THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Collection Care blog

41 posts categorized "Books"

19 January 2015

What you should know about self-service photography

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Use is one of the biggest risks to physical collections in a reference library and so it may be a surprise that the Collection Care department supports the recent introduction of self-service photography into general collection Reading Rooms.

Self service photography

Our approach to collection care is underpinned by a risk-based process whereby we balance the risks to collection items against 10 agents of deterioration (Preventive Conservation and Agents of Deterioration), one of which includes use.

At the British Library where the collection accommodates 625 km of storage, the simple act of requesting an item, having it delivered and being able to refer to it in a Reading Room can mean that it has been handled by 5 or 6 people as it moves around the building, or even the country if it is stored off-site in Boston Spa, West Yorkshire. Even with careful handling, this level of movement increases wear and tear over time and the potential for damage.

However, we believe there are benefits to the Reader and the Library in allowing photography for personal reference. If items can be photographed at the desk they are moved less, which minimises wear and tear and the risk of accidental damage.

Set ups for photography

CC by Every item is unique and requires special care when setting up for photography.

Many items can be used safely in reading rooms, even if they aren’t in perfect condition. We do have a policy of identifying items which are not fit to issue and have used the launch of self-service photography as an opportunity to reinforce this in staff training. For example, collection items should not be issued if they cannot be handled safely without suffering damage, or further damage, or where there is a risk of loss or partial loss to the item because of existing damage.

Once copyright and other restrictions are considered, decisions on what can be photocopied, photographed or scanned are made based on the condition, format and size of the item and the equipment or method being used to produce a copy. Photography using a mobile, compact camera or a tablet can be a safer form of image capture than photocopying, which requires increased handling. Self-service photography also increases the range of items and materials that can be copied safely as there are fewer restrictions on size and weight compared with photocopying and scanning where the maximum copy size is A4 or A3.

There are, however, risks with self-service photography which also need to be considered. Users may be tempted to take more photographs just because they can, regardless of whether they need them for reference. It is noticeable that when taking photographs, collection items are treated more like objects and the focus is often on obtaining a good image rather than considering the item itself. Photography is good at capturing small details or articles but if people want to refer to whole pages the self-service scanner may be a better option. There are also items which will always present challenges because their size, format or condition makes them unsuitable for any copying.

To address these risks we have listed 10 key points to bear in mind when using and copying collection items. These are included in the video below which provides an overview of self-service photography. The video is also available online here.

In the first phase of self-service photography we have concentrated on photographing printed books, newspapers and periodicals and have a produced a short video explaining how book supports can be a useful tool when taking photographs. 

We are now in the process of developing guidelines for the second phase of self-service photography which will extend the service to special collection Reading Rooms where the range of collection formats are more diverse and varied. Again, our starting point is considering the risks and benefits involved in photographing these items and reviewing the collection care videos we produced a few years ago (Collection Care videos).

Sarah Hamlyn, Lead Preventive Conservator

14 January 2015

135th Anniversary of Printer Joel Munsell's Death

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Joel Munsell (14 April 1808 - 15 January 1880) was a United States printer, publisher and author who had the vision to record useful and contemporary information in the field of papermaking during the 19th century in his 1956 publication Chronology of  the Origin and Progress of Paper and Papermaking. Towards the end of his career in 1875, Munsell penned and privately printed some wonderful recollections of his childhood in Northfield, Massachussets, where he was born and educated (1). Following an introduction to the wheelwright's trade by his father, the young Joel Munsell apprenticed for the printer's trade in the office of the Franklin Post and Christian Freeman newspaper in Greenfield, MA, about 12 miles south of Northfield, where he eventually became office foreman.

Joel Munsell

CC-by Joel Munsell. Credit: History of Albany County New York

In 1826, an eighteen year old Munsell relocated to Troy in New York before making his way to Albany in 1827, where he would remain until his death. Munsell initally gained employment as an office clerk in the book-store of book dealer John Denio (2), and quickly rose up the ranks to become manager - a position he resigned from in order to secure a position as a journeyman printer. While at Denio's Munsell edited and published a semi-weekly paper called the Albany Minerva which he established in 1828.

It wasn't long before Munsell left the bookstore and took up a position as a compositor in a local newspaper where he stayed for six years. By 1836 the young printer had acquired enough money and knowledge to enable the establishment of his own printing business. He purchased a job printing office in Albany where he was publisher and editor of the New York State Mechanic (a Whig campaign paper) from 1841-1843. His publications in 1842 included The Lady's Magazine, The Northern Star and The Freeman's Advocate, followed by The Spectator in 1844, the Guard and Odd Fellows' Journal in 1845, and subsequently the Unionist, the Albany State Register, the Typographical Miscellany, the New York Teacher, the Albany Morning Express and the Albany Daily Statesman. Munsell was also responsible for publishing Webster's Almanac and the New England Historical and Geneological Register from 1861-1864.

Munsell Printer

CC-by From Bannister's Joel Munsell, Printer and Antiquarian in Albany, New York, image courtesy of the Rare Book Library, New York State Library.

His dedication to typography and hard work led his business to become one of the most suscessful in Albany. His first book, Outline of the History of Printing, was written in 1839, although he is best-known for Chronology of Paper published in 1856, with extended various editions in 1857, 1864, 1870 and 1876.

In 1834, Joel Munsell married Jane C. Bigelow, a marriage which was to last twenty years until her death. They had four children together. Munsell later remarried and wed Mary Anne Reid with whom he had another six children. At the age of seventy-two, Joel Munsell died in Albany, New York, on 15 January 1880. His son, Frank Munsell, succeeded him in the printing and publishing business.

A large Munsell Collection is held at the New York State Library which acquired his extensive collection of notes and books on printing and local history. These notes were later edited and annotated forming an "Historical Series", contributing greatly to the historical literature of this area. Syracuse University's Bird Library holds a number of Munsell editions, and there are also significant Munsell collections at the Albany Institute of History and Art and the American Antiquarian Society of Worcester, MA, both of which Munsell had an active membership with and to whom he sent copies of most of the material he printed throughout his life.

Joel Munsell had a long and distinguished career and to this day is held in high regard in the world of printing and publishing. See references below for more information on his life.

Christina Duffy

References

(1) Joel Munsell, Reminiscences of Men and Things in Northfield as I Knew Them, from 1812 to 1825, Albany, 1875.

(2) Cyclopædia of American Biographies (1903)/Munsell, Joel 

(3) Bannister, Henry S. "From the Collector's Library: Joel Munsell, Printer and Antiquarian in Albany, New York." The Courier 11.2 (1974): 11-22.

24 November 2014

‘The Salmon Book’: Conservation in Reverse

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

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

A Gorging Chronicle

Spine  Back cover

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

The challenge for us was immediately clear:  

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

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

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

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

Rounding

Book block

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

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

Attaching the boards

CC by Hemp cords being laced into the board.

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

Sawing

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

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

Cutting the leather

Toning the leather

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

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

Candle burning      Candle burns

CC by Edges are charred using a candle.

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

Staining

Marble paper

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

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

Royston Haward and Zoe Miller

12 November 2014

The conservation of two late medieval Hebrew manuscripts

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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).

Or 10721 right board  Or 10721 left board

CC by Right and left boards of Or 10721.

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.

Or 10538 right board  Or 10538 left board

CC by Right and left board of Or 10538.

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.

Or 10721 pastedown

CC by Left pastedown before conservation showing alum-tawed supports laced into boards and torn vellum.

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.

Or 10721 endband damage  Or 10721 endband

Or 10721 spine

CC by Damage to leather spine: Thread remnants from the tail and head endbands showing damage from use and original lacing into boards.

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.

Or 10721 spine after conservation

CC by Or 10721 spine after conservation.

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 right board pastedown

Or 10538 inside left board

CC by Top: Inside of right board showing alum-tawed supports which have been knotted together. Bottom: Inside of left board showing flap.

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.

Or 10538 spine

Or 10538 spine with supports released

CC by Top: Damage at the spine. Bottom: Spine after releasing the supports from the left cover.

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.

Or 10538 right board after treatment

Or 10538 spine after treatment

CC by Right board and spine after treatment.

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

28 September 2014

Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination

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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.

Leather bound volume

CC by The leather bound volume of The Castle of Otranto with the original gold tooling on the front board showing Walpole’s coat of arms.

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.

Guards before trimming   Guards after trimming
CC by The volume with guards before and after trimming.

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 before conservation  The Yellow Book before conservation
CC by The Mysteries of Udolpho with a loose front cover and The Yellow Book before
conservation.

Mysteries of Udolpho after conservation  The Yellow Book after conservation
CC by Both items after conservation.

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.

Strawberry Hill

CC by The view of Strawberry Hill near Twickenham mounted in cream museum board.

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!'

23 September 2014

Meet Adopt a Book Conservator Rick Brown

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In our last Adopt a Book conservators post, we introduced conservator Kim Mulder who has a special interest in large paper objects. Now, meet book conservator Rick Brown who joined the Library as an apprentice in 1984 and has been involved with the Adopt a Book scheme since it first began.

Rick Brown

I have been working in the conservation department on British Library collection items since September 1984: at the newspaper library in Colindale, at the Bloomsbury bindery (British Museum), on the 6th floor of St Pancras (British Library) and now in the purpose built Centre for Conservation situated at the back of the British Library St Pancras site.

I was taken on under an apprenticeship scheme which consisted of being taught by a journeyman (mentor) and attending a day release City and Guilds course at the Elephant and Castle London College of Printing.

In those days there was no such thing as a book conservator as the role was split into four disciplines; sewing, paper conservation, binding/box making and finishing (gold leaf lettering).

I was extremely lucky to be trained at the British Library (British Museum) at that time as the conservators, binders and finishers there were some of the most skilled in the profession. I have nothing but good memories of working with these people and I owe them so much.

We now undertake a minimal intervention approach; we conserve and repair just enough without removing any features of the item’s historical past. To do this you need to be fully skilled in all disciplines. Alongside scheduled work to treat items, we also undertake a programme of running repairs where items which have been identified as needing minor repairs come into the studio and are repaired in less than ten hours. One of the running repair items I’ve worked on is The Secret Garden (1911).

 

Watch Rick making repairs to The Secret Garden in this video about supporting the Library’s conservation work.

I have been involved in the Adopt a Book scheme since it first began; where a group of school children came to the Bloomsbury bindery for a visit and after seeing the work that was being carried out suggested that they fundraise for a particular book to be conserved. It was thought to be such a good concept that it was advertised as a gift idea. I remember seeing adverts for Adopt a Book on tube stations and inside tube train carriages. Books were conserved for the Adopt a Book scheme by all conservators until it was decided in 1998 to have a dedicated Adopt a Book team, for which I became manager.

Adopt a Book works in a different way now to when it started. The program now supports the work of our conservators rather than funding for an individual book to be repaired. This is a more sensible approach as it helps the future of conservation at the British Library and manages to conserve more items in the process.

Rick Brown

CC by Rick working on one of the maps in our collection.

From a memorial to a loved one who read a particular book to their children, to readers who used a book consistently whilst researching at the Library; I am still touched by some of the stories I hear for the reasons why people adopt books.

Rick Brown

19 August 2014

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

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Wilton House

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.

A Guide to Burghley
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.

John Emes The Lake
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.

Corsham House
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.

New Description of Blenheim
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

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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! 

A-a-a-choo! Collection Care's Dust Busters

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.

Goldfinisher: He's the man

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. 

Sea snails & purple parchment

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.

A Guide to BL book stamps

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.

Digitisation as a preservation tool

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.

The Bookie Monster: attack of the creepy crawlies!

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!

Cleaning and rehanging the Kitaj 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.

Fail to prepare for digitisation, prepare to fail at digitising!

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.

Books depicted in art

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.

Under the Microscope with the Lindisfarne Gospels

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)

01 July 2014

Books depicted in art

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After a glorious week of studying European Bookbinding (1450-1820) at the London Rare Books School with Director of the Ligatus Research Centre, Professor Nicholas Pickwoad,  it quickly became apparent that works of art have been one of the best methods of recording details of techniques used in bookbinding.

The majority of books throughout history are not the heavily decorated and spectacular versions we tend to hear most about, but instead are plain, and fairly ordinary book blocks (which some people still find quite exciting - author included!). For this reason, the techniques are perhaps not as well understood or documented. Luckily the keen eye of the artist has captured precise details when depicting books throughout history, showing sewing structures, stitch types, supports, covers and even how they were stored. In this post we will look at some examples of books depicted in art.

Storage

While we now consider spine outwards as ‘the right way around’ to display books, this was not always the case. In the oil on canvas painting ‘Portrait of Lawyer Francesco Righetti’ by Guercino (1626- 28) we see doctor of laws Fracesco Righetti depicted in his library. His law books are tail-edge outwards showing endband detail with titles written on the volume.

Portrait of Lawyer Francesco Righetti

CC zero Guercino’s ‘Portrait of Lawyer Francesco Righetti’.

The engraved ‘Portrait of William Cartwright’ (from ‘Comedies, tragi-comedies, with other poems’) was printed in London for Humphrey Moseley in 1651. Cartwright is shown wearing a collar and gown leaning on an open book. The books on the wall behind him are shelved fore-edge out; a common practice in the 16th and early 17th century. Gilded-edge books stored spine away would gleam off the shelves quite spectacularly. Many medieval books have their title written in several places such as the spine, tail-edge or fore-edge as storage locations changed over time.

Portrait of William Cartwright

CC by ‘Portrait of William Cartwright’. See the full engraving digitised on the British Museum's Image Gallery.

How binderies operated

Hendrik de Haas’s print ‘De Boekbinder’ (1806) shows a bookbinder's workshop. On the left is the beating stone where gatherings were pounded with a mallet for compaction. Second from the left a man is shown bent over a special shaving knife which is drawn along the text block to trim the pages. The shavings are shown on the floor. In the centre on a stool a binder is sewing the gatherings next to a young boy taking a book to a client. The master of the workshop (as determined by his smart attire and rather dashing wig) burnishes the leather by working and smoothing it. The finisher, working for the aristocracy, made more money than the binder – it is unusual to see him wearing Hessian boots. (With tassels! On a binder! The outrage!)

De Boekbinder

Beating the gatherings Shaving the book block Wood press
CC by Bookbinder’s workshop in print by Hendrik de Haas, ‘De Boekbinder’, Dordrect, 1806. Lower left: Beating the gatherings. Lower centre: Shaving the book block. Lower right: Pressing the books.

Leaning against the shelving unit in the far right is a wooden book press where several books are packed tightly. It was possible to apply guilt edges to several books at a time when stored in this way.

Life and social status

Dutch painter Marinus van Reymerswale’s early 16th century oil on canvas painting ‘St Jerome in his Study’ shows St Jerome surrounded by curious objects which represent attributes referring to his life and status. St Jerome was famed for translating the Bible into Latin from Greek and Hebrew. The Vulgate, as his translation was known, became the official Latin version of the Holy Script in the Roman Catholic Church. For this reason he is nearly always depicted around books and in his study.

An expensively bound volume with clasps is shelved behind St Jerome, while on his table are several working copies with various sewing structures and tacketed bindings. A sewn book block is apparent which never had covers, adhesive, or a spine lining. The gatherings are visible with long stitch through separate supports rather than covering the whole spine. There is no adhesive used in long stitch bindings, making them very useful for music manuscripts as the book stays open easily and is very flexible. Long stitch was rare in England but common in the Low Countries as a cheap and quick way to produce almanacs. The variety of books in his study suggest St Jerome was highly-literate with a great depth of knowledge.

St Jerome in his Study

St Jerome

CC zero Marinus van Reymerswale’s ‘St Jerome in his Study’, 16th century. Lower left: Leather bound volume with metal clasps. Lower right: Visible sewing structures, long stitch and tacketed binding.

Textblocks could be sold without significant covers, just held together with an "endless cover". Jean Antoinette Poisson (Madame de Pompadour) was the mistress of King Louis XV, as well as a prominent patron of Francois Boucher. In Francois Boucher’s 1756 oil on canvas portrait ‘Madame de Pompadour’ the lady is sumptuously dressed and surrounded by opulent things - apart from the book she holds in her hand. The book has a drawn-on cover – a piece of paper or parchment put around the book-block. It was a cheap and quick way to bind books and there are a lot of French books bound in this way. Madame de Pompadour is displaying a casual relationship with literature, in a sense saying to the viewer ‘Look at me, I read books because they are interesting. If I like it, I will keep it” (and pay more money for the binding!).

Madame de Pompadour

Madame de Pompadour's book

CC zero Francois Boucher’s ‘Madame de Pompadour’, 1756, oil on canvas portrait.

Street vendors/book peddlers

'Bealux abc belles heures’ is part of the ‘le Cris de Paris’ genre illustrating Parisian street vendors. It is a woodcut engraving ca 1500 showing a moment in time when prayer books, once restricted to the wealthy aristocracy, became affordable to the bourgeois with the advent of the printing press. Thin, printed copies were sold on the streets. In the vendor’s right hand is a Book of Hours showing a limp cover. Underneath his left hand we can see detail of a leather binding.

Beaulx abc belles heures Tavolette
CC by Left: Beaulx abc belles heures. Right: Tavolette, e Libri per li putti.

Similarly in Annibale Carracci’s 1646 print ‘Tavolette, e Libri per li putti’ a man is depicted selling books from a basket that he carries over his shoulder. The book in his right hand has a cover which follows the spine when open and is bound using long-stitch.

Evidence-based research

While written documentation of binding styles and techniques is not always available, we can gather a lot of information from paintings, prints, engravings and illuminations. Sometimes they can tell us more than current literature on a subject – for example in Lorenzo Lotto’s oil on canvas ‘Portrait of a Young Man in his Study’ (c. 1530), the sitter is more likely to be a merchant than a student as the volume he is perusing is bound with a fore-edge flap – this style was used for account books and book-keeping, not for great works of literature.

Portrait of a Young Man in his Study  Fore-edge flap
CC zero Lorenzo Lotto, ‘Portrait of a Young Man in his Study’ (c. 1530), oil on canvas.

Visual depictions can also be useful in filling in missing parts of our understanding. Folio 291v of the great 9th century illuminated gospel manuscript, the Book of Kells, shows Christ holding a red binding decorated with blind twilling. With the original binding of the manuscript now lost, it is possible that this is what it may have originally looked like.

The Book of Kells

CC zero The Book of Kells, f. 291v; a 9th century gospel manuscript containing the four Gospels in Latin based on the Vulgate text which St Jerome completed in 384AD. It has been fully digitised by Trinity College Dublin.

While bookbinding may be considered the Cinderella of the bibliographical trade (i.e. given little care or attention) it is a fascinating area of research, based on the logic of commerce – techniques and styles were not varied unless they needed to be. For more information on bookbindings see the British Library Database of Bookbindings or the Ligatus website.

Christina Duffy (@DuffyChristina)

23 June 2014

A book binder for Mr Taylor

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Introduction

Lieutenant Colonel Robert Taylor, the Political Resident in Bussorah (Basra) in 1819 and in Baghdad in 1821, was well known for his personal interest in Arabic culture and for his remarkable collection of Arabic manuscripts and art pieces. Between 1850 and 1860, the British Museum acquired 355 books from his widow.

So far, 129 manuscripts from the British Library collection have been scoped and condition assessed by conservators working for the British Library Qatar Foundation Partnership. This is so they can be digitised for a new digital portal that will be launched at the end of this year as part of the British Library Qatar Foundation Partnership.

AnnotationAmongst those manuscripts, there was a group of eight that particularly attracted my attention. The content of these manuscripts, all part of the Taylor collection, date from between 1248 to 1605, and have probably been bound or rebound after being acquired by him. Certain features of the bindings point to the same binder having been used, but some of the differences between their constructions are intriguing too. The following is a collection of observations I have made during my assessment of these fascinating items.  This printed annotation was added by the British Museum on each of the manuscripts recording the provenance and the date of the acquisition.

Covers

Starting with the most obvious similarity between these eight items, we shall look at the covers, which are all bound in full red goat leather (see images below). The boards have also been decorated with blind tooling. The tools used are often the same and used in similar patterns, for example, single tools repeated and combined to create the patterns that make the central decorations and the frames that you can see in the following images.

Add Ms 23393  Add Ms 23391
CC by Left board Add. Ms 23393                 CC by Left board Add. Ms 23391

Add Ms 23390  Add Ms 23430
CC by Left board Add Ms. 23390                       CC by Left board Add. Ms 23430

Add Ms 1523  Add Ms 23407
CC by Central decoration on left board of Add. Ms 1523 vs decoration of Add Ms 23393

Right board of Add Ms 1523  Right board of Add Ms 23407
CC by Decorated frame on right board of Add Ms 1523 vs decoration on right board of Add Ms 23407

The bindings also present other similarities within the structural features such as end band style and the style of sewing which I will discuss in the following sections.

Sewing

The sewing of Islamic style bindings, the style these bindings largely correlate to, is commonly characterised by the absence of supports. This means that the book block is not sewn around supports, which in Western bindings consist, in the main, of strips of leather or linen cord. The book block is held together with the thread alone. Strangely, in this case, four of these eight manuscripts would appear to be have been sewn on supports as visible on the following image. This does not correspond to the ‘rules’ of binding styles, creating a type of hybrid.

Leather cover
CC by The rows are pointing to the protruding areas on the spine where the supports, possibly strips of leather, bulge under the leather cover

Sewing diagram
Diagram indicating the sewing structures of four of the books, with three sewing stations sewn around supports, a traditionally Western feature.

This diagram, drawn after careful examination of the sewing only accessible from the inside of the book-blocks, shows a possible description of this unusual sewing technique. The head and tail chain-stitches (A) are most certainly supported with the sewing thread passing around the support. The sewing on the central support (B) has been done like it is normally, on tape with the sewing thread passing behind the support.

Cover leather overlapping on the spine

Three of these eight manuscripts exhibit the peculiar feature of overlapped cover leather on the spine. This feature consists of the leather covering the boards left longer at the inner joint. The extending parts of the leather are attached to the spine of the book block by overlapping them. This can be seen clearly in the following image that shows the detail, at the head edge, of the overlapping of the two layers of leather on the spine of manuscript Add.23387.

Cover construction

CC by The following drawing shows the construction of the cover where the two boards are prepared separately and attached to the spine of the book block by overlapping the two extensions of the covering leather.

Overlapping spine

In another manuscript, Add. Ms 23393, this feature initially appears identical, but is in fact the result of a completely different technique. By looking at the book carefully it is possible to see that the two pieces of leather, even if overlapping (see image below) on the spine, are not attached to the spine one on top of the other, but they have been attached together separately to create a fully formed case cover. Once formed, it was attached to the spine of the book-block.

Overlapping spine layers in raking light

CC by In the picture, taken in raking light, the line of the overlapping layers of leather is highlighted by the black arrows.

The shadow, indicated by arrows in the image below, shows that the piece of leather covering the right board is actually extending under the piece of leather covering the left board. The two separate pieces of leather are not only overlapping on the spine as previously recorded for this specific style, but they are used here to form a cover that had to be fully prepared separately before being attached to the book. This is an interesting twist on a well-documented style.

Shadow on overlapping covers

CC by The cover of Add. Ms 23393 was fully prepared before being attached to the book.

Further evidence that the cover was completed separately is that the leather from the left board at head and tail, where it forms the caps, has been turned in on top of the other piece. This can only be done before the cover was attached to the spine of the book because the folded leather is now pinched between the spine of the book and the spine leather of the cover.

Tail cap

CC by The arrow indicates the overlapping of the leather disappearing in the turn to form the tail cap.

End bands

In manuscript Add.Ms 23390 the end band (only the one at the head has survived) is actually made in a western style (see image below) whereas the other 7 manuscripts have end bands executed following techniques and aesthetics of ‘Islamic style’ bindings.

End band

CC by In this image of manuscript Add.Ms 23390 the technique used to make the end band is ‘western’ with the coloured silk threads (Pink, Yellow and Green) passed around a cylindrical core possibly made of cord.

Head band

CC by In this image showing the head of Ms Add. 23407 we can see a detail of a typical Islamic style end band. The secondary, extremely elaborated sewing has been created with cream and blue silk threads.

Conclusions

These manuscripts, all with contents dating from different periods (from 1248 until 1610) appear to have been bound or re-bound when acquired by Mr Taylor. If this is the case it would justify the very striking similarities and the consistency in the materials used for their construction and their appearance.

A systematic assessment of this group of manuscripts to collect more information about their bindings would be necessary to draw a better picture of the collection and of the similarities and unexpected differences between their physical features. This could lead us to identify the binder who executed them, giving an insight into the rich history of bookbinding. Further research about Lieutenant Colonel Taylor’s activity during his work as Political Resident could also be carried out within the India Office Records to find records relating to payments made during the acquisition process and possibly the re-binding of these manuscripts. The digitised images will become available online later this year, along with a short article on Taylor, researched by Jo Wright, Content Development Curator for the Qatar Partnership.

Flavio Marzo

Update (July 2017): See this Royal Asiatic Society blog post describing a bookplate suspected to be owned by Col. Robert Taylor. It depicts thirteen different renderings of "Robert Taylor" suggesting he had at least some knowledge of a variety of Indian and other languages.