

As conservators, our usual role is to repair damage, to remove harmful substances and to support weakness whilst preserving the history of an item, so this project proved to be something of a different challenge. One of the most important aspects of our job is to understand the past history of an item from changes to its physical form - its material story - and to preserve aspects of this story by leaving what we can undisturbed and documented. But for this project, we were going to create that story using our knowledge of the materials that we use on a daily basis… and a few unusual ones!

A Gorging Chronicle

Spine  Back cover

The book’s covering leather was to resemble salmon flesh; it had a groove cut away at the head to accommodate a fishing rod, gold finishing on the boards and spine, marbled paper endleaves and various other features. It was also to have specific damage deriving from fictional events on the Arctic trip - burn damage, ink splashes, cut marks and dents among many.

The challenge for us was immediately clear:  

• To design a binding whose structure and components were historically believable but still met the aesthetic needs and specifications of the artist

• To choose appropriate materials which we could manipulate to artificially adopt the ageing characteristics of a book of that age and use

• To ‘age’ the book using a given narrative and for this to be visually convincing to ourselves as experts in the deterioration in books and paper, but also to the public and their expectations of ‘old books’

After initial consultation with Rob, the binding was underway. Paper was selected which could be abraded and cockled but also be worked on by Rob with his inks and watercolours. Samples of toned goatskin were prepared taking inspiration from the raw flesh of salmon and headband silks were selected to match. The sections of the text block were cut unevenly to resemble slipped sections as sewing thread deteriorates and once the fibres at the paper edges were disrupted and roughed up, they were toned with acrylic paints to resemble the typical damage from dust, dirt and handling that we see on a day to day basis. 

Rounding

Book block

CC by The sewn book block is rounded which is an early stage in binding a full leather volume. 

The book takes on a rounded appearance which is afterwards given shoulders for the boards to sit against. A pair of heavy boards was made up to compliment the weight and dimensions of the text block and the natural hemp cords were then laced into holes punched into the boards. 

Attaching the boards

CC by Hemp cords being laced into the board.

Part of the book’s story is that it was made with a ‘V’ cut completely through the front and back boards as well as the paper pages at the head to enable it to be used as a rod rest. Being an unusual request, it posed a problem when turning in the leather around this area. It was solved by paring thin strips to cover the inside edges of the ‘V’ before the main covering took place and again afterwards facing the groove with thin strips of leather to make the covering appear seamless. 

Sawing

CC by A V-shape is removed from the book block to create a groove where a fishing rod could rest.

The colour of the leather was critical to the success of the project and small sample strips were toned in different strengths so that Rob could pick the one most appropriate to his vision. Natural goatskin leather was chosen for its distinctive grain pattern and a herringbone pattern similar to that found in the flesh of salmon was masked out in places whilst toning to give a suggestion of fish texture in the skin.

Cutting the leather

Toning the leather

CC by Toned goatskin leather is fitted over the book block.

Some thought was given to the process of distressing so as to achieve an interesting balance between the careful control of materials and the randomness of physical ‘accidents’ like burning and splattering inks.

Candle burning      Candle burns

CC by Edges are charred using a candle.

The spine area and board edges were toned to take on a ‘dirty’ or discoloured appearance and tidelines and water damage were constructed around the ‘V’, emulating a wet fishing rod being placed there. The leather and labels were abraded and the corners softened to give a sense of wear and tear.

Staining

Marble paper

CC by The final stages involved adding marble paper and toning.

The process of making the new appear old was fascinating. To imagine the book being used within the context of a story and then to create layers of patina and wear and tear which depict that narrative, really made us conscious of how intuitively conservators understand patterns of damage and deterioration.  It has been a really different experience to work ‘in reverse’ and surprising and valuable to discover how much of our knowledge of the deterioration of paper based materials and book structures were required to make the ageing of the Salmon Book appear convincing and yet to do all this without actually physically or chemically damaging the book - a future collection item.

Royston Haward and Zoe Miller