Collection Care blog

Behind the scenes with our conservators and scientists

6 posts from March 2014

26 March 2014

Cleaning and rehanging the Kitaj tapestry

The R. B. Kitaj Tapestry If not, not was rehung in the St Pancras Entrance Hall last Monday night after being removed for intense conservation cleaning. The tapestry is based on the painting of the same name by R.B. Kitaj, and measures 6.75 metres high and 6.75 metres long; it was the largest in the world when created by the Master Weavers of the Edinburgh Tapestry Company for the British Library. The tapestry had not been cleaned since its installation at St Pancras in 1997 and was displaying visible surface dust which had to be removed.

A wide birds eye view of the British Library’s large and open foyer with the Kitaj tapestry hanging on the brick wall straight ahead. The tapestry is flanked on either side white architectural features, to the left are open plan levels and winding staircase, to the right are two tall white pillars which merge into the upper mezzanine.
View of the British Library foyer with the Kitaj Tapestry hanging on the wall

CC by The Kitaj tapestry

The tapestry was taken down on 28 September 2012 by Collection Care staff guided by experts from Textile Conservation Ltd. who would undertake the mammoth task of cleaning at their studio in Bristol. 

This image shows a long tube covered in a white material called Tyvek, lying on a brick and white tile floor. This is the inner role used to support the tapestry once taken down off the wall. The floor has sheets of white protective material laid out in rows parallel to the tube, which will be wrapped around the tapestry once on the tube for safe transport and handling.
The tapestry was taken down and rolled before being taken away for intense conservation cleaning

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Samples of thread of various colour and locations were removed to monitor fading and colour change in the tapestry. A remarkable eight miles of  warp was threaded vertically between steel rollers during its production.

The tapestry is on protective material on the ground and piled on top of itself, showing off the vibrant colours and needle work of the back of the tapestry.
View of the vibrant threads on the back of the tapestry after being removed from the wall.

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The tapestry was originally hung using lengths of beige hook and loop fastener. Six lengths divided into three pairs (10 cm apart) were stitched along the top edge. Along the sides were lengths measuring about 55 cm with gaps. These lengths were removed and the turned in sides were released by cutting and removing the stitching. It was here where casings from carpet beetle larvae and degraded moth cases were found. Luckily these were desiccated and no signs of damage were apparent. (Read more about how we deal with pests in a previous post: The Bookie Monster: attack of the creepy crawlies!).

Where to start with cleaning such a huge tapestry? With a hoover of course! The optimum level of suction was determined and the entire front and back surfaces were cleaned using a low powered vacuum suction. The hoover dust consisted of fine dust, brick dust and larger fibrous dirt found mainly on the front. This bag of dust has been retained by Collection Care staff for further scientific analysis. We are very serious when it comes to dust as you may have read in A-a-a-chooo! Collection Care’s Dust Busters.

Once clean it was important to ensure that no insects or eggs remained in the weave. The tapestry was rolled and taken to Harwell Document Restoration Services where it was placed in a freezer unit at -18°C for two weeks. It was fully defrosted over four days and taken back to Textile Conservation Ltd. where a new lining and Velcro hanging system were attached, as well as reinforcement work on any loose stitching. It was then rolled with interleaving layers of tissue and wadding and wrapped in Tyvek and bubble wrap before making its way back home to the British Library.

The tapestry was scheduled to be rehung on the opposite wall to where it was originally placed providing a wider range of viewing angles, and allowing visitors to get up-close to the tapestry on the stair levels. An impressive scaffolding system was erected and new battens were attached to the wall. The tapestry was hoisted up to the top platform after a thorough treble check that it was facing the correct way around!

A view of a five-level scaffolding installed in front of a red brick wall where the tapestry once was.
Scaffolding assembled.

CC by The tapestry was placed on the upper platform when the scaffolding was fully installed

The Textile Conservation Ltd team took the top platform and began by attaching the top Velcro strips to the horizontal battens.

Close up of two conservators in yellow high vis. vests standing on scaffolding by the red brick wall, one conservator is standing on a level of scaffolding above the other. They both have their hands extending outwards towards the wall, where they work together to apply a protective material on top of the Velcro battens before the tapestry is lowered. This will allow a safe and controlled lowering and attachment of the tapestry.
Conservators preparing for the reinstallation of the tapestry

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The tapestry was then carefully lowered down in stages by scaffolders. 

A side angle of the reinstallation and lowering of the tapestry, with two staff standing together on a level of the scaffolding. The protective material has. Been removed slightly to allow connection between the verso of the recently conserved tapestry and the Velcro battens.
Lowering the tapestry

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This provided a controlled unrolling allowing Collection Care staff to hook the sides onto the battens without any air gaps.

Three conservators standing on scaffolding hands extending out and supporting the tapestry together, as they slowly lower it and attach it to the Velcro batons.
Protective tissue paper was removed as the tapestry was unrolled.

CC by Protective tissue paper was removed as the tapestry was unrolled

When the scaffolding was removed a few days later the final result was terrific!

Close up of the tapestry after conservation back on the wall.
The R.B. Kitaj tapestry

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The tapestry has regained its vibrancy of colour and is a magnificent feature in the British Library Entrance Hall. You can read more about the construction of the tapestry in this Telegraph article from 1997, and more about the artist in the National Galleries of Scotland website.

Christina Duffy

24 March 2014

Father Kögel and the ultra-violet examination of manuscripts

2014 marks the hundredth anniversary of another important event: the first use of ultra-violet radiation for the examination of manuscripts, and particularly the deciphering of palimpsests. Scholars are frequently challenged by manuscripts which have faded to the point of illegibility, or which have been deliberately erased, or, most challenging of all, which have been erased and then written over. The Archimedes Palimpsest is one of the most famous recent examples, but palimpsests have long been exercising the minds and eyes of scholars, certainly since the middle of the 19th century.

The Manuscript is opened up about half way through the text block, with grey cuboid foam supports under the front and back covers.  The book is a medium size, able to handle in both hands, but is very thick. The opening looks quite dirty and worn, with. purple, orange, and brown patches of discolouration. The written text is very small, neat and organised. The left page looks as though there has been previous repair, with an extension or boarder added to the fore edge and bottom edge so that it is uniform size with the rest of the text block.
The Archimedes Palimpsest is a medieval parchment manuscript, now consisting of 174 parchment folios

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Early attempts to make unreadable manuscripts readable, dating from the 18th century, used chemicals that would react with traces of iron in the fibres of the parchment which remained after the iron gall ink used to write the text had faded or had been removed. The trouble with these techniques was that, while they might initially be successful, they ended up staining the parchment blue or brown, leaving it even less legible than it was to begin with.

Photographic techniques had also been used to enhance faded writing almost since the invention of photography in 1839. In 1894 a process was developed for revealing palimpsests which used two plates: an over-exposed plate which would show both the upper and the lower writing, and an under-exposed plate that would show only the upper writing. A positive made from the under-exposed plate could then be used as a mask to permit an image of the lower writing only to be made. While this process was successful, it was time consuming because two plates had to be made, and their registration had to be very accurate in order for the upper writing to be cancelled out as nearly as possible.

In 1914, Father Raphael Kögel OSB published a paper in the Reports of the Royal Prussian Academy of Sciences in which he explained how ultra-violet radiation from an electric arc or a mercury vapour lamp could be used to excite fluorescence in parchment, but the fluorescence would be blocked (quenched) where the ink had originally been. A photograph of the visible fluorescence could then be taken, using filters to exclude the invisible ultra-violet which would obscure the image. This paper was in distinguished company: other authors in the same volume included Einstein and Planck. UV fluorescence photography should be distinguished from UV photography: in UV photography an image is made of the invisible ultra-violet radiation reflected from the manuscript; in UV fluorescence photography an image is made of the visible light emitted by the manuscript where it has been excited by ultra-violet radiation.

Father Kögel was born Gustav Alfred Kögel in Munich in 1882; he took the religious name of Brother Raphael when he joined the Benedictine abbey at Beuron, in the south of Baden-Württemburg, in 1898. He was sent to Brazil as a missionary, but fell ill and had to return to Germany. He then entered Wessobrunn Abbey, south-west of Munich, and was ordained priest in 1906. He later studied chemistry in Vienna, and in 1912 began working with the Palimpsest Institute at Beuron, which had been set up by Father Alban Dold specifically to study the Abbey’s rich collection of Carolingian and other medieval manuscripts. Here he developed his ultra-violet imaging techniques. He had previously experimented with coloured filters and photographic plates with different spectral sensitivities to improve the visibility of the under-writing, and also with chemical methods for enhancing faded writing, even though these had been condemned at the St Gallen conference on the conservation of manuscripts more than ten years before (“… this barbaric method …”).

Kögel became a professor at the University of Karlsruhe in 1921, and set up an Institute for Technical Photochemistry and Scientific Photography. Whether because of a crisis of faith, perhaps caused by the war, or simply because he found the academic life more congenial, Kögel left the church in 1922 and married in 1924. Kögel made important advances in using UV examination in forensics, and was also a pioneer in X-ray fluorescence analysis. His greatest commercial success was the development of the Ozalid diazo photocopying process, which was widely used until the 1970s. He died in 1945.

Because of the outbreak of war, Kögel’s publication does not seem to have been noticed in English-speaking countries until the early 1920s. For example, the first edition of C. A. Mitchell’s Documents and their scientific examination (1922) does not mention the use of UV, while the second edition (1935) does. Awareness of the technique grew in the 1920s and its use was well established by the 1930s. R.B. Haselden’s Scientific aids to the study of manuscripts, published by the Bibliographical Society in 1935, gives several examples of palimpsests that had been revealed by UV photography. He warns that users should wear protective goggles and protect their skin against excessive exposure to UV, and also that “prolonged exposure to UV light is injurious to a manuscript”. Unfortunately this message was not taken on board by everybody, and I have seen manuscripts where features that were seen and photographed under UV in the 1930s are no longer visible today. Haselden advises against the use of chemical reagents to restore faded ink, but goes on to recommend the use of a solution of anthracene in alcohol (“perfectly harmless”) to enhance faded writing – the solution penetrates the paper or parchment more rapidly where there is no ink, so the writing stands out against the vivid fluorescence of the anthracene under UV. Other writers recommend the use of a mixture of Vaseline and mineral oil for the same purpose, but it hardly need be said that these techniques are not recommended.

For best results, UV examination needs to be carried out in a darkened room, using a good-quality UV lamp and while wearing UV protection glasses. It has not always been thus. My wife remembers that when she was researching in a very well-known library in the 1970s, there was only one electric socket into which a UV lamp could be plugged, and this was underneath a table. She was therefore obliged to lie underneath the table with her manuscript and the UV lamp, sometimes with a member of the library staff to invigilate.

A close up of the left side page of an open book, showing the verso of the page. An off-white paper boarder surrounds a white sheet, which appears to be a support for a fragment that would be fully visible from the recto. The centre of the white sheet has been cut-out to match the shape of the fragment. The black verso of the fragment is visible, and is being held in place with an off-white tape or Japanese tissue. Surrounding the black shape of the fragment, on the paper support are patches of discolouration in a distinct shape, possibly staining from a fragment in contact with the paper on the facing page.
Folio 54 verso without UV illumination
A close-up image of the verso of the fragment illuminated with a UV light. This. The paper, fragment, and repair tissue have all gone different shades of bright and vibrant blues. The UV light has been able to illuminate text as the ink is invisible to the naked eye.
Folio 54 verso with UV illumination

CC by The Electronic Beowulf project experimented with ultraviolet, first scanning fol. 54 verso under an ultraviolet lamp with a Kontron digital camera

UV examination is now being superseded in libraries such as the British Library which own multi-spectral imaging equipment. This gives better results as it can be much more selective than any process using filters to choose the wavelengths of fluorescence that are photographed. It uses much shorter exposures and therefore minimises the risks of exposing manuscripts to intense ultra-violet radiation. (See Christina Duffy’s blog post ‘Revealing hidden information using multispectral imaging’)

Dr Barry Knight, Head of Conservation Science & Research



Haselden, R.B., Scientific aids to the study of manuscripts, Supplement X to Transactions of the Bibliographical Society, 1935.

“Kögel, Gustav”, in Neue Deutsche Biographie 12 (1980) 295-6.

Kögel, P.R., Die Palimpsestphotographie, Sitzungsberichte der königlich Preussischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, 1914, 974-978

Mitchell, C.A., Documents and their scientific examination. London: C. Griffin & Co. (1922).

16 March 2014

The Colour Green

With St Patrick’s Day upon us it seemed fitting to take a closer look at some green pigments used throughout art and history.

Green earth pigment

Green earth pigment (or Terre Verte, Stone Green, Verdetta, Celadonite) is composed of clay coloured by iron oxide, magnesium, aluminium silicate, or potassium. The clay was crushed, washed and powdered. It was used since the time of the Roman Empire until the end of the Renaissance and was highly popular in medieval painting, especially for underpainting of fleshtones. An example is shown below in The Annunciation (1398-1311) by Duccio di Buoninsegna. Here faces were first painted with the green pigment and then overlaid with pink to give a realistic hue. In this case the pink has faded giving the impression of green skin. Green earth pigment was sourced from regions in the south of France and in Italy around Verona.


 Gabriel dawned on light purple and light blue garments standing to the left of Mary facing her straight on. Mary dressed in a luscious and rich ultramarine robe and vermilion dress stands on the right with her body facing the viewer with her face looking toward Gabrial. They are set in simple and articulated architectural surroundings. The architectural setting is made to mimic three dimensionality with crude perspective and bold shadows and highlights. Gabriel is depicted motion, his right leg extended back with his foot just about to lift from the  ground, and his right hand extended out towards Mary, his hand  gesturing the peace sign. Mary appears to pull back, with her left arm covering her chest reaching over her shoulder to gripon to her robe. Her left arm hangs down beside her body holding the bible open with text. Above and in between Gabriel and Mary is a  white  dive with rays of light  representing the Holy Spirit shining towards her.
The Annunciation by Duccio di Buoninsegna: The Archangel Gabriel announces to the Virgin that she will be visited by the Holy Spirit and bear the son of God. Held at the National Gallery


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Malachite is a copper carbonate hydroxide mineral (copper(II) carbonate), and is green due to the presence of copper. It was used as a mineral pigment in green paints from antiquity until about 1800. It is fairly lightfast and very sensitive to acids meaning its colour can vary.


An extreme close  up and zoom of green malachite. It has two vivid textures, one has the appearance of moss which is a dark green, and makes up the majority of the malachite sample.  The  second texture is smooth and  round lighter green bundles, which look like the heads of baby mushrooms. The sample has the appearance of fistfulls of the moss texture being piled ontop and beside of each other, with the small round and smooth bundles placed in between the rough topography of the sample.
Brazilian malachite specimen highlighted by spheroidal rosettes of azurite (source) 

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Artist Pietro Perugino used finely ground malachite in his 1503 painting Nativity to colour the bright green garments of the worshippers. 


Four wise men kneel to the left of and behind the baby Jesus who is lying on a purple cloth facing the viewer while Mary kneels to the right of him. Their hands are raised  to their chest in prayer, except for one wiseman farthest to the right who has his hands raised to his chest in motion, as if exclaiming with stunned joy. Directly behind them is an ornate four post gazebo, with a cow lying down and a donkey  standing on the far left side of the painting. The backdrop to the scene is a wide and open pastoral view, with green fields and few trees in the far distance. Rolling hills flank the sides of the background fading out to a light blue illusting great depth and space.
Green pigment malachite is found in Nativity by Pietro Perugino (1448-1523)


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Malachite has also been found in the King George III copy of the Gutenberg Bible, held at the British Library using Raman Analysis.


Close up of a single sheet with two columns of neat bold text inblack  ink with red ink headings. Ornate embellishments are painted between the columns of  text and surrounding the, like a sideways 8 looping around everything. The embellishment is a floral theme with vines swirling around and flowers stemming off, with colourful birds and a monkey perched throughout the vines. The substrate is a pale beige colour and is in very good condition, with just some engrained dirts visible around the edges.
Gutenberg's (42-line) Bible: Opening of Proverbs. Johann Gutenberg, Johann Fust and Peter Schoeffer. Mainz, 1455 British Library C.9.d.4, f.1. Copyright the British Library Board



Cobalt green

Cobalt green is a moderately bright and translucent, but highly permanent, green pigment. The compound is formed by heating a mixture of cobalt (II) oxide and zinc oxide and was discovered in 1780 by Swedish chemist Sven Rinman. It can be mixed with other pigments and is also known as Rinman’s Green or Zinc Green.


Close up of ground cobalt green pigment, in a loose powder.
Cobalt green (source)


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Cobalt green was never very popular due to its high cost and weak tinting power. Researchers at the University of Washington have discovered that cobalt green possesses special magnetic properties and is now being used in the field of spintronics. Spintronic devices are used for computer storage and memory. Cobalt green has found success with spintronic devices as it can be used at room temperature while other materials must be super cooled.


This is a basic copper acetate and is formed when copper is exposed to acetic acid vapours.  The natural patina that forms on copper roofs is often called verdigris, but in non-polluted areas it is in fact malachite (basic copper carbonate).  In polluted areas, though, it is antlerite, a basic copper sulphate.  They are all similar colours so are easily confused, but verdigris in particular causes problems in manuscripts – it goes brown and can burn through the parchment and cause staining on adjacent folios. Verdigris has been used on murals in Pompeii, throughout the Renaissance and on medieval manuscripts including the Lindisfarne Gospels and Book of Kells.

A light aquamarine colour, in powder form, is in a clear glass jar with a black lid, sitting on a black table with white background.
Verdigris (source) 

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Verdigris was found to be unstable and unwilling to mix easily with other pigments. In fact the great Leonardo da Vinci warned against its use in his treatise on painting and was leter replaced by the more stable Chrome Green.

Close-up detail of paint layer. Three spots of an opaque mustard colour paint sit on top of large areas of  a transparent glass-like turquoise colour, which has many small cracks. Many of the cracks look like misshapen rectangles and triangles. Surrounding the turquoise is a line of black, with some areas having a higher sheen, and some areas looking mat, with small areas left abraded, now missing pigment. Above this is an area painted with a chartreuse yellow, also with many small cracks.
Verdigris has been used to decorate the initials on f44v of the Lindisfarne Gospels shown here at 50x magnification (see here for more microscopy images of the Lindisfarne Gospels)

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Viridian was patented in 1859 and is a hydrated chromium(III) oxide Cr2O3 pigment described as a dark shade of spring green.

Close up of powdered veridian, apple green in colour. The head of a silver spoon is holding a spoonful of the powder above the pile of veridian.
Viridian (source)

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Viridian was used by Vincent van Gogh in many of his works including Café Terrace at Night, 1888 (Kröller-Müller Museum, Otterlo) and the Night Café (Yale University Art Gallery). Van Gogh to his brother Theo in 1888: "I sought to express with red and green the terrible human passions. The hall is blood red and pale yellow, with a green billiard table in the center, and four lamps of lemon yellow, with rays of orange and green. Everywhere it is a battle and antithesis of the most different reds and greens.” [1]

The Night Café

CC zero Artist Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890) The Night Café, 1888. Oil on canvas currently at Yale University Art Gallery

In many cases a combination of pigments was used to create green colour. Recent analysis of the Sir Gawain and the Green Knight manuscript have shown that indigo (blue) over orpiment (yellow) was used in some areas, while a single mineral green was used in others.

Painting of a man with scruffy blond hair on loose black garb. Both his hands are extending to the left holding a battle axe. The background seems to have quite a bit of pigment loss, showing a yellowish ground coming through where loss of the dark green paint has been abraded or scraped away. There are two large dark green vases on either side of the man, with crude red and white flowers sticking out.
 Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Cotton Nero Ax folio 129v

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Christina Duffy

Reference: [1] Vincent van Gogh, Corréspondénce general, number 533, cited by John Gage, Practice and Meaning from Antiquity to Abstraction

13 March 2014

CSI at Festival of the Spoken Nerd: I Chart the BL

The British Library Science Team in collaboration with Festival of the Spoken Nerd put on a highly entertaining event last Monday night entitled I Chart the British Library. The event explored the highs and lows of data visualistion and was sold out attracting over 250 people to the British Library Conference Centre.

The show is part of a season of events at the British Library supporting the stunning exhibition Beautiful Science: Picturing Data, Inspiring Insight.

A large group of people in a conference room, most are standing but some are sitting around two round tables at the front of the photograph. Many people in the group have both hands raised upwards.
Hands up if you think science is cool!

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The show was hosted by stand-up mathematician Matt Parker, geeky songstress Helen Arney and science experimentalist Steve Mould. The hosts were joined onstage by the British Library’s Head of Sound & Vision Richard Ranft who showed the audience some wonderful examples of how animal and bird sounds were historically recorded using musical notation – a lot different to how sounds are recorded today!

Collection Care was represented during the interval by a demonstration of the Library’s very own CSI team – Conservation Science Imaging of course! Audience members tested the contents of their wallets both under the microscope and under a multispectral camera to delve into anti-fraud techniques. The first thing we noticed was that some pound coins had the initials IRB under the Queen effigy, while others didn’t.

A group of people stood around a woman seated by a desk with a laptop and photographic stand equipment set up. The camera is acting as a microscope, visible on the laptop, to better visualise banknotes and coins.
Analysing notes and coins during the interval

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The £1 coin below on the left shows a portrait by Raphael Maklouf in which the Queen wears the George IV State Diadem. This design was in use between 1985 and 1997 after which a competition was held by the Royal Mint to design a new effigy. The winner was Ian Rank-Broadly and his design (right) shows the Queen wearing the ‘Girls of Great Britain and Ireland’ Tiara, with a signature-mark IRB below the portrait. To date three different obverses have been used.

Two british pound coins heads-up side by side on a  grey background. The coin on the left dating to 1990 with a portrait by Raphael Maklouf in which the Queen wears the George IV State Diadem. The coin on the right dating to 2001 with a portrait by Ian Rank-Broadly showing the Queen wearing the ‘Girls of Great Britain and Ireland’ Tiara. The IRB signature mark is found on this coin
Two one pound coins

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IRB are the initials of the British sculptor Ian Rank-Broadly who has produced many designs for British coinage. The initials are difficult to make out with the naked eye but under the microscope they are clearly observable. Things to look out for in the case of counterfeit coins include date compared to design, edge lettering, quality, and orientation (the designs on both sides of the coin should be aligned when swivelled).

Extreme zoom at 200x magnification of a section of a coin, dark silver in colour, showing the relief of the initials I R B. The initials IRB stand for Ian Rank-Broadly and sit under the effigy of Elizabeth II on coins from 1998 onwards.
Close up of letters on a coin

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“But what about hard cash?” asked one audience member producing a twenty euro note. "To the multispectral camera – poste-haste!" The design on the bank note is created using a variety of inks. Each ink has a unique spectral reflectance and so different parts of the design appear and disappear at different wavelengths as we move from ultraviolet (UV), through the visible (VIS) region and into the infrared (IR) part of the electromagnetic spectrum. Notes which don’t behave in this way are most likely counterfeit. Luckily no fakes were found!

A 20 euro banknote shown four times with different lighting. The top left is a twenty euro note in normalighting, showing a note with various  shades and hues of purple, the imagery of elaborate stained glass windows as the banknote image. The top right shows the 20 euro note at 420 nm (UV, this results onan image of the bank note in black and white with strong contrast. The bottom left shows the bank note in 700 nm (VIS) lighting. This results again in black and white, with a softer contrast. The bottom right shows the note in 1000 nm (IR) lighting, again resulting in a black and white image, however it has the appearance of being over exposed, very pale with almost no contrast.
A 20 euro bank note in different lighting wavelengths

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Audience members were also invited to visualise sounds using spectrographs and to participate in a live analogue data collection and visualisation experiment conducted by Matt Parker.

A man in blue trousers and a black leather jacket stands with his back to the viewer in front of a whiteboard, with his arms outstretched. A man also with his back facing us, but appears closer to the viewer seen only from the waist up in a blue jumper. The whiteboard in the background has a list or vertical timeline on the left safe barely visible in red and green marker, and on the right hand side has large half circles drawn in red and green marker.
Matt puts his volunteers through their paces in this live experiment

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The goal was mapping back-to-back distributions of female vs male arm spans and a fantastic 137 people took part. The Libation Lab (or bar…) was also a huge hit and really made everyone appreciate all those sciency puns.

The night was a huge success and I think we all learned something new - well done to the BL Science Team! You can read more about their experience on the science blog.

Visit the Beautiful Science: Picturing Data, Inspiring Insight exhibition until 26 May 2014 in the Folio Society Gallery for free.

Christina Duffy

10 March 2014

“Islamic/Western” features in three India Office Records manuscripts

Flavio Marzo, Conservation Studio Manager for the British Library/Qatar Foundation digitisation project reports on the conservation of three manuscripts from the India Office Records.

A new conservation studio has been set up at the British Library to support a digitisation project as part of the British Library Qatar Foundation Partnership programme. The Library’s Arabic material has been scoped for the creation of a new web portal where, in a year’s time, around 500,000 images will be made available online to the general public.

The font cover of a manuscript, in poor condition. The leather applied to the board has degraded significantly. The first layer of leather appears to have peeled off leaving a random pattern of darker brown-orange and lighter  brown-orange colouration of the leather layers. There is a large white label positioned towards the top, with text faintly reading “Old Index from January 1846 to December 1846. The white label is worn with all edges and corners suffering losses, leaving tattered and jagged edges. There is a modern blue sticky label towards the bottom reading “Not for direct photocopying copies may be ordered from IOR NEG 9300”
Front left board of MS IOR/R/15/1/105

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The majority of material identified for digitisation comes from the India Office records. Many of the files that form this collection are related to the Gulf area, and so are deeply connected to the history of Qatar and its neighboring countries.

The India Office Records are a very large collection of documents relating to the administration of India from 1600 – 1947, the period which spans Company and British rule in India. The archive is held here at the Library and is publicly accessible.

As the formal document of British presence in the Persian Gulf, IOR/R/15 is a fascinating series within the India Office Records, giving a unique insight into a colonial encounter between European imperial power and tribal shaikhdoms on the Arabian Peninsula coast.

One of the most striking features of these Records is the variety and mixture of formats and features related to different manufacturing techniques. These range from bound printed or manuscript volumes to folders containing loose leaves, folded maps, photographs, miscellaneous textile offcuts and samples of products sold in the colonies during the English occupation. In many cases these records were produced by a local workforce in the countries where the IOR officers were stationed.

This mixture of local craftsmanship and foreign taste (and in some cases even foreign materials) has produced very interesting objects which carry a fusion of western appearance and “Islamic” manufacturing techniques.

In this post I want to present some features of three bound manuscripts from the India Office Records: IOR/R/15/1/105, IOR/R/15/103 and IOR/15/1/161.

Front board of a manuscript, with a large discoloured cream-white paper label, with faint brown text reading “Book No.246 from January1857 to December 1857” and below in bright red text reading “Nothing of importance.” The label is in okay condition with no losses or abrasion, but quite stained, possibly from the adhesive  layer below. The leather covering the board is in poor condition, with patches left of lighter orange-brown are the result of peeling and lifting leather. There is a large area of leather loss by the bottom left of the white label, exposing the mill board below.
Front left board of MS IOR/R/15/1/161

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A front cover to a manuscript, completely detached, sitting askew on top of the textblock, with a damaged white paper label towards the middle, and a modern blue sticky label towards the bottom. The board itself is in poor condition, pearing blotchy with varying pale and dark orange-brown colours. The board is in extremely poor condition, cracked from the top right corner down to the lower left side. The crack has caused significant loss to the white paper label, also in poor condition and discoloured, with faint brown text. The blue label is in good condition and reads “Not for direct photocopying copies may be ordered from IOR NEG 9299”
Front left board of MS IOR/R/15/1/103

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These manuscripts were produced in the middle of the 19th century and contain collections of letters sent from the British Political Residency in the Persian Gulf stationed at Bushire (or Bushehr) on the south western coast of Iran.

Many of the features of these volumes are traditionally considered to be Western. They were all bound in full leather and decorated with similar finishing tools without the use of gold (blind tooled decoration).

Detail of the blind tooling that decorates the border of the cover. Blind tooling is the impression of design left by a heated metal tool without the addition of gold leaf. The blind-tooled design used on This cover is a small pattern in the shape of an S, and where one S ends, another begins in a continuous design.
Detail of the tool used to decorate the cover of two of the manuscripts


Detail of the blind tooling that decorates the border of the cover. Blind tooling is the impression of design left by a heated metal tool without the addition of gold leaf. The blind-tooled design used on This cover is a small pattern in the shape of an S, and where one S ends, another begins in a continuous design.
Detail of the tool used to decorate the cover of two of the manuscripts

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They are written in English on western handmade paper. The countermark in the image below indicates that the paper was produced in 1843 in Stowford Mill, which continues to make paper to this day.

A manuscript sits flat on a desk with the spine facing us. The front board is missing, and the  first page of the manuscript is being held up at a 90 degree angle. There are losses, small tears and creases along the edges. Light is shining through the page from the back, illuminating the features of the sheet. We can visibly see the laid lines, and the watermark in the centre of the sheet reading “STOWFORD MILL 1813.” The watermark and laid lines are lighter than the surrounding paper due to the manufacturing process. Paper is produced by a screen being dipped into and lifted out of a slurry of paper fibres suspended in water. The construction of the screen has raised lines, and sometimes a watermark, a design from wire and attached to the screen. These raised areas result in a thinner layer of fibres than the rest of the sheet, and visible with illumination.
Page from one of the volumes, photographed in transmitted light to reveal the countermark

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Other aspects of these books have been produced using ‘Islamic’ style binding techniques. For example, the textblock sections are secured with ‘unsupported sewing’. The Western binding technique of using a material (vellum or cord) to sew around, attaching the sections to it using the thread, is absent here meaning that it is only the thread itself securing the sections together.

Another example is the execution of the endbands that you see in the images below. These are typical of Islamic bindings as commonly recognized in the field of the history book by the way they are sewn and by the final pattern and appearance.

The endband is presented vertically and at a slight angle and left of the spine. The endband is made from white string, and resembles a braid. It is in quite poor condition, the internal leather chord of the end band is visible, as the threads of it are worn and falling off. The bottom edge of the manuscript to the right of the endband is stained and discoloured. The orange leather of the spine and backboards wrap around the image.
Islamic style endband
The head of the text block is shown, vertical, and almost directly on, with the orange-brown leather spine on the right hand side out of focus and going away from us. The end band is made of white string and is in good condition. The anchor stitching is to the right of the endband, descending into the spine folds of the textblock.
Islamic style endband

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It is clear from this mixing of binding influences that these volumes were not produced in a Western bindery! It is likely that the materials were provided by the India Office, along with specific requests regarding the appearance, which tie in with traditional Western tastes. The rest was down to the knowledge and expertise of the local binders, and what an exciting interesting fusion of styles it has resulted in!

An open book sits on a blakc table. The book is on an angle, cutting off all four corners of the manuscript in the picture. The colour of the sheets of paper have a green off-white tinge to them. The text is written in brown ink, and is neat tidy cursive, written on blank sheets, but still keeping the writing in neat even lines. The page on the right is guarded into the book, meaning it has a long tab of paper attached to the latter, the tab is then used to secure the sheet within the book structure. In this opening, the writing butts up right to the edge of the guard. The sheet on the left side is not guarded, however the writing goes right into the tight gutter, which would be very tricky if not impossible to write after being bound. It could indicate that the volume was bound after the letters were written and not produced as a blank notebook.
The writing close to the gutter of the book can make it difficult for digitisation.

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In these specific cases, we re-housed the books in custom made archival boxes and repaired enough of the damaged paper and boards to stabilise it for future handling.

They will soon be fully digitized and available online on the Qatar National Library web site. The process of digitisation gives conservators the opportunity to assess large numbers of items in a short period of time, enabling them to more fully understand the collection. In this case, it allowed me to appreciate the fusion of binding styles that make these items so interesting. Their content will be made available and their peculiar and unique features will be preserved.

An open box made of a single piece of board which folds to cover a book, with paper tabs to secure it closed into slots on the fore edge of the box when closed. Made of a thin board white on the inside and blue on the outside, it is known as a phase box. There is a manuscript sitting inside of the open box on a green table. The manuscript has a white label towards the top of the front board, and a blue label towards the bottom. The front board is mottled with dark orange brown to light orange-brown patches due to leather loss and damage.
The final product!

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Flavio Marzo

03 March 2014

The Brickish Library

The British Library opened its doors at the current St Pancras site in 1997 having legally separated from the British Museum in 1973. It was purpose built to match the neighbouring St Pancras hotel and station whose red bricks came from a patent brick fired from a supply of Keuper marl clay in Mapperley, Nottingham, and New Red Sandstone from Mansfield. The impressive St Pancras station site has over 50,000,000 red bricks. The British Library’s matching red glow is found both inside and outside the main library with the brickwork complemented by a variety of other rock types.


A view of the british library from the front entrance. The picture  is taken on an angle to show both the facade of the British library, as well as part  of the cafe on the square outside of the  library
A view of the exterior of the British Library


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Røyken Granite

Entering the Library through the main gates from Euston Road visitors will notice a russet red granite from Norway called Røyken Granite forming the initial entrance steps and the base of the brickwork.


A close-up of the exterior corner of a building. The corner is in the middle of the picture with both sides ascending away. The top ⅓ of the external walls are red bricks, while the rest of the wall is granite slabs. On the right side there is a small glimpse of granite steps ascending upwards, with a flat path on the left. e
Granite steps lead visitors into the British Library, casually reminding users to never take librarians for granite


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To the left of the entrance gate is a granite stone inset into the brickwork commemorating its unveiling on 7 December 1982 by HRH Prince of Wales.


Square marble plaque with text reading “The British Library/H.R.H The Prince of Wales/Unveiled this stone/7 December 1982.” The plaque is large, appearing roughly 2 metres by two metres. It has a speckled pattern of dark grey, terracotta, and light pinks. The plaque is inset into a brick wall. There is a small black convex security camera in the top right corner.
Granite entrance stone


CC zero Granite is an igneous rock produced by slowly cooling magma. The same granite has been roughened to provide a non-slip surface in the piazza. Granite forms a major part of continental crust and consists mainly of quartz, mica and feldspar. These three minerals are seen everywhere at the base of the walls around the courtyard and in the Conference Centre walls. Feldspar is the most abundant mineral and presents as regular rectangles giving the rock its red appearance. Quartz is dark and fills in the feldspar gaps, while mica presents as tiny black specs.

Detail zoom of a sample of granite. The pattern is speckled with lots of tones and shades of grey, black, muted oranges, grey-blues, and cream. The speckled pattern at this close range gives the appearance of a rough texture, the darker grey and blacks looking like shadows, and the lighter colours appearing as highlights.
Close-up of Granite slab which is composed of feldspar, quartz and mica

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New Red Sandstone

Over the entrance gate are several large red slabs of New Red Sandstone from Dumfriesshire. The slabs were cut from a larger square block at the quarry. The slabs facing onto Euston Road have been carved with the words The British Library (in case anyone is confused about where they are!).

A view of the entrance to the British Library Piaza, with a close-up focus  on the granite slabs at the top of the gated entrance with “The British Library” carved out in relief. Red bricks flank either side. The perspective of looking up gives a view of the passageways white ceiling, which  creates a graphic and geometric pattern of triangles and diamonds with accidents of black stone at the tip  of each triangle. Just the tip of the iron gate leading into the open piazza is visible which also reads “BRITISH LIBRARY.”
New Red Sandstone at the British Library entrance

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New Red Sandstone comes from the Permian period (298-252 million years ago) while Old Red Sandstone is from the Devonian period (419-359 million years ago). The red colour is a result of iron oxide which is indicative of formation in a desert-type climate. Sandstone forms by sand grains being blown into large moving sand dunes by prevailing winds.

Red bricks

The clay red bricks we most associate with the architecture of the British Library come from Hampshire achieving their fiery red colour through use of Southern England’s finest red clays. These clays are high in pure alumina and devoid of gypsum. The iconic red colour is produced by controlling the oxygen concentrations while heating in a kiln to high temperatures. As the bricks are heated their colour burns through various red hues before turning brown or grey at maximum heating.

The red bricks forming paving in the piazza are similarly formed, but close inspection will show curved line cavities at the surface. These are a result of gas escaping during heating.

Close up of the brick wall, showing one brick in the middle with the bricks surrounding it cut off from the image. The close up reveals the texture and cracks in the bricks appearing like old leather. These are created due  to gas escaping during heating. The grey grout shows off the thin shadow made by the slightly protruding bricks.
The Brick walls of the British Library

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Hauteville Limestone

The red paviour bricks in the piazza are bounded by strips of white Hauteville limestone which originates in the high ground of the French Jura – in fact it is so high that delivery of the stone to the Library was delayed due to the quarry being snowbound! It is a heavy crystalline material and the observant passer-by may notice some fossilised sea sponges in the stones around the conference centre.

A view of the base of a pillar in the piazza. The pillar is red with vertical ribs all around. The base is granite, with a dark grey speckled appearance, made up of segments fitted together like  a pizza, with centre tips covered by the red pillar. The ground is composed of white marble with slight dark grey veining, as well as large islands of red brick inset throughout the white marble.
On the piazza is a combination of red brick paviours set between Hauteville limestone strips. Granite is rock bottom at the base of the pillars

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An open view of the British Library Piazza looking towards the main entrance of the library. The perspective is enhanced by the pattern created  in the white marble and red brick flooring, which has created a grid like pattern. All the lines in the grid point your eye to the main entrance with a  view of the red brick walls and red cladding overhang. The red pillars supporting the overhang are just visible but dark, and the rest of the details behind are very dark with shadow and not much detail is visible. There is a raised garden bed with green shrubbery to the right, with a man sitting on a bench placed in front of it. To the left between two lamp posts is a banner strung across, but two far away to see much more than two pale painted figures on a dark background.
View of the British Library from the piazza
Close-up detail of the limestone used for the floor of the piazza. A rich network of dark blue-gray veining runs throughout the off-white marble, with thick and thin long and short markings.
Weathered Hauteville limestone with dark regions of lime mud

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Inside the building, the geology changes again including Portland stone, Italian Travertine and Purbeck stone. You can read more about these rocks and the piazza feature known as Planets by Antony Gormley in Eric Robinson’s A Geology of the British Library.

Christina Duffy