Collection Care blog

Behind the scenes with our conservators and scientists

3 posts from January 2016

27 January 2016

Torah Mantle Conservation

The Torah is the Hebrew Bible. Torah mantles are sometimes used to cover the Torah scrolls and are constructed in a similar way to a skirt. The ‘skirt’ has a top with two ‘holes’ and these allow the wooden scroll handles to protrude.

A sketch outline of a Torah Mantle, in black on white background. The basic outline is similar to a skirt, adjoined to a circular area with two holes, which is where the scroll handles protrude.
Construction of a Torah mantle.


The Mantle before conservation. The Mantle is light coloured silk, with large flowers with green wrapped stems, amongst other flowers and leaves repeated on the fabric. The Mantle is resting on a light grey background.
Before conservation the front of Torah mantle OMS/Or 13027 showed degraded silk - probably caused by light damage.


A portion of the Mantle is visible in this photograph, lying on protective wrapping on a grey table. The Mantle is weighed down by a stack of rectangular glass weights, while a steel conservation spatula and other conservation tools are alongside. An air extraction unit is next to the table, with an open square intake.
During conservation solvent activation of adhesive on conservation net was applied to the degraded silk using portable air extraction.

The Mantle after conservation, lying on protective padding, with the top facing towards camera, where the two open holes can be seen. The black bordering of the silk can be seen more easily in this image.
Post conservation the Torah mantle now shows stabilisation of the degraded silk. This is most evident in the centre front left and right, around the pleats, and around the holes for the wooden scroll handles.

Liz Rose, Textile Conservator

18 January 2016

Hidden figure in Leonardo da Vinci notebook revealed

Multi-spectral 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.

Two images of the same area of the Da Vinci page, one showing a erased area, the next showing a standing figure now visible under multi-spectral imaging.

Figure 1: A comparison of the erasure as seen by the naked eye (left) and the revealed figure (right) after multi-spectral 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 multi-spectral 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 standing to the right of an exhibition case showing two pages of the Da Vinci Arundel notebook. The pages are framed in mountboard with placards in front of them.

Figure 2: 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 shown as two ajoined pages opened out. The paper, of a brownish tint, contains designs and writings both vertically & horizontally, with the left-hand folio showing the darkened smudge containing the hidden figure at the lower right.

Figure 3: 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. Multi-spectral 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 machine. The room is filled with ultraviolet light, with a brighter light on the table where the image will be exposed, underneath the multi-spectral camera. Two reflective boards are tilted at an angle either side of the camera, while behind them are two lights on tall stands.

Figure 4: The Multi-spectral 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. Multi-spectral imaging therefore enables the capture of detail which we cannot see with the naked eye.

Figure 5: 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.

A Pseudocolor image of the Da Vinci pages, created using three different filters in Multi-spectral imaging. The page shows as mostly light blue, with yellow around the edge, centre and towards the top right in patches. The text and images show as black, while in the erased area, the figure can now be seen, also in black but less pronounced.

Figure 6: This pseudocolour image was generated by combining three monochrome multi-spectral images captured using ultraviolet light with a red, green and blue filter respectively.

Multi-spectral 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 entire Codex Arundel notebook has been digitised and is available to view online

Dr Christina Duffy (@DuffyChristina)


13 January 2016

British Library/West Dean College Partnership Courses 2016

West Dean College has collaborated with the British Library to deliver a programme of courses in preservation and collection care for libraries. The programme focuses on Continued Professional Development and is aimed at professionals, conservation students and others interested in furthering their skills in this area. Here is the programme for 2016.

Programme and booking information:

Preserving historic photographs – (course full)
Susie Clark
BL12 1 March 2016
Location: The British Library, London

Photographic collections are found in libraries, archives and museums all over the world. Their sensitivity to environmental conditions, and the speed with which images can deteriorate present special challenges. This one-day training session is led by Susie Clark, accredited photographic conservator. It is aimed at those with responsibility for the care of photographic collections regardless of institutional context.

The day provides an introduction to understanding and identifying photographic processes and their vulnerability, information on common conservation problems and solutions, and the preservation measures that can be taken to prolong the life and accessibility of photographic collections. Contact with real examples of different photographic processes is an important feature of this training session which is therefore limited to only 16 places. At the end of the day participants will be able to:

  • Identify historic photographic processes
  • Explain how damage is caused
  • Implement appropriate preservation measures
  • Commission conservation work

Course fee: £128
For further information about the course, please contact the Course Organiser: +44 (0)1243 818219 or [email protected]

Preserving architectural photographic reproductions
Hildegarde Homburger
BL13 4 March 2016
Location: The British Library, London

Photo reproductions of drawings are mostly found in architectural drawings collections and archives, more rarely in fine art collections. Their composition and their sensitivity to environmental conditions ask for special attentions and care. This one day training session is led by Hildegard Homburger, private paper conservator in Berlin, Germany. It is aimed at those with responsibility for the care of architectural drawings collections regardless of institutional context. The day provides an introduction to understanding and identifying photo reproductions processes, also an opportunity to talk about storage and handling.

Course fee: £128
For further information about the course, please contact the Course Organiser: +44 (0)1243 818219 or [email protected]

Damaged books & bound archives
Caroline Bendix
BL14 20 April 2016
Location: The British Library, London

This training day is aimed at librarians and archivists. It provides an overview of how books and bound archives become damaged, considers actions to minimise damage, and describes first steps to address common forms of damage. The training day is led by Caroline Bendix ACR (Independent Conservator). Please ensure that you bring with you on the day: One Paperback book height of 20cm x width of 13cm x thickness of 2-3cm and one Hardback book standard octavo size 22 cm.

Course fee: £128
For further information about the course, please contact the Course Organiser: +44 (0)1243 818219 or [email protected]

Disaster response & salvage
Emma Dadson, Harwell Document Restoration Services
BL15 21 April 2016
Location: The British Library, London

This intensive course focuses on preparing for disaster response and salvage. The course uses experience of responding to real incidents to demonstrate how planning can minimise the impact of emergencies in libraries and archives as well as outlining the practical steps to take when responding to situations. With reference to case studies, the course includes strategies for dealing with damage, an emergency decision-making exercise and a major incident desktop scenario. By the end of the course, participants will be able to:

  • Identify the key issues that a disaster plan needs to address
  • Give examples of the decisions to be made when responding to an incident
  • Source salvage equipment to build a disaster kit

Previous attendees commented that they had learnt 'how much there is to think about when dealing with a disaster and how to prioritise actions', 'the importance of preparedness, tips for emergency kits and for small scale incidents', and 'how to assess what we can cope with ourselves and when to call in help'. This session is limited to only 16 places. The day is led by Harwell Document Restoration Services.

Course fee: £128
For further information about the course, please contact the Course Organiser: +44 (0)1243 818219 or [email protected]

Environment: effective monitoring & management
Jane Henderson
BL16 8 June 2016
Location: The British Library, London

Avoiding a 'one size fits all' approach to environmental parameters, this training day helps you to understand the vulnerabilities and tolerances of your collections and then shows how to set realistic and achievable targets that are appropriate to the materials in your care and the resources available to you. At the end of the day you will be in a strong position to take cost-effective decisions and prioritise actions for maintaining a sustainable environment. The training day is aimed at people with responsibility for the care of library and archive collections, and is led by Jane Henderson, Senior Lecturer in Conservation at Cardiff University.

Course fee: £116
For further information about the course, please contact the Course Organiser: +44 (0)1243 818219 or [email protected]

Dust, dirt: strategies for prevention & management
Caroline Bendix
BL17 15 June 2016
Location: The British Library, London

Dust is a constant presence in most libraries and archives and can be harmful to collections. This training day will focus on understanding the nature of dust and the threat it poses, as well as means by which dust can be cleaned and how collections may be protected from it. At the end of the day delegates will have:

  • A clear understanding of how dust forms and from what it is made
  • Practical knowledge of cleaning collections
  • Awareness of health and safety issues
  • The ability to identify pest and mould damage
  • Details of various methods of protecting against dust
  • The ability to set up a housekeeping programme
  • An understanding of using volunteers to help clean collections

Course fee: £128
For further information about the course, please contact the Course Organiser: +44 (0)1243 818219 or [email protected]

Essential preservation
Ruth Honeybone, Sarah-Jane Hamlyn
BL18 1 July 2016
Location: The British Library, London

Preservation is a means of ensuring that collections can be used for the long-term. This workshop focuses on the preservation of library and archive collections, with an emphasis on traditional, paper-based collections. The day introduces common terminology and standards, highlights risks to collections, and describes simple steps for minimising those risks. It is targeted at those who are new to the preservation of library and archive collections, and includes group exercises and discussion sessions to address individual needs. By the end of the day, participants will be able to: define what is meant by preservation; identify the main threats to library and archive collections; identify factors to consider when storing and handling items; find other sources of information to support their preservation work.

Course fee: £128
For further information about the course, please contact the Course Organiser: +44 (0)1243 818219 or [email protected]