Collection Care blog

Behind the scenes with our conservators and scientists

31 October 2013

Conservation Revealed! The conservation work behind our latest exhibition, Georgians Revealed

The British Library's latest major exhibition Georgians Revealed: Life, Style and the Making of Modern Britain opens in the PACCAR Gallery on 8 November 2013. Conservator Iwona Jurkiewicz worked on some of the items which will be on display and describes in this blog post the work that the conservation section put into preparing them for exhibition.

Did you know that there were department stores in Georgian times? The recent television dramas; Mr. Selfridge and The Paradise, set in department stores gave an average television viewer, myself included, a strong impression that department stores were Victorian inventions. Imagine my surprise when a number of prints on the subject taken from the Ackermann’s Repository of Arts arrived in the conservation studio early in September to be prepared for the ‘Georgians Revealed’ exhibition. Three of those in particular show wonderfully clad shoppers browsing in the glassware, furniture and clothing stores.

A colour print showing a room of glasswares. A series of long tables runs through the centre of the print, starting in the foreground of the bottom left of the print, and running toward the right side of the print at an angle. Many glasswares are displayed on these tables. On either side, visitors are viewing the glassware, or sitting in chairs in the showroom. A number of chandeliers adorn the ceiling.
Messrs Pellatt and Green, Glassware from Ackermann’s Repository of Arts

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A colour print showing a room of furniture. There is a plethora of globes, wooden chests, chairs, tables and more dotted around the large room. On the right of the print is a couple of people looking at a mirror, and on the left, a customer sits in a chair.
Messrs Morgan and Sanders, Furniture from Ackermann’s Repository of Arts

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A colour print showing a room of draperies. Through the centre of the print is a hallway leading to another room at the background. On either side of this hallway/walkway are desks at which patrons and sellers stand. Textiles are draped from poles throughout the room, and at the top of the walls on either side of the print are rolled textiles.
Messrs Harding, Howell, & Co., Drapers

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All of those, and many more, were hinged and mounted in the conservation grade window mounts ready to be framed depending on size either by the exhibition or the conservation departments. By the time the exhibition opens on 8 November 2013 the conservation section will have worked on over 100 items, a larger number than was required for the previous Propaganda exhibition.

Most of the prints and other ephemera in the studio were in good condition and did not need any conservation treatment beyond mounting and/or framing, but there were some that required more attention.

Two letters sent by John McIntyre dated 1776, and 1777 respectively were identified as more in need of conservation. The first letter dated 1776, referring to the cart load of china ready to be sent, had considerable damage and was incomplete while the second one with the heading “List of Necessities sent home in 1777”, on first inspection, seemed to be damaged mainly along the edges and corners. Both letters had tears and folds covered in self-adhesive tape, sometimes on both sides, which on removal revealed long tears or fragmentation of folded sections.

A closeup of the letter which shows cursive handwriting in a dark brown iron gall ink. The tape has started to be removed along the tear.
Correspondence of John McIntyre before conservation, showing tears and folds ‘mended’ with the self-adhesive tape

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Another closeup of a letter, again dark brown ink is visible on paper. The paper appears to have been folded, and on one half of the fold, the paper has yellowed, while the other have remains white.
Correspondence of John McIntyre before conservation, showing self adhesive tape on vulnerable areas 

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In the process of conservation the tape was removed. Luckily, the adhesive from the tape had not yet leached into the fibers and the degradation was not extensive. After the removal, all tears and folds were repaired using thin strips of Japanese paper, and the missing area at the bottom of the first letter (dated 1776) was in-filled.

The first correspondence after conservation, shown in full. Dark ink has been written on white paper, fold lines are clearly visible, and it appears part of the bottom of the piece of paper has been removed or torn away and lost.
John McIntyre’s correspondence after conservation


The second piece of correspondence following conservation. Dark brown ink has been written on paper that has a yellow appearance. Again fold lines are visible.
John McIntyre’s correspondence after conservation

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Over 250 items from the British Library collection, as well as loaned artworks and artifacts will feature in the exhibition promising to explore the lives of the Georgians. Judging by the quality and variety of items we have had in the studio, it is an exhibition not to be missed!

Iwona Jurkiewicz

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