Collection Care blog

36 posts categorized "Bindings"

30 November 2015

Farewell to all that

Preparing for retirement, I inevitably revisited the exciting projects and beautiful objects I worked on during my time at the British Library. The conservator’s role has seen many changes, even in a decade. Limited resources are increasingly focused on preserving whole collections by reducing the risks of damage and deterioration, rather than treating single items. But to make those collections more available both in the Reading Rooms and digitally to users across the world, some repairs are essential so items can be handled safely. Minimal intervention helps to retain evidence of the item’s history and past use.

One page from the St Cuthbert Gospel, featuring text on parchment with a few holes in the parchment present.
 The St Cuthbert Gospel (Add Ms 89000) f.1r The damage records the ways the book was used and stored through the centuries and will be preserved.

My first project was the conservation of Alexander Fleming’s papers (Add Ms 56106-56225), including those relating to his discovery of penicillin – not perhaps the most suitable job as I am highly allergic to it. The repaired notebooks were housed in plastazote, laboriously cut to shape by hand. Eventually, I would learn to “drive” a Zünd cutter, which did the same job in minutes.

Beryl Bainbridge’s papers followed, and it was a surprise to discover that she had been to art school as a teenager and illustrated her early work. However, she used a poster paint with very little binder, so the surface was often powdery. The paintings were treated with a weak solution of JunFunori, misted on with a nebuliser repeatedly over a week or more.

A close-up of artwork which features two figures. They are both wearing black berets, are smoking, and one has a blue shirt while the other has a red shirt.
A double page image from a volume of fragments 1951-3 (Add Ms 83745 ff.5v-6).

 

Immediately after World War II writing paper was scarce, so Bainbridge often used poor quality scraps held together with pressure sensitive tape. This was all degrading and had to be removed with heat and solvents – very carefully, where there was text nearby. Modern inks can run in both water and solvents, making conservation more difficult.

Varying scraps of paper rest on top of one another, with poems written on them. The papers are in generally poor condition with Selloptape present and the top edges crushed and torn.
The same volume showing different papers and typical edge damage (Add Ms 83745 ff.33-41).

Edgar Mansfield’s working archive for his designer bindings gave me much delight, and more challenges. First seen packed tight in two box files, after conservation and proper housing they filled a shelf and a half. Early on we agreed to preserve evidence of how the design process developed, and how the final tooling patterns used folds and excisions to fix the paper to the book leather temporarily. Loose overlays needed careful hinging to secure them in precisely the right position. The British Library has two of Mansfield’s finished bindings.

Varying stages of the final design, which is an abstract representation of a figure dancing, are laid out on a table. This includes a tracing, a drawing in colour, and the final design on leather.
Valery’s Dance and the Soul bound by Mansfield (C130c6) with his final design and the tooling pattern used to transfer it to the leather cover.

 

Eventually I moved into digitisation projects (Harley Scientific Manuscripts, Greek manuscripts and finally Hebraic manuscripts). As I gained experience, I also got the more difficult one-off jobs. The largest item, the Moutier-Grandval Bible (Add Ms 10546), more than half a metre high, needed a special cradle and team of people to handle it safely (read more here).

Three people stand around the large volume helping during the digitisation process.
Two people turn the leaves while a third adjusts the cradle.

For the Brontë miniature books I had to make tiny “fingers” to hold the leaves flat for imaging (more on that here.

A hand holds a tiny book.
Blackwood’s Young Men’s Magazine, First Series, No. 6, f.6v (Ashley Ms 157)

Through the years, a stream of running repairs have come my way; simple tasks for the most part, but letting me handle many beautiful items: the Theodore Psalter (Add Ms 19352), Cruciform Lectionary (Add Ms 39603), Chinese Qur’an (Or Ms 15256/1), Queen Mary Psalter (Royal Ms 2.B.VII), Macclesfield Alphabet Book (Add Ms 88887), Prayer Roll of Henry VIII (Add Ms 88929), Guthlac Roll (Harley Roll Y 6), charts of Cook’s voyages (Add Ms 31360), a suffragette prison diary (Add Ms 49976) and many hundred more, most recently the Leonardo Notebook (Arundel Ms 263). To increase efficiency, a mobile workstation took me out of the studio to work in the storage areas, eliminating the transportation of books to the Conservation Centre and the associated security and paperwork.

A close up of a drawn image which shows two men in a boat greeting two men on land.
Life of St Guthlac (Harley Roll Y 6) f.15r The spectacles and feather were added by an earlier owner.

I also did exhibition work, mostly condition reporting and checking loan items. But one job in Durham had the local newspaper asking “How many people does it take to turn a page and how long does it take them to do it?” Since the book was the Lindisfarne Gospels, it did take a while.

Visitors sometimes asked about my favourite collection item and most often I chose whatever I was currently working on and making discoveries about. But the book that lingers in my memory is Thomas Osborne’s Treatise on Arithmetic (Harley Ms 4924). If I had had such an attractive textbook as a child, I would have been a more eager student. It is now too frail to be issued in the Reading Room, but is available to everyone in digital form.

One page which shows multiplication tables surrounded by cherubs, a maritime scene, a classroom setting, and more which are all hand drawn.
Treatise on Arithmetic (Harley Ms 4924) f.6r Note the schoolroom scene in the lower left corner.

I plan to revisit the British Library eventually to research historic binding structures, but meanwhile I shall be following the blogs and keeping an eye on the latest uploads to Digitised Manuscripts.

Ann Tomalak

 

25 June 2015

A CT Scan of the St Cuthbert Gospel

A CT scan of the St Cuthbert Gospel – the earliest intact European book dating to the early eight century - has been published in a ground-breaking new book launched this week: The St Cuthbert Gospel: Studies on the Insular Manuscript of the Gospel of John, edited by Claire Breay, Head of Ancient, Medieval and Early Modern Manuscripts at the British Library, and Bernard Meehan, Head of Research Collections and Keeper of Manuscripts at Trinity College, Dublin. Colleagues from Collection Care and Medieval Manuscripts took the pocket gospel to the Natural History Museum for CT analysis to understand the structure of the ancient gospel, which was found inside the coffin of St Cuthbert in 1104.

On the right, three BL staff members stand. On the left is a computer, and in the centre is the scanner.

Figure 1: The British Library project team at the Natural History Museum. From left to right: Claire Breay, Flavio Marzo and Christina Duffy.

X-ray computed tomography (CT) is a non-destructive technique which creates 2-D cross-sectional images from 3-D structures. The St Cuthbert Gospel was scanned using a Metris X-Tek HMX ST 225 CT scanner with an operating voltage of 225 kV at the Natural History Museum.

To protect the gospel during scanning it was placed inside a custom-made phase box and then secured upright in a bespoke piece of polyethylene foam.

Two images stitched together. Left: someone places the volume into the box. Right: The closed phase box stands upright surrounded by a piece of grey foam.

Figure 2:  The St Cuthbert Gospel was placed in a phase box which was secured in a piece of foam.

A facsimile of the gospel produced by Jim Bloxam and Kristine Rose was generously made available to the team during the CT scan. This enabled a direct comparison of materials known to be used in the facsimile with those unknown in the original St Cuthbert Gospel. Both volumes were placed inside the CT chamber on a precision rotation stage between an X-ray source and a detector.

Two images stitched together. Left: The actual volume and its facsimile are placed side by side and held together with a cord. Right: The two volumes enter the scanner.

Figure 3:  The two copies were placed side-by-side in the CT chamber.

As the volumes rotated on the stage through 360⁰ a conical beam of X-rays took digital projections in 0.5⁰ increments. The CT image pixels are displayed in terms of their relative radiodensity allowing us to scroll through the image slices revealing the materials underneath the leather binding.

Two images stitched together. Left: Four people sit in office chairs surrounding a desktop computer, looking at the results on the monitor. Right: An image of the computer monitor showing a couple of black and white images, these are the results from the CT scan.

Figure 4:  The results were poured over in the lab. From left to right; Christina Duffy, Claire Breay, Nicholas Pickwoad and Dan Sykes.

The results were initially examined by the British Library team and Professor Nicholas Pickwoad, whose chapter in the new publication draws on the CT scan results and discusses how the central motif on the binding appears to have been made using a clay-like material, rather than gesso or cord as previously thought.

Two images stitched together. Left: The cover of the St Cuthbert Gospel, in a dark red leather with a raised floral motif in the center surrounded by a frame of Irish designs. Right: A magnified view of the raised floral motif.

Figure 5:  The St Cuthbert Gospel with raised plant-motif decoration examined under high magnification.

The scan of the Gospel and the facsimile. Scans of the raised floral motif of both the original and the facsimile. The material in the facsimile which creates the raised area is a starker white than the material of the facsimile. Scans of the original volume's boards and leather covering.

Figure 6: Analysis of the internal structure of the binding.

CT datasets contain vast amounts of information and samples can be visualised in many ways using various software tools. Drishti, which stands for vision or insight in Sanskrit, is an open source volume exploration and presentation tool. It allows volumetric data sets to be both explored and used for presentation of results.

The image of the Gospel in the software in an ivory tone.

Figure 7: A screen shot showing the St Cuthbert Gospel as visualised in Drishti.

CT scanning can provide tremendous amounts of information on the condition and construction of books and their bindings. This level of detail is unavailable through visual examination and can often lead to speculation. More information about the project can be found over on the Medieval Manuscripts blog. The new publication, The St Cuthbert Gospel: Studies on the Insular Manuscript of the Gospel of John, can be bought in the British Library shop or ordered online.

Christina Duffy (@DuffyChristina)

 

09 April 2015

The House Of Lords, Commoners, And Everybody Else

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.

An image of a sewn textblock in a book press. The curve of the spine is visible along with the cords of the sewing structure.

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.

An image of the Conservation Centre. A handful of conservators sit at their benches, treating objects.

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.

Two images side by side: One the left, an image showing the conservation work benches along the length of the room. Metal book presses rest at each bench. On the right: The windows which allow lots of natural light in.

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.

A sketch of the fictional explorer Isaak Scinbank. He has a long nose, scruffy hair, and a tall collar.

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 stands at a sewing frame, sewing a textblock together. The sewing frame is made of wood.

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.

A close up of one of the edges of The Salmon Book. The top corner has a burnt appearance, the pages seem worn and well-used, and a blue cloth bookmark sticks out.

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

02 April 2015

Rusty Rusalka

There are some binding styles that are inherently sound and will protect the texts within for centuries. In the West, generally they include sewing gatherings of bifolia through the fold with linen thread onto supports such as hemp cords, linen tapes, or slips of alum-tawed leather. Unfortunately, these methods tend to be expensive in time and materials. So the industrialisation of printing in the 19th century led also to new and varied means of holding the leaves together, most of them emphasising speed and cheapness over longevity.

The lowest-priced books had the crudest “sewing” – often stabbing holes through the entire textblock away from the spinefold to oversew the edge, or to pass through fasteners like staples or ties. One problem with this was that the leaves could not open conventionally at the spinefold, and quickly became damaged around the stab holes as readers tried to access text near the gutter.

Around 1880, a compromise was invented in Germany by which wire staples were inserted from inside through the spinefold onto supports such as tapes or cloth. This “wire sewing” seemed a fast and strong method, well suited to books that had to open well, such as music. Development of mechanised through-the-fold book-sewing machines began at about the same time, but took much longer to become economically viable. Thus wire sewing continued in use right through to the first half of the 20th century. Unfortunately, wire sewing has one serious flaw: the wires quickly rust and corrode both the book paper and the spine support. Eventually, they disintegrate and the book falls apart.

The front cover of Rusalka. The title, Rusalka, is written in the Russian alphabet and appears in a royal blue text. The cover is finished in a dove grey cloth. Some of the edges are degraded, and there is generally surface dirt is visible.
Photo 1: Rusalka (I.339.nn) as received in the conservation studio

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Among the British Library’s printed music collections is a vocal score of Rusalka (I.339.nn), published in Moscow in 1937 – not the more familiar opera by Dvořák, but a lesser-known work in Russian by Alexander Dargomyzhsky (1813-1869). This was sent for conservation because the joints had split and the spine-cloth was detaching, but it was quickly apparent that it was wire sewn and much greater intervention was required.

The spine covering has fallen away, showing the text block with rusty staples adhere white cloth to the textblock.
Photo 2: a close-up of the damage to the spine

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First, the wires had to be removed. The tines or legs of the staples were gently eased up on the outer spine. Fortunately, the cloth beneath them, though damaged, was intact enough to protect the spinefolds.

A close-up showing the legs of the staples which have been lifted.
Photo 3: lifting the wires

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Next the spine was gently rolled onto a length of plastazote (R) which the tines could sink into, both to stabilise the spine and protect the work-surface from scratches. The staples were then slowly worked out from the centre of each section, and the cloth forming the “sewing support” detached easily.

A close-up of the spine, which has had the staples and cloth removed. Holes and rust stains are still visible where the staples were originally used.
Photo 4: spine after cleaning, showing staggered holes left by the wire staples

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Rust treatment was considered, but this is a lengthy and invasive action and it was found sufficient to brush out loose fragments from the sections. Minor tears to the textblock were repaired. The holes left by the wires were undamaged and could be used for resewing the textblock with linen thread. However they had been staggered on the spine to avoid bulking it at just a few points. One option was to sew through a textile spine lining, replicating the original support for the wires, but it was felt that triple linen tape supports at each station would better control the opening and eventually offer a stronger board attachment. Once this was done, a light spine lining was added.

A close-up of the textblock which has now been resewn Thread has been sewn into the staple holes around cloth cords, and this all has been covered with Japanese tissue.
Photo 5: resewn textblock detail

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The old case was repaired, supporting the worn spine cloth and split joints. The corners also needed some attention to strengthen the soft, brittle boards and reform the split cloth covering them. Old marks and stains were left as they would not cause further damage and are part of the history of the item. Then textblock and case were rejoined.

The cover (both boards and spine) have been repaired. White repair paper is visible in small areas where the cover was previously degrading.
Photo 6: the repaired case, drying

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The final result is a music score that sits securely in its original case binding, with leaves that turn well and open flat should it ever be required for performance again.

Ann Tomalak

24 November 2014

‘The Salmon Book’: Conservation in Reverse

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!

The front cover of the book, showing the salmon-coloured leather and a triangle-shaped notch in the top right corner. The title A Gorging Chronicle For Gentlemen Angling is centred on the cover in gold foil lettering.

The spine of the book, which has the titled against a black background, and gold decorative foiling down the spine.  The book's back cover. It has been made to look well-used, with marks and staining present on the leather.

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. 

The sewn textblock rests on a lithography stone, while a conservator rounds the spine of the book by hitting it with a hammer.

The textblock now rests in a wooden vice, and again the spine is rounded by being hit with a hammer.

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. 

Green boards are attached to the textblock by the cords being slipped through a series of drilled holes in 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. 

The book is placed in a wooden vice and a conservator uses a hand saw to cut out the triangular notch.

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.

A piece of leather is place around the book and trimmed to size.

Dyes are put on the leather to tone it.

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.

Someone holds a lit candle to the leather to burn the edges of the book.      A close up of the burned edge.

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.

The book rests on a table as black paint is dripped and sprayed onto the leather to create a worn look.

The book stands upright on a table with the boards opened out, showing the marbled paper in tones of blues and creams.

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

12 November 2014

The conservation of two late medieval Hebrew manuscripts

Two Hebrew manuscripts in their original bindings came to the conservation studio as part of our
conservation program. Both texts contain the work of Abraham bar Hiyya (d. 1136) who was a medieval Spanish philosopher, mathematician and astronomer.

Background history

Little is known about bar Hiyya’s life except that he lived in Barcelona. Although there are points of similarity with other medieval thinkers, his writings contain a mixture of Neoplatonist, Aristotelian and Rabbinic ideas, with original interpretations. He was often quoted by later authorities and accepted as authoritative. There was often no distinction between astronomy and astrology in medieval Spanish or Latin text. Astrology was consulted for such things as births, journeys, business and weddings. Abraham was the foremost scientific authority in Spain at this time and he was a firm believer on this aspect of astrology. Many of the terms invented by Abraham have remained current in scientific and mathematic Hebrew to the present (1).

Besides Bar Hiyya’s Tsurat ha-arets which was copied c. 15th century in a Byzantine style of Hebrew writing (ff. 2r-54v), Or 10721  contains  two additional treatises copied by other scribes in the 15th-16th century. The two other works are Torat emet imun by Zecharia ben Mosheh ha-Kohen ha-Rofe (ff. 1r-1v; poetry), and Sefer ha-osher (Book of wealth) a scientific treatise (ff. 57r-61v).

The right board, which features metal book furniture--metal domes placed near each corner with one in the middle. Also present is blind tooling in a decorative, geometrical patterns which form rectangles around the board. The cover is generally scuffed and dirty, showing plenty of wear and tear.
Right board of Or 10721.

 

The left board is the same in design as the right, but shows less wear and tear. The leather is a dark brown and a lighter orange-brown in colour.
Left board of Or 10721.



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The first text was written by Abraham bar Hiyya and was one of the first Hebrew texts on cosmography. It is a short review of the ‘lands according to the seven climates’ - the chief source of geographical knowledge among the Jewish community at the time. Abraham bar Hiyya theorised that the Earth was at the very centre of the universe despite conflicting contemporary knowledge. The second text is a translation into rhymes of Bishop Marbod’s text (c.1090) ‘Liber Lapidum’- a tract on the medical and mystical qualities of precious stones. This text also considers astrological principles and the relationship between geology and the positions of heavenly bodies. The third (ff61v-62r) describes the restorative properties of the eagle.

The manuscript is written in iron gall ink and is attributed to a scribe who worked in Italy named Joseph ben Se’adyah Ibn Hayyim.

Or 10538 is a manuscript copied in Italy and dates from approximately the 14th or 15th century. It contains two treaties on astronomy and the Jewish calendar Sefer ha-Ibbur by Abraham bar Hiyya and Sod ha-‘Ivin by Yosef ben Yehudah Hazan.

The right board which has no design--the leather is tan in colour, somewhat cockled, and has scuffs.
Right board of Or 10538.

 

The left board is a bit darker than the right, but it similarly cocked and scuffed.
Left board of Or 10538.



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This manuscript was copied in Italy approximately around the 14th or 15th century and was censored in the 17th century. Abraham bar Hiyya’s main astronomical work known as Hokhmat ha-hizayon contains two parts; the first part Tsurat ha-arets or ‘Shape of the Earth’, which is included in Or 10721, and the second Heshbon Mahalekhot ha-kokhavim or 'Calculation of the courses of the stars’ which incorporates a whole section on intercalation. The whole work is probably the first exposition of the Ptolomaic system in Hebrew and was the first complete textbook of astronomy in that language. In Or 10538 Abraham further considered the problems of intercalation to enable Jews to observe the festivals on the correct dates (2).

Both volumes contain texts from Abraham bar Hiyya and both have kept their original 14th or 15th century bindings. Even though the binding styles are completely different, they are both unique objects. We decided to take a minimal intervention approach preserving as many of the historic features and characteristics of these manuscripts as possible, and to allow binding features and intricacies individual to these bindings to be visible. Repairs to these volumes would be carried out in-situ, intervening as minimally as possible whilst allowing it to be accessed safely by a guided readership.

Conservation

Or 10721 - There was an increase in book production towards the end of the 15th century when paper became more readily available and also a greater demand for embellishment of finished books as they became more affordable to produce. This meant that binders had to create time-saving methods which led to the adoption of less durable techniques and materials. Despite this, when developing techniques for book conservation today, we can learn a great deal from medieval book structures as their continuing existence is testament to their strong mechanical techniques of production.

The book rests on a table with the left board open.
Left pastedown before conservation showing alum-tawed supports laced into boards and torn vellum.



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When Or 10721 came to conservation it had missing areas to the leather exposing one of the sewing supports, a cracked and abraded surface, and a missing endband. The other endband was present but breaking away from the binding. One sewing support had broken in the gutter at both joints with the boards, which was causing the first and last sections to protrude from the boards (cut flush to the textblock) at the fore-edge.

A number of folios were loose with subsequent tears and crumpling to the edges. Where the vellum pastedowns had come away from the boards a section had torn away and was still adhered to the inner board surface. Rust from the metal bosses had caused burn holes in the first and last few folios, and the volume had surface dirt throughout.

A closeup showing  endband damage to Or 10721   The other Or 10721 endband--it is more intact.

The Or 10721 spine, showing wear and tear where the leather is scuffed and abraded. The damaged endband is visible on the left side of the spine--the book rests horizontally on a table.
Damage to leather spine: Thread remnants from the tail and head endbands showing damage from use and original lacing into boards.

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Some of the damage that has occurred over time has exposed otherwise hidden codicological features which are of interest to the scholarship of bindings of this type. Therefore one factor in the treatment of this item was not to hide this evidence.

The treatment aims for this book were:

• To strengthen and stabilise the sewing structure and its supports
• To reconnect and repair the existing endband (head) and replicate its structure (tail)
• To support and reinsert loose folios and repair vellum pastedown
• To consolidate covering leather

The sewing supports were extended using linen thread which was frayed out and adhered to the wooden board. This repair in addition to repairing and reconnecting the endbands to their cores within the boards helped strengthen the opening of the boards and the connection of textblock to binding. It also helped to ease the sections back into the binding and prevent further damage to the paper where it protruded at the fore-edge.

The worn leather is still visible, but it appears much less friable and prone to further damage.
Or 10721 spine after conservation.

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Or 10538 is a manuscript written with iron gall ink on parchment with annotations and foliation in graphite. The binding is limp vellum with the double alum-tawed sewing supports laced into the cover and a foredge flap extending from the left cover. Writing is visible over the covering parchment. The binding has been sewn all along on two double alum-tawed supports with thick linen thread. These supports are crossed and laced into the cover in a triangle pattern. Remnants of alum-tawed ties were observed. There are no spine linings or adhesive on the spine which has a natural hollow. Paper labels are found on the spine and left cover.

We don’t know the exact date of the binding but we do know that limp vellum bindings were commonly used in Italy in the 15th century answering to the increased demands of the time. This is a non- adhesive structure, which relies on strong sewing and materials. On the textblock there are indications that it has been resewn: a central sewing hole is not used in the current sewing and there is evidence of a sewing support in the corresponding place on the spine.

Or 10538 is opened to show the right board. The leather has been folded in and you can see strips of leather attaching the textblock to the board.
Inside of right board showing alum-tawed supports which have been knotted together.
The left board is opened, and again you can see strips of leather attaching the board to the textblock.
Inside of left board showing flap.



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The covering parchment was severely damaged. Assessment showed that it was cockled, brittle, gelatinised, and stiff, with overall staining and abrasion. There was severe shrinkage and the foredge flap has been folded inside the left cover. The right cover no longer extends to the foredge of the textblock. Shrinkage resulted in tension which has contributed to loss of covering on the spine; 50% of the spine covering was missing. There were losses to the corners of the left cover and foredge flap joint. Paper labels on the spine were torn, lifting, and had losses. The sewing was in poor condition, with broken kettle stitches in the centre at head and tail.

The spine of Or 10538 is severely damaged to the point where almost no spine covering the remains and the pages that form the textblock are visible.
Damage at the spine.
The cover has come away from the spine.
Spine after releasing the supports from the left cover.

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The treatment aims for this book were:

• To strengthen and stabilise the sewing structure and its supports
• To repair the vellum cover and infill the losses keeping all the original features

The challenge was to repair the cover without disturbing the lacing paths and undoing the knots. The alum-tawed ties were carefully removed from the right board, leaving the knotted alum-tawed ties of the left board untouched. The spine was then carefully repaired using layers of Japanese papers dyed to match the original colour.

The right board has areas of repair where the leather has degraded and fallen away. It still has a cockled appearance.
Right board after treatment.
The spine has been repaired and the covering material now fully protects the textblock.
Spine after treatment.

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Our approach is always trying not to disturb the codicological features as we can not necessarily anticipate what future research may be looking for. It is always the challenge of book conservators to make items accessible to readers while preserving as much as possible. In this case it has been very satisfying to be able to preserve the individual features of these unique items and make them available to researchers. Of course the books still need careful handling, as they are not only the carriers of content but also of the history of the objects and the history of materials and techniques of the time.

By Mariluz Beltran de Guevara and Zoe Miller

Further reading

(1) Encyclopedia Judaica, Vol 1, 2nd ed, Thompson Gayle, 2007
(2) Medieval Jewish Civilisation, An encyclopaedia, Ed by Norman Roth, Routhledge, 2002

26 October 2014

Bookbinder Bernard Middleton celebrates 90th birthday

Born on 29 October 1924, legendary bookbinder Bernard Middleton celebrates his 90th birthday this week. Bernard spent much of his life working with British Library collection items at the Library’s bindery, then known as the British Museum Bindery, following his apprenticeship there.

 

Bernard Middleton stands before a rack of good tooling tools, picking one off the shelf.
Bookbinder Bernard Middleton at work. Photo courtesy of Bernard Middleton.


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Bernard Middleton was interviewed in 2007 for Crafts Lives* by oral historian Hawksmoor Hughes. Crafts Lives is one of the oral history interview programmes run by National Life Stories, the oral history charitable trust based at the British Library. Bernard spoke about his time at the Central School of Arts & Crafts where he gained a general education and a grounding in bookbinding.

Listen to Bernard Middleton on the Central School of Arts and Crafts

“I was very happy there, I liked it.” recalls Bernard, “I liked the fact that my father had been taught in the same room, 25-26 years previously. And I was taught by his fellow student. It was a very good school – it was regarded really as the sort of Oxbridge of the craft world.”

The Central School of Art and Design was established in 1896 and became part of the London Institute almost a hundred years later in 1986. In 1989 it merged with Saint Martin’s School of Art forming Central Saint Martin’s College of Arts and Design, which today has its campus at King’s Cross, just a ten minute walk from the British Library.

The first thing Bernard was taught was how to fold paper, followed by instruction on how to sew a pamphlet , which he describes as “about the simplest thing one can possibly do in bookbinding”. The class learned the history of the way books developed from the scroll to the codex, and gradually took on more complicated bindings including cloth, leather (half-leather, full-leather), and gold-tooling.

Describing himself as “shy” and “well-behaved”, Bernard recalls the odd mischievous day which included throwing balls of wet cotton wool at the ceiling. “I remember throwing one and it hit the teacher in the middle of the back and stuck on his round coat. I was rather embarrassed when he turned around and saw me.”

When Bernard first came to the Bindery there were about eighty workers there and most of his time was spent making end papers. He quickly gained proficiency by working next to journeymen who taught the apprentices their skills. Bernard learned how to bind both old and new books acquired by the Museum’s Library.

Listen to Bernard Middleton on the British Museum Bindery

It was a hard life, with an initial salary of £1 a week and only a seven minute tea break each day: “We had to stand all day and that was hard work when I first went there. We were allowed to sit down for seven minutes at four o’clock to have tea, not in the morning – you had to stand up to have it then…I think it had been five minutes and then two more minutes were negotiated, and then the deputy foreman would bang with a stick on his press to indicate that we should stand up and get on with our work again.”

Bernard’s subsequent career has included managing Zaehnsdorfs, a large and successful binding firm; establishing his own business; researching and writing on the history of bookbinding and restoration; designing and producing approximately 100 original bindings; as well as receiving many commissions from noted collectors, academic institutions and libraries. He was elected a fellow of the Royal Society of Arts in 1951 and received an MBE in 1986.

 

The spine and front cover bound in a mustard yellow leather, with a series of horizontal lines running across at the middle and bottom of the book. There is a vertical black line with diagonal horizontal lines running about one third of the way across the front cover.
Bernard Middleton’s 1965 binding on his book A History of English Craft Bookbinding Technique New York & London, 1963. C.108.d.39

 

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Some examples of his bindings are below:

The spine bound in red leather, with the title and author running vertically down the spine.
BL shelfmark C.160.c.17

 

The spine and front cover bound in a deep red colour with a geometric circle at the centre of the cover. The circle has a background in deep forest green, with gold geometric shapes running through it--similar to a mandala.
A 1964 binding on Howard M. Nixon, Twelve Books in Fine Bindings from the Library of J. W. Hely-Hutchinson Oxford, 1953. C.160.c.17


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The spine in a tan-orange leather, with horizontal lines and a larger dark green horizontal stripe down the center. This strip has geometric designs in down it.
BL shelfmark C.188.b.43

 

The cover in a tan-orange colour, with stripes mirroring the spine (smaller ones plus larger green ones with geometric designs). In the centre is a large black stripe with pattern in gold leaf running down it.
A 2004 binding on Marianne Tidcombe, The bookbindings of T.J. Cobden-Sanderson London, c1984. C.188.b.43


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More examples of Bernard’s bindings can be seen at the St Bride Library off Fleet Street in London from 27 October to 14 November, 2014.

“My designs are intended to please the eye, not engage the intellect, principally by the employment of textures, strongly defined shapes and contrasts, and by the play of light on gold, preferably in combination and in a manner which complements the book." Bernard Middleton, Recollections (London, 2000), p.85.

With thanks to Philippa Marks (Curator, Bookbindings) and to Mary Stewart (Curator, Oral History) who edited the audio clips.

*Since the Crafts Lives project started in 1999, over 130 in-depth life stories have been recorded with British craftspeople, exploring both their personal lives and their work in the fields of pottery, glass, metalwork, jewellery, textiles and book arts. In August 2014 over 80 of these interviews were made available to listen to online in their entirety – including 13 craftspeople that work in the area of book arts, bookbinding and letter cutting. Visit http://sounds.bl.uk/Oral-history/Crafts to find out more.

28 September 2014

Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination

Our next major exhibition ‘Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination’ opening on 3 October 2014 will explore Gothic themes in art, architecture, literature, music, film and fashion. It will look at the impact British Gothic had, particularly in literature, on Europe and North America, and will explore our continuous fascination with the sublime, sinister and the supernatural in human nature – although ever present – first fully explored through the Gothic imagination.

The exhibition will be showcasing some key items from our collection including the first Gothic novel: The Castle of Otranto written by Horace Walpole* and published on Christmas Eve, 1764; hence the exhibition taking place this year on the 250th anniversary of its publication. It is rare that such classic items from our collection find their way to the conservation studio prior to major exhibitions as most such iconic items would have already undergone conservation in the past. I was therefore surprised, but at the same time very excited, when I saw The Castle of Otranto on the list of items requiring preparation for the exhibition.

The volume rests on a table. It has medium-brown leather which shows general signs of wear and tear with a gold crest at the centre of the left (front) board and gold lettering down the spine.
The leather bound volume of The Castle of Otranto with the original gold tooling on the front board showing Walpole’s coat of arms.

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Needless to say, the small leather bound book looked in pristine condition and the only work it
required was minor trimming of the guards (additional strips of paper attached to the spine side leaf edge) at the front of the book. The volume was probably re-backed about 25-30 years ago. The first few folia must have been loose, as they were re-sewn on guards which were left a little bit too long.

The book rests open showing paper guards sticking out roughly a centimetre onto the page.
The volume with guards before trimming.

   

The book rests open after the guards have been trimmed--the guards are no longer visible.
The volume with guards trimming.


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Other volumes for the exhibition required more conservation work including: boards, folia or spine
re-attachments, repair to binding edges or corners, and tear repairs to folia within the volumes. In
total, conservation received 35 items from our collection for preparation, and almost half of those
were volumes. For example, Ann Radcliffe’s The Mysteries of Udolpho had a loose front board, while the spine had to be repaired and re-attached on Beardsley’s The Yellow Book.

Mysteries of Udolpho rests on a table. It's cover is coming away from the spine, showing a section of the textblock. The cover appears heavily scuffed.
The Mysteries of Udolpho with a loose front cover

 

The Yellow Book rests on a table. It has a yellow cover with black text and decoration. The spine is coming away.
The Yellow Book before conservation.


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The Mysteries of Udolpho still has scuffed boards but they have been reattached.
The Mysteries of Udolpho after conservation.

 

The Yellow Book has had its spine reattached.
The Yellow Book after conservation.


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The British Library has a rich collection of Gothic material, but a number of items, almost double the amount of items requiring conservation, will also be loaned for the exhibition from various museums, galleries, libraries and institutions across the United Kingdom. Conservation will be involved with condition checking prior to the exhibition for some of those items, while others will be checked on arrival. The key loans for the exhibition include paintings, posters, furniture, costume and film. Visitors can look forward to nearly 30 film posters, props from Stanley Kubrick’s film The Shining, photographs and investigative report from a haunted rectory, as well as a rare Limoges enamel casket belonging to Horace Walpole which depicts the murder of Thomas Becket.

On a personal level, I was very pleased to be asked to mount an engraving showing the view of
Strawberry Hill. Strawberry Hill was the eccentric and idiosyncratic home of Horace Walpole built in the Gothic revival style. His home was also the inspiration for his writings; most famously the
setting for The Castle of Otranto.

The print in its mount. The print shows a home surrounded by trees and a garden in black ink.
 The view of Strawberry Hill near Twickenham mounted in cream museum board.

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I first visited Strawberry Hill when it was still in the first phase of restoration, and was  fascinated by its history, significance in the development of the architectural style, connection to the Gothic novel and… the papier mâché ceiling! Horace Walpole once famously said that his buildings, like his writings, were made of paper and would be blown away 10 years after his death.** He obviously underestimated both the strength of paper and his writings, not to mention his lasting contribution to the new literary genre and the Gothic Revival in architecture.

The current exhibition will bring the story of Gothic to the present times, showing our enduring and continuous fascination with the romance of the medieval past, as well as the darker side of human nature and the supernatural!

 

Iwona Jurkiewicz

I would like to thank Tanya Kirk and Tim Pye, the curators for the exhibition, for their help with
the blog and the invaluable information provided on the content of the exhibition, as well as
references for the quotations included.

Footnotes:

*Horace Walpole, the youngest son of Britain’s first Prime Minister, was a man of letters, historian,
collector and an influential social commentator and trendsetter of his times.

**Horace Walpole’s letter to his cousin, Henry Conway, on Aug 5 1761: 'My buildings are paper, like my writings, and both will be blown away in ten years after I am dead.' He also expressed a similar sentiment in a letter to Anne Fitzpatrick, Lady Ossory, on Aug 11 1778: 'I am no poet, and my castle is of paper, and my castle and my attachment and I, shall soon vanish and be forgotten together!'

19 August 2014

Eighteenth-century Country-house Guidebooks: Tools for Interpretation and Souvenirs

A print of Wilton House, showing a large home surrounded by grass and trees. The print is in colour.
J. Buckler, South East View of Wilton House, 1810. (Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection)

During the eighteenth and early-nineteenth centuries, country houses in Britain emerged as significant tourist attractions. There was already a long tradition of expecting country houses to offer travellers hospitality, and by the middle of the eighteenth century, part of being a polite landowner was allowing tourists to visit your house and grounds. In theory, this standard applied to all houses, but only a handful, such as Wilton House (Wiltshire), were sites which routinely attracted hundreds of visitors. At houses like these, the huge increase in visitor numbers led to formal opening hours, standardized tours (typically given by housekeepers), inns which catered to tourists and the publication of guidebooks. The guidebooks published during this period are the best records of what an ideal visit to a house was intended to be like: they indicate what you were expected to appreciate and to ignore. Guidebooks were typically published only after a house had established itself as a popular site, and so in effect, they codified visiting practices that were already in place.

Plans from A Guide to Burghley: a series of rooms are outlined and numbered.
Illustration from Thomas Blore, A Guide to Burghley [abridged version], Stamford: John Drakard, 1815. (British Library, 10358.ccc.3)



Guidebooks’ content was typically organized to maximize convenience for visitors as they toured a property. This is a set of schematic plans which was bound near the beginning of one of the Burghley House (Lincolnshire) guidebooks, and these plans are numbered according to the order tourists typically viewed rooms in – beginning with the great hall, room 1, then the saloon, room 2, and so on – they are linked to a key, but the numbering is also linked to the subheadings in the text itself. Not all guidebooks were illustrated in this way, but a room-by-room organization was common, presumably because this made it easier to carry, read and view at the same time.

In this colour print, two boats meet on a lake which is surrounded by greenery. It appears to be nearing sunset with the cloud-filled sky shifting from blue in the top left toward pink in the top right.
John Emes, The Lake, Hawkstone Park, Shropshire, 1790. (Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection)



Guidebooks had tremendous potential as interpretive tools in that they could make a site more accessible and legible to its visitors. One of the main reasons people published guidebooks was to catalogue the art collections: this was not only a gracious gesture towards tourists, it was a clear signal that visitors were expected to carefully examine the individual works on display – many guidebooks, such as those describing Wilton, include entries about each painting and/or sculpture, directing readers to appreciate specific qualities. Outside the house, guidebooks were no less instructive: the guidebook to Hawkstone (Shropshire), for example, a house famous for its garden (and well-known for the comfort of its inn), provided information about the various views and spaces tourists would encounter as they toured the site and indicated what was to be admired at each stage.

As objects, guidebooks were designed to be functional, and book reviewers were very invested in how they were convenient for tourists. To that end, guidebooks are usually small, octavo volumes; and, while many of them are quite long, they are usually bound in paper covers, making them lightweight and inexpensive. Many, in fact, might reasonably be labelled pamphlets rather than books. Yet at the same time, guidebooks could function as mementos for tourists as well as practical aides.

This print shows Corsham House surrounded by trees.
Illustration of the frontispiece from John Britton, An Historical Account of Corsham House, London: Printed for the Author, 1806. (British Library, 796.e.19)



A guidebook’s appeal as a souvenir could be heightened by the addition of an illustrated frontispiece. The most common type of image was a view of the house itself, surrounded by the landscaped grounds, but it also depended on the particular attractions of the property. A number of the guides to Wilton, for example, illustrated one of the house’s sculptures on the frontispiece; that of Duncombe Park (North Yorkshire) displayed the ruins of Rievaulx Abbey, a site visible from the estate’s terraces.

Two people, a man and woman, are at the foreground of this print of Blenheim Palace. Just behind the figures is a lake with a small island filled with trees. At the background sits the palace.
Illustration from William Mavor, New Description of Blenheim, 8th edn, Oxford: J. Munday, 1810. (British Library, 10351.f.6)



The most elaborate guidebooks included series of illustrations. Some editions of the guide to Blenheim Palace (Oxfordshire), for example, incorporated a fold-out map of the gardens (often with hand-coloured details) and a set of views of the house, one each from the north, south, east and west.

Considered as a group, these guidebooks, many of which were available in London bookstores as well as near the houses themselves, might be said to be appealing to readers as texts which might be read for their own sake, after the visit to the house was over. In doing so, they were in effect claiming a greater relevance for their content, and for the cultural significance of information about country houses, their art collections and their gardens.

Jocelyn Anderson

Jocelyn Anderson holds a PhD from The Courtauld Institute of Art, where she wrote a dissertation entitled 'Remaking the Country House: Country-House Guidebooks in the Late Eighteenth and Early Nineteenth Centuries'. She recently completed a postdoctoral fellowship at The Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art.

You can see more images from the country-house guidebooks discussed here on the British Library's Flickr page: https://www.flickr.com/photos/britishlibrary/

29 July 2014

Collection Care Top Ten

The Collection Care blog is a year old this week! It has been a wonderful 12 months for the blog, due largely to you, our loyal readers. Since fluid, food and flames are generally considered our nemeses, we'll hold off on the champagne and birthday cake. Instead, to celebrate, we have compiled a list of the top ten most popular posts. Boy, do we know how to party!

10. A-a-a-choo! Collection Care's Dust Busters: In this post we shared the work of our dust busting team who monitor dust in order to protect our collections. We took a look at what exactly dust is, and how to balance the benefits and risk of dust minimisation programs. Who you gonna call? Collection Care! 

The tops of two rows of various-coloured books are shown with ample dust visible on top of the textblocks.

 

9. Goldfinisher: He's the man, the man with the Midas Touch: Doug Mitchell is our book conservator and gold finisher extraordinaire. Doug demonstrated the blind tooling technique and showed us the variety of tools involved in the process.

A conservator picks up a piece of gold foil. Next to him is a book in a wooden press, with the spine facing upwards.

8. Sea Snails & Purple Parchment: Did you know that the colour purple found in many of our manuscripts comes from sea snails? The snails are essentially "milked" to extract a gland secretion in a very labour intensive process. 

A variety of small snails in shades of brown, tan, and white on top of a rock.

7. A Guide to BL book stamps: You've seen them on our collections and online, but what do they mean? Library stamps are generally divided into four types according to when they were in use, ranging from 1753 to the present day.

Two British Museum stamps: one in blue and one in red. The stamp features a circular crest in the middle with a crown on top. On the left side of the crest is a lion and on the right side is a unicorn. Below the crest and animals is a banner and above is text which reads BRITISH MUSEUM.

6. Digitisation as a preservation tool; some considerations: This post by Qatar Project conservator Flavio Marzo confronted the growing public expectation for online access. Marzo challenged the conservation community to use mass digitisation as an opportunity for the long term preservation of historical items and their features.

A screenshot of Microsoft Sharepoint. This shows various items arranged by shelfmark, and what stage in the conservation workflow each item is at.

5. The Bookie Monster: attack of the creepy crawlies!: Here we delved into the underworld of pesky pests who seek to eat their way through our collections. We identified some of the primary culprits and showed examples of damage to look out for.

A closeup of pest damage on paper. Small holes and tunnels are visible.

4. Cleaning and rehanging the Kitaj tapestry: What happens when creepy crawlies do successfully attack? This year we had to don our hard hats to remove the enormous R.B. Kitaj Tapestry If not, not from the St Pancras Entrance Hall for conservation cleaning. The tapestry was hoovered and frozen to remove all pests and surface dust before rehanging in the hall. It was a major operation and a complete success. We even made a time-lapse video!

Three people in hard hats stand on scaffolding and re-hang the large tapestry.

3. Fail to prepare for digitisation, prepare to fail at digitising!: Digitisation is much more than just taking a picture. With mass digitisation projects being announced every month, we shared what we've learned when it comes to preparation. We listed five main outcomes of pre-digitisation checks, which highlighted the potential risks in each case.

Four images showing books opened at various angles: the top two images are books open at gentle angles on black foam book wedges, the bottom left is a paperback book opened without any supports and the bottom right shows a hardback book being opened with no supports.

2. Books depicted in art: Being surrounded by books everyday is all part of the day job for us here in Collection Care. As you can imagine, seeing books in paintings can be quite thrilling. In this lavishly illustrated post we saw that some historical paintings contain a wealth of information about bindings that were not well-documented in the trade.

On the left is a painting of a man in black with white collars and cuffs in front of a book shelf. He is also holding a book in his hand. On the right is a closeup of some of the books on the bookshelf.

1. Under the Microscope with the Lindisfarne Gospels: Finally, in our most popular post, we shared microscopy images of the Lindisfarne Gospels collected by our team during a condition assessment. At up to 200 times magnification the medieval artistry and attention to detail blew us all away.

A magnified image of ink. Some brown dots sit high on the surface of the parchment. A brown ink shows the lettering with a teal ink resting inside letters (think filling in an o).

Many thanks to all our readers from the Collection Care team. As ever, we are truly grateful for your following and are always keen to hear from you. Do let us know if there are any topics you'd like to read about, and don't forget you can subscribe to the blog at the top of this page, and follow us on Twitter: @BL_CollCare


Christina Duffy (@DuffyChristina)

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