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Collection Care blog

57 posts categorized "Materials"

22 October 2020

On light: conserving material for our exhibition Unfinished Business: The Fight for Women’s Rights

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Alexa McNaught-Reynolds, Conservation Exhibition and Loan Manager

Two of the items selected for display in our exhibition: Unfinished Business: The Fight for Women’s Rights appear to be in good condition but have vulnerabilities that may not be immediately obvious. In Conservation we strive to understand every component of an object in order to recommend the best course of action for their long-term care.

Item 1. NEWS.REG170: Daily Mirror front cover: Tuesday 28th March 2017

Vulnerability: newspaper is not made to last

This is an important item in the exhibition, highlighting how strong working women are still sometimes represented in the media today. Newspapers are produced from poor quality wood pulp that is inherently unstable due to something called lignin, and they are not made to last. Lignin makes the paper acidic and when placed in direct sunlight, as many of you will have seen, newspapers turn yellow and become brittle very quickly.

Controversial front page of the Daily Mirror on Tuesday 28th March 2017 showing Theresa May and Nicola Sturgeon. The headline reads 'Never mind Brexit, who won Legs-it!'

Figure 1: Controversial front page of the Daily Mirror on Tuesday 28th March 2017 (NEWS.REG170)

We strive to protect our newspaper collection by storing them in alkaline buffered material, in a stable environment free from exposure to light sources. These actions significantly slow the degradation process.

But what about when one is requested for exhibition? While we are familiar with the vulnerabilities of newspaper generally, we are not sure how stable the media will be under exhibition conditions. The exhibition environment is very stable and the newspaper is subjected to low levels of light. While light level is low, with no UV, and the time is restricted, we are not sure how much of an effect this limited light exposure will have on the media.

In order to get a better understanding of how the media will fair under exhibition conditions, we will be monitoring this item closely. To do this, we are measuring the colour by using simple colorimetry. This is completed with 'Lab*' colour measurements which is a method of representing colour using numerical values, in a similar way to the more familiar RGB or CMYK systems. One of the particular advantages of the Lab* system is that it is based on the way in which the human eye and brain observe colours and determine differences between colours. 'L' represents lightness, from 0 (pure black) to 100 (pure white), while 'a' measures the green-red axis (negative values are green and positive values, red) and 'b' measures the blue-yellow axis (negative values are blue and positive values, yellow). The system is capable of detecting colour changes smaller than the human eye can observe, and so gives us another tool to help us provide the best possible stewardship for the items in our collection.

Controversial front page of the Daily Mirror on Tuesday 28th March 2017 showing Theresa May and Nicola Sturgeon. The headline reads 'Never mind Brexit, who won Legs-it!' This image has been labelled with yellow lines and numbers showing where colour measurements were taken.

Figure 2: Front page of the Daily Mirror with areas marked in yellow indicating where colour measurements were taken.

Highlighted in the image above are the areas where the colours were measured. The same areas will be re-measured at the end of the exhibition. This will detect any colour changes that have happened (hopefully none) and will inform the future display limitations of this item and for other similar contemporary newspapers.

Item 2. Add MS 88899/6/13:  Greenham fence wire from the Angela Carter archive

Vulnerability: highlighter ink loses colour under light exposure

This item is a piece of wire cut from the perimeter fence of RAF Greenham Common Airbase during anti-nuclear protests by the Women's Peace Camp and sent to the novelist Angela Carter who was against nuclear weapons. It was attached to a record card through two punched holes in the centre with typed notes above and below the wire.

Greenham fence wire piercing a white flash card from the Angela Carter archive with high-lighted typed message.

Figure 3: Add MS 88899/6/13:  Greenham fence wire from the Angela Carter archive with highlighted typed message.

Although the item itself is in good condition, highlighter pen was used over the top of the typed message. Highlighter pens contain fluorescent colours which are notoriously light sensitive; they will not retain their colour over extended periods of light exposure. For this reason, we will be displaying this item at our exhibition under low light levels but we will also be limiting future display in order to preserve the bright colour.

At the British Library we aim to make everything as accessible as possible so that everyone can enjoy the collection and see the items in their original condition. However, in order to preserve the collection some items do need to be restricted for various reasons, such as fragile condition, or in these cases, to limit their light exposure and preserve the bright colours for future researchers to see.  Although this means that some items can only be able to be exhibited for short periods, there are alternative solutions for display. For items that were mass produced or have multiple copies, it is possible that a replacement can be found. When an item is unique or other copies are not available, we can suggest a high-quality facsimile be made, this way the viewer can see the uninterrupted exhibition story. In this way, we can maintain the integrity of our collection for as long as possible, as well as finding ways for everyone to enjoy it in the meantime.

Fortunately, both original items will be displayed in ‘Unfinished Business: The Fight for women’s Rights’.

27 June 2020

Paper Express! A Hand-Made Tale

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Heather Murphy

Recently, within the conservation studio of the British Library Qatar Foundation Partnership, watermarks have been a theme. Throughout the months leading up to lockdown, my colleague Camille and I began developing a project based around some interesting examples of watermarks we discovered in a series of IOR Ship’s Journals dating from 1605-1705 being digitised by the project.  We have since been developing various aspects of this, one of which has been to create a (very) short instructional video on how to make paper, complete with personal watermarks, and the delivery of a paper-making workshop to the BLQFP team. (Another aspect of which has been the remote collaboration with Jordi Clopes-Masjuan and Matt Lee from the BLQFP Imaging team to develop digital tools for the viewing and analysis of watermarks in the collection). 

Having begun our research into watermarks, it was decided that we should attempt to make our own in the hope of learning more about their construction, and to demonstrate to the wider team how they are made. This led to the conclusion that, logically, we would also need to make paper to trial these watermarks. Researching how to make a homemade paper-making mould and deckle, we enlisted some expert carpentry skills, sourced the finest conservation grade chicken wire B&Q had to offer, some mesh, and some metal wire which we combined into a mould and deckle.

Homemade papermaking mouldMould and deckle

Home-made paper-making mould and deckle with watermarks attached.

This was taking place in September, during which was also scheduled the annual BLQFP away day, a chance for the team to both review the progress of the project so far and discuss possible future steps. However, as is happily a common ethos within the project, this is also a time where colleagues are encouraged to contribute and collaborate to make the day more interesting, allowing different teams to share aspects of their work. The format this year involved a series of two minute lightning talks, followed in the afternoon by a series of workshops. We decided that conservation’s contribution should therefore be a two minute video on paper-making, followed by a workshop where our colleagues could make their own papers. This involved some small re-arrangements within the studio, but with the aid of a Go-pro camera and a Gorillapod, we were able to film the paper-making process in action.

Having compiled the video, the next challenge was to figure out how to successfully replicate the setup outside the studio in order to deliver the workshop. This involved a lot of forward planning and, among other things, a blender, plastic sheeting and mason jars full of paper pulp. After a loaded taxi ride we were able to arrive at the meeting room and set up a makeshift paper-making station.

Delivery of the paper-making workshop at the BLQFP away day. The group stand around a desk watching demonstrations of mould and deckle paper-making tools.

Delivery of the paper-making workshop at the BLQFP away day

Other brilliant workshops delivered during the day included a ‘write your name in Arabic’ session with the translation team, where people were introduced to some basics of the Arabic language and learned to write their names.

Arabic language workshop in progress. The participants listen to an explanation of Arabic text by the tutor who stands at the top of the room in front of Arabic script examples hanging on the wall.

Arabic language workshop in progress.

The second was a cyanotype printing workshop with the imaging team, where people were able to learn about and experiment with the process. As another possible development to this watermarks work, we are hoping to undertake a collaborative experiment involving cyanotype printing on our handmade papers, complete with bespoke watermark designs.

Cyanotype workshop in progress. The participants stand and listen to an explanation of the cyanotype method. Cyanotype workshop in progress. The participants use the materials provided to practice the cyanotype method.
Cyanotype workshop in progress.

During the away day, we were able to deliver what seemed like a well-received workshop, where our colleagues could use our two moulds (with watermarks attached) to dip into the ‘vats’ of paper pulp, forming their own handmade papers. These were then couched between sheets of Sympatex and Bondina and pressed in stacks throughout the day.

Making papers and couching the sheets. The participants dip their paper moulds into a vat of paper pulp on the desk to make their paper sheets. They are helped by the tutor Camille.

Making papers and couching the sheets.

Workshops underway. An image from the back of the room showing the workshop participants engaged in listening to explanations and watching demonstrations on various desks laid out in the room.

Workshops underway.

When the day was over, we collected the equipment, delivered it back to the studio, and provided the newly made papers with fresh interleaving. These were left in the press to dry, and when we returned we were able to unveil some fine examples of handmade papers.

Examples of the handmade papers shown on the light-box. Examples of the handmade papers shown on the light-box. Examples of the handmade papers shown on the light-box.

Examples of the handmade papers shown on the light-box.

This is a guest post by Heather Murphy, Conservator from the British Library Qatar Foundation Partnership. You can follow the British Library Qatar Foundation Partnership on Twitter @BLQatar.

14 May 2020

The Mahārnava, Conservation of a 19th Century Birch Bark Manuscript

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Elisabeth Randell, Conservator (Books)

IO San 3251 before treatment.

Figure 1: IO San 3251 before treatment.

The British Library has a large collection of birch bark manuscripts. This particular manuscript was flagged for conservation because it was requested for digitisation. Unfortunately, due to its condition it was unable to be safely handled.

This manuscript known as The Mahārnava, from Kashmir, was written in Śārada on birch bark and dates from the 19th Century. The text discusses Hindu religious law (Dharmaśāstra) dealing with practices for removing and healing diseases and bad influences resulting from the deeds in a former life (Karmavipāka).

IO San 3251 front cover.

Figure 2: IO San 3251 front cover.

IO San 3251 back cover.
Figure  3: IO San 3251 back cover.

The text was compiled probably in the 14th century, and so the text isn’t so uncommon, however this manuscript still has its original limp vellum cover, which makes this example quite unique. The treatment plan for this object needed to fit for purpose, dealing with it more as an object rather than a manuscript that would be requested and used as a book.

IO San 3251 fore edge before treatment.

Figure 4: IO San 3251 fore edge before treatment.

Made from the bark of birch trees, each page is made of a laminate of birch bark - in this manuscript laminate of pages vary from 3 to 7 layers of birchbark. Layers of birch bark are held together from the natural resins and gum found in the birch bark, however overtime they naturally dry up and lose their adhesive properties, leaving many pages delaminated.

Detail of IO San 3251 delamination and tearing.

Figure 5: IO San 3251 delamination and tearing.

Almost all pages suffered from large tears and cracks, predominantly following the horizontal grain of the bark. The general fragility from inherent acidic characteristics of birch bark are made worse by the horizontal brown nodes which are more brittle than the surrounding bark due to a higher concentration of lignin, a material that gives off acids as it ages.  

IO San 3251 delamination and tears along nodes

Figure 6: IO San 3251 delamination and tears along nodes.

IO San 3251 old repairs.

Figure 7: IO San 3251 old repairs.

The nature of this material and method of production required a much different repair technique than would be employed for paper-based objects. For paper repairs stabilising a tear with a Japanese tissue on the recto or verso is a common technique. However, with this manuscript being made up of a laminate of organic material, it required a more considered approach.  Keeping in mind a balance of tension, and the many layers making up each sheet, a weaving technique was used to weave the repair tissue between the delaminated and cracked areas, where possible.

Example of repair options: inserting repair tissue between delaminated layers or weaving repair tissue between tears.

Figure 8: example of repair options: inserting repair tissue between delaminated layers or weaving repair tissue between tears.

IO San 3251 tear and delamination before treatment.

Figure 9: IO San 3251 tear and delamination before treatment.

IO San 3251 inserting toned kozo tissue on top of tear and between delaminated layers.

Figure 10: IO San 3251 inserting toned kozo tissue on top of tear and between delaminated layers.

IO San 3251 tear and delamination after treatment.

Figure 11: IO San 3251 tear and delamination after treatment.

Methyl cellulose 4% was chosen as the adhesive for its elastic nature, allowing the repairs and original material to flex naturally, and not become stiff as the old repairs.

Pages that had become loose were reattached to each other, weaving the tissue around original sewing to secure them in place.

IO San 3251 Japanese tissue hinges attached to both pages. Adhesive is applied to the Japanese hinges and attached to one another, repairing the broken spine fold.

Figure 12: IO San 3251 Japanese tissue hinges attached to both pages. Adhesive is applied to the Japanese hinges and attached to one another, repairing the broken spine fold. 

All repairs have been carried out and now the manuscript is able to be safely handled, pages can be turned without risk of further catching and tearing. Digitisation will be the next step for this manuscript so it will be available to a much wider audience, with minimal disruption to the physical object.

IO San 3251 fore edge after treatment

Figure 13: IO San 3251 fore edge after treatment.

IO San 3251 fore edge before treatment.

Figure 14: IO San 3251 fore edge before treatment.

IO San 3251 post treatment.

Figure 15: IO San 3251 after treatment.

08 May 2020

Conservation of 19th century ivory miniature portraits of the two young sons of Wajid Ali Shah

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Patricia Tena, Conservator

In the late 18th century, British and European artists such as John Smart and Ozias Humphrey introduced the concept of painting portrait miniatures on ivory to local artists in northern India. By the mid-19th century, Indian artists also used relatively small ivory discs or sheets to paint topographical views and genre scenes as well. In 2018, the Visual Arts section added to its existing collection of works on ivory, two portrait miniatures reputed to be the infant sons of Wajid Ali Shah (1822-87), the last King of Awadh and date based on stylistic grounds to c. 1840-42.

Portraits of the two young sons of Wajid Ali Shah, the King of Awadh by an unknown Lucknow artist, c. 1840-42. British Library, Add Or 5710-5711

Portraits of the two young sons of Wajid Ali Shah, the King of Awadh by an unknown Lucknow artist, c. 1840-42. British Library, Add Or 5710-5711.

One of the two portraits show a young child of about 12 months old based on the fact he is pictured being supported by a bolster on the ground and cannot sit up properly. The second portrait displays a slightly older child of no more than 2 years old pictured seated in a European style chair. J.P. Losty (formerly the Head of Visual Arts) suggests that these two sitters were most likely to be the second and third sons of Wajid Ali Shah, as the first-born was deaf and mute and hence passed over. The second son being Falak Qadar ‘a fine-looking boy’ who would die prematurely of smallpox at the age of 11[1] and the third son being Hamid Ali (1838-74) would become the prince-apparent. Hamid Ali would later visit Britain in 1857, photographed by Leonida Caldesi at an exhibition In Manchester in July 1857[2].

On acquiring these ivories, the Visual Arts section arranged to have these portraits assessed and obtain proposals for the long-term preservation and storage. The miniatures came to conservation in late 2019 as part of the annual conservation programme.

The objects were both very vulnerable in the present storage box as the ivory substrates were effectively loose in the box and did not come with any ‘accessories’ such as backboards, glass or frame.  Both the watercolour media and the ivory substrate were in a stable condition. However, over time, there was considerable media loss mainly on the edges, probably caused by a change in frame/enclosure and being in close contact with a frame or glass that rubbed against the paint layer. Unsuitable materials such as adhesives and poor quality paper or card used for the framing will have contributed to the discolouration, accretions and staining on the edges.

Close up of one of the miniatures showing loss of media, accretions and discolouration on edges.

Close up of one of the miniatures showing loss of media, accretions and discolouration on edges.

As part of the treatment proposal, the pair of portraits did not require conservation treatment apart from cleaning prior to their rehousing. New enclosures were built in order to accommodate a very hygroscopic material such as ivory. One of the most common damage to ivory miniatures are cracks caused by a combination of restriction of movement to the ivory support and changes is the relative humidity. Ivory needs room to move within its enclosure; if it warps and the frame or support prevents it from doing so, it will inevitably crack.

One of the miniatures prior to being sealed in enclosure.

One of the miniatures prior to being sealed in enclosure.

The miniatures were hinged on top and bottom edges, then the hinges were threaded through a museum quality cream backboard and a Plastazote base. The hinges were secured onto the back of the Plastazote. The rest of the enclosures were built around the base, allowing space around the edges and between the miniature and the Vibac glazing. Mount backboards with Japanese paper flaps were provided to each miniature, these flaps were used to seal the Plastazote enclosures. The Vibac had to be slotted in place with a flush surround made out of mount-board. This allowed for a window mount to be adhered on the top to finish off the miniatures.

A buckram covered tray was made to measure taking care not to exceed the depth of the prints and drawings reading room drawers.  A Plastozote cut out was fitted in the tray to offer extra protection and prevent movement while being accessed by readers. The board with original inscriptions was mounted and rehoused in a Melinex enclosure, all made to fit the tray and to act as a protective ‘lid’ to the miniatures.

Finished miniatures and their tray.

Finished miniatures and their tray.

With the pair of ivories in their new housing, it is now possible to make the works available for consultation to registered readers by appointment.

For more on the historical background of these pieces head over to the Asian and African studies blog!

[1] R. Llewelyn-Jones 2014, p. 77

[2] Ibid, illustration no. 3.

16 April 2020

Conservation treatment of late 19th and early 20th century silk theatre playbills from the Western Heritage Collections

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Author: Emma Smith, Textile Conservation Intern

Introduction

This blog post will discuss the conservation treatment of four silk theatre playbills and programmes, dating to the late 19th and early 20th century. Playbills like these were printed for special performances, such as the benefit, gala and state performances promoted here. Since they were intended to be sold at the theatre as souvenirs, they were not printed on the rough, cheaper paper generally used for this type of promotional material, but on a fine silk fabric that gave a soft textured sheen. Playbills like these were often also embellished with a delicate fringe, making them all the more desirable as mementos of the performance. The objects featured here are part of a collection consisting of six playbills and programmes;

  • 689.a.2.(1.): Theatre Royal (Sunderland), [A Playbill for a performance, 7 August 1846]. Printed on white silk satin.
  • 689.a.2.(2.): Lyceum Theatre (London), [A Playbill dated 21 February 1850]. Printed on white silk satin.
  • 689.a.2.(3.): Royal Opera House (London), [Programme for gala or state performances, 11 June 1907]. Printed on white silk satin.
  • 689.a.2.(4.): Royal Opera House (London), [Programme for gala or state performances, 27 May 1908] [London, 1908]. Printed on white silk satin.
  • 689.a.2.(5.): Royal Opera House (London), [Programme for gala or state performances, 11 May 1914.] [London, 1914]. Printed on white silk rib.
  • 689.a.2.(6.): Royal Opera House (London), [Programme for State performance in honour of the visit of the President of the French Republic dated March 22 1939]. Pamphlet on card

Conservation of the paper programme (Tab.a.2.(6.)) and additional silk playbill (Tab.a.2.(2.)) from the collection is due to be completed following the reopening of the Library.

Tab.689.a.2.(3.): Royal Opera House (London), [Programme for gala or state performances, 11 June 1907]. Printed on white silk satin Tab.689.a.2.(3.): Royal Opera House (London), [Programme for gala or state performances, 11 June 1907]. Printed on white silk satin
Figure 1: Tab.689.a.2.(3.) before (left) and after (right) treatment

Condition before treatment

The playbills and programmes arrived in poor condition. They had been adhered into a customised guard volume which did not meet contemporary conservation standards, and was acting as an acidic environment, promoting degradation of the silk giving an overall yellow discolouration and brittleness. As well as the paper and cotton tape hinges from the current mounting, the 20th century programmes had been subjected to previous mounting which was evident due to patches of adhesive in the corners; this was causing discolouration and embrittlement to the silk and fringing. The 19th century playbill had additional paper repairs on the reverse causing the silk to embrittle and split.

The treatment planned was to remove the objects from this historic housing, reduce the acidity and adhesive staining, and develop a new storage solution allowing them to be safely accessed by readers. For the playbill with old paper repairs these needed to be removed, with new repairs introduced which were more sympathetic to the silk.

Tab.689.a.2.(1.): Theatre Royal (Sunderland), [A Playbill for a performance, 7 August 1846]. Printed on white silk satin.

Figure 2: Tab.689.a.2.(1.) in its old housing

•Tab.689.a.2.(1.): Theatre Royal (Sunderland), [A Playbill for a performance, 7 August 1846]. Printed on white silk satin.

Figure 3: Paper repairs on the reverse of Tab.689.a.2.(1.)

Tab.689.a.2.(3.): Royal Opera House (London), [Programme for gala or state performances, 11 June 1907]. Printed on white silk satin.

Figure 4: Adhesive staining on the reverse of Tab.689.a.2.(3.)

Treatment

The playbills and programmes were first removed from their housing using a scalpel to cut the paper and cotton tape hinges that secured them in place. This allowed further examination and assessment of their condition, before speaking to curators about the proposed treatment.

It was decided that due to the acidity of the silk and the presence of what looked to be an animal glue adhesive, wet cleaning to reduce this would be the best course of action. In-situ wash-fastness tests were performed in order to understand how the colour of the printed design would respond to water, especially whether dye bleed may occur. Each colour was tested by exposing small areas of the playbills and programmes to blotting paper wetted with reverse osmosis water (a pure water which would not leave residues in the objects after washing) for around an hour. No colour bleed or transfer was seen in any of these tests and so wet cleaning went ahead. It was decided to wet clean the playbills and programmes in slightly warm water in order to help solubilise the adhesive, with soft sponges and brushes used to aid in removal. The water was changed regularly to prevent the adhesive solubilising into the rest of the textile. The fabric and paper hinges and paper repairs were able to be removed as part of the wet cleaning process. Following wet cleaning, any fringing was aligned and the objects were dried under slight weight to prevent dimensional change and creasing.

Tab.689.a.2.(4.): Royal Opera House (London), [Programme for gala or state performances, 27 May 1908] [London, 1908]. Printed on white silk satin.

Figure 5: Removing the cotton tape hinge from Tab.689.a.2.(4.) during wet cleaning

Wet cleaning was incredibly successful, the adhesive staining, overall yellowing and acidity was reduced, enhancing not only aesthetics but the longevity of the objects. For the 19th century playbill where paper repairs had been removed however, there were now numerous unsupported holes and areas of weakness. In order to support the playbill an overall support of silk crêpeline, dyed to match the colour of the playbill and backed with conservation grade adhesive, was used. The weave of the support was aligned to the weave of the object to provide strength, and a heated spatula was used to reactivate the adhesive, securing the support to the object. 

Tab.689.a.2.(3.): Royal Opera House (London), [Programme for gala or state performances, 11 June 1907]. Printed on white silk satin.

Figure 6: Reverse of Tab.689.a.2.(3.) after wet cleaning

Tab.689.a.2.(1.): Theatre Royal (Sunderland), [A Playbill for a performance, 7 August 1846]. Printed on white silk satin.

Figure 7:Tab.689.a.2.(1.) after adhesive support had been applied

Finally, the objects were secured to custom made padded boards; unlike the original storage method these were made from acid free materials.  To negate the need for stitching into the objects in order to secure them to the boards, the three fringed 20th century programmes were secured using nylon net tabs at the corners. Due to its increased fragility a more robust solution was needed for the 19th century playbill. Strips of adhesive cast silk crêpeline were adhered to the front edges of the playbill in order to sandwich the object between these and the support. The silk crêpeline was extended to just beyond the edges of the playbill, allowing this to be stitched into to secure the object to the board. These new boards fully surround and support the playbills so that each can now be separately lifted from a custom made box which will be created for their storage, without the need to touch the fabric surface at all. This improved handling platform allows the playbills to be made available to readers in the Rare Books Reading Room of the Library, according to their research needs. Handling instructions will also be made to accompany the objects to the reading room to ensure their safety.

Tab.689.a.2.(1.): Theatre Royal (Sunderland), [A Playbill for a performance, 7 August 1846]. Printed on white silk satin.

Figure 8: Securing Tab.689.a.2.(1.) to the padded board

Ongoing treatment

The remaining playbill is in the worst condition. The silk is incredibly brittle and yellowed, with a multitude of adhesive stains and paper repairs to the lining, and a large amount of structural damage to the silk. Conservation of this playbill will continue following return to the Library, and will hopefully be the feature of a future post.

Tab.689.a.2.(2.): Lyceum Theatre (London), [A Playbill dated 21 February 1850]. Printed on white silk satin.

Figure 9: Front of Tab.689.a.2.(2.)

Tab.689.a.2.(2.): Lyceum Theatre (London), [A Playbill dated 21 February 1850]. Printed on white silk satin.

Figure 10: Reverse of Tab.689.a.2.(2.)

Tab.689.a.2.(2.): Lyceum Theatre (London), [A Playbill dated 21 February 1850]. Printed on white silk satin.

Figure 11: Close up of damage to Tab.689.a.2.(2.)

03 April 2020

Lotus Sutra Project: Conservation of a burnt scroll (Or. 8210/ S.2155)

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The Lotus Sutra Manuscript Digitisation Project at The British Library is a multi-year project which started in 2018. The project aims to digitise almost 800 copies of the Lotus Sutra scrolls in Chinese, with a view to make images and information freely accessible. Out of these 800 scrolls, a large portion of them need conservation work. Our conservators deal with a variety of lengths of scrolls on this project, ranging from 30 centimetre fragments to scrolls measuring up to 13 metres. This blog post covers the treatment of an item which I (Marya Muzart, IDP Digitisation Conservator) had the opportunity to work on. 

Falling under a treatment time estimate of 25 hours, the condition of this item before treatment was not ideal. As a digitisation conservator, my aim is to stabilise the object to:

a) Ensure the item can be safely handled during digitisation and quality control

b) Ensure the text is visible and accessible so that high quality images can be taken

Or 8210 before treatment shown laid out on a desk with visible burn marks and missing areas of text.

Picture 1: Or.8210/S.2155 before treatment

Before treatment neither safe handling or a high-quality image capture was possible. The damage left the scroll incredibly vulnerable. With every handling, small fragments of burnt paper were flaking off. In addition, the burns were making the paper curl at the edges. 

The scroll had been damaged by fire at some point during its lifetime. It is certain that the scroll acquired these burns whilst it was rolled up as the burn damage is throughout its entire length, in a repeated pattern. How the scroll came to be burned, we can only assume. This could have been due to candles, incense or oil lamps used at the time (6th- 11th Century).  It is most likely that while being handled in its rolled up state, it accidentally came in contact with an open flame or heat source. Whilst there may be some large losses, luckily much of the text is still present. 

As this scroll measures 10 metres, it was crucial to work in sections. To start off, I surface cleaned the scroll using some soft cosmetic sponges to remove any surface dirt. Next, humidification was applied to the scroll via a gentle mist, and then flattened under boards and weights. The whole length of the scroll had to be humidified for the paper to lie as flat as possible in order to enable repairs. The introduction of moisture also returned a little flexibility to the burnt areas. 

A toned Japanese paper was selected for the repairs, which has a sympathetic tone to the original paper. A common question we often get is: why do we use Japanese paper, such as kozo (made from the bark of the mulberry tree), when treating an object made of Chinese paper? The long fibres in kozo gives it mechanical strength, tear resistance and flexibility. On the other hand, fibre length in xuan paper (Chinese paper) is much shorter than kozo (and generally other Japanese papers) and consequently its tear strength is not as great. This makes Japanese papers ideal for repairs in paper conservation, it can be strong enough to act as a repair paper, whilst being flexible and light enough to not cause any damage to the original scroll.  

To apply the repairs, I used wheat starch paste. When working with scrolls, the paste has to be the correct consistency to enable enough flexibility for the rolled item. Each repair was then left under a weight for an appropriate amount of time.

Before treatment showing the scroll with burn damage along the full length.

Picture 2: Or.8210/S.2155 before treatment

After treatment showing the scroll with Japanese paper repairs.

Picture 3: Or.8210/S.2155 after treatment

After treatment, the scroll is now in a much better state. It can be safely handled and digitised by trained internal staff. Whilst the burnt edges no longer curl up and now lie flat, notes have been passed on to our trained photographers, to take extra precaution when handling this item. I am pleased with the result of this treatment, it was a great success! 

Scroll after treatment showing the scroll lying flat with repairs. The burnt edges are no longer curling up.

Picture 4: Or. 8210/ S.2155 after treatment

Marya Muzart, IDP Digitisation Conservator

24 September 2018

Textiles come in all shapes and sizes at the British Library

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As part of London Fashion Week Nabil Nayal hosted his presentation at the British Library on Tuesday 18 September. He is an advocate of ‘research in fashion education and practice’ and has used the collections at the British Library extensively. The image below shows how he used Elizabeth I’s famous Tilbury Speech as inspiration for one of his printed textiles.

A photograph of an presentation held at the British Library. Two models, one seated in a white dress, and one standing behind her, who is wearing a gossamer-like material, which has text printed on it, in the form of a old letter from Elizabeth I. The Model, slightly side-on to camera, has flung her arm out, the image capturing the cape-like material around her arm billowing out to the side. The Kings library tower can be seen in the background.www.nabilnayal.com

The Library Collections are diverse and complex, representing many cultures and comprises of published, written and digital content together with letters photographs, paintings, newspapers, sound recordings, videos, objects and textiles.

Textiles are found in all curatorial divisions: Contemporary British; Western Heritage, European and American and most widely in the Asia and African collections. As textile conservator, I have chosen a few of the most beautiful and inspirational objects.

A book jacket lying flat on a white plastazote, on a grey table. The Book jacket is red velvet, with gold thread edging. The front and verso of the jacket is the Prince of Wales crown of three Ostrich feathers, done in seed pearls, with some missing. The crowns are framed by a thick border of flowers  in silver thread.
Royal MS 12C VIII 1 – Chemise book jacket with the badge and motto of Prince Henry Frederick (1594-1612): red velvet, silver and gold metal thread and seed pearls.

See the item online here

A Large folio opened out, of blue pages with red Chinese calligraphy neatly running down both pages in silk. The pages are thinly bordered in white material.
Or 1234 – Manuscript with blue silk pages and red silk embroidery.

Qianlong's Ten Victories: chronicle of ten successful campaigns conducted by the Emperor in 1790. The author is the Emperor himself, and the manuscript contains the Emperor’s own handwriting embroidered on silk.

Explore and learn more about this item here.

A large square silk brocade bag, with twin thin golden twine handles, ending in gold oak leaf bunches. The silk bag is deocrated with a central flower in pink, green and white, surrounded in a vaguely circular patter by large curling leaves, which in themselves are superimposed by small bunches of flowers in purple and pink, with green leaves. The background colour of the bag is a olive green in horizontal lines.
MSS EUR G59 – Large ceremonial, silk brocade bag which housed an ‘Ornamental Letter of Credence, dated 27 Oct 1835, from `Louis Philippe Empereur des Francais' (1773-1850) to Maharaja Ranjit Singh (1780-1839), ruler of the Punjab 1792-1839’.

Explore and learn more about this item here.

Unfortunately, the above items are all restricted due to their fragile and rare status. Letters of introduction can be written to the curators to request permission to view restricted items.

LIZ ROSE, Textile conservator

10 September 2018

Rehousing two 12th century charters

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My name is Wanda Robins, and I am studying book conservation at Camberwell College of Arts, in London. A key component of the Camberwell program is to provide students with ample practical work experience in historical institutions to consolidate the theoretic knowledge gained at university. In addition to one-day per week placements throughout the school year, every student completes a four to six-week summer work placement between the first and second year, which is an opportunity to work on more complex projects and experience full time work in a conservation studio.

I was fortunate to have my placement at the British Library Conservation Centre (BLCC) and had an opportunity to work on an exciting project to rehouse two 12th century parchment charters that were gifted to the British Library from Abbey College, Ramsey.

Ramsey Abbey was a Benedictine abbey founded in AD 969 in what is now Cambridgeshire. The two charters bear the seals of Henry I (king from 1100 – 1135) and Henry II (king from 1154-1189) and grant the surrounding land to the Abbey.

The curators and the conservation team determined that the charters should be rehoused due to the acidic mount board and the frame was not well sealed. It was also apparent that the charters were pasted down to board, which constricts the natural movement of parchment, and would ultimately be detrimental to the charters.

Before Pictures:

 

The charters as shown in their original housing, with in a wooden-framed glass mounting. The two charters sit on the top, with the description of each charter below.
Original frame and condition: frame has gaps and is sealed with tape on back.

The back of the framing, showing black industrial tape running along the join of the frame and backboard. a closeup of the wooden frame corner, showing the frame edges pulling away from each other. the Glass cover edge is also now exposed.

Charter with Seal of Henry I, in original housing.

an image of the Charter with the Seal of Henry I. The charter itself appears mostly white in colour, with a cutout area around the seal, which is a light brown, but has been chipped and damaged, reveaing a white underlying layer.  a closeup of the seal, revealing a warrior holding a spear and shield, mounted on a striding horse.

Charter is fixed directly to board backing.

A close up of the Charter with Henry II's seal, in its original housing. The charter has writing in fairly gothic script, in a faded red on the pale parchment. There are two seals, in a red colour. The left hand seal is slghtly larger than the right.
Charter with Seal of Henry II, in original housing.

 

Backing Removal

Taking the charters out of the original housing proved to be a bit of a challenge – it turns out that someone took a great deal of time to engineer a safe way to mount the seals so they could be set safely within the mount. The seals were set within tubes with cotton pads and cotton wool.

An image of the charter in its original mounting, with one item in the bottom right removed, exposing the backing frame. A metal ruler is lying lengthwise across the mountboard in the middle, and a metal scalpel is also lying lengthwise on the mountboard on the bottom edge.  Underneath the original mounting, showing two tubes packed with cotton wool, to protect the seals that would be lying atop the mount board.

A closeup of one of the tube seals. a hand is lifting the cottonwool out of the tube, revealing the card and paper and the back of the red seal within. the second smaller seal is on the right, with no tube above it.

To lift the parchment off the backing board, we tested with an 80/20 solution of isopropanol to water, which proved effective.

The backing board being gently lifted away from the parchment and the backing board.

Once we had this worked out, I worked from the back and removed layer after layer of the backing board, moistening with a damp sponge. Once I reached the back of the parchment, I used the isopropanol/water solution to reactivate the animal glue so I could remove it with a micro-spatula.

A closeup image showing the peeling away the brown backing board from the pale parchment from around the back of the seal of Henry I Another image, this time zoomed out, of the brown backing board being peeled away from the parchment. A large swathe has been removed, exposing the back of the parchment.

Another view of the backing board removal, this image is zoomed out a little more, showing the charter lying face down on a protective white sheet which in turn is also on a table. to the left of the parchment are scraps of backing which have been removed from the parchment.   A closeup view of the second charter, showing the brown backing board being removed, with the area around the two seals protective tubes as yet unremoved.

A very close close-up of the Backing board removal, showing the paper backingwhich was underneath the card backing board, being slowly eased away from the parchment.

Tools used for backing removal.

a picture of the variety of tools utilised in the charter rehousing. On a grey table rests two small metal spatulas, next to a shiny small sharp ended tweezer, and a small white-handled paintbrush, resting on a china paintbrush holder. To the right of the tools is a clear glass open box, with a small clear empty beaker, and a very small bottle of the chemical mixture which is clear in colour.

It took me several days to get the backing off and in the end, I couldn’t remove everything. There was a notable difference in the two charters, as the older one was much more degraded, so we decided that we would leave a skim of the paper backing and not risk damaging the parchment further.

The back of the parchment, showing the remnants of the paper backing, which looks akin to a white fuzz, which is still present in some areas of the parchment.

Once all the backing was removed we found additional writing on the verso of the charter.

An image of the rear of one of the charters. the removal of the paper and card backing has revealed previously hidden text running vertically down the charter.

During the cleaning process, we noticed that the seal of the older charter, though likely wax, has a grainy texture, and was shedding bits and granules. One of the senior conservators recommended that we consolidate it with a synthetic adhesive, Paraloid B72.

A close-up of one of the seals. This seal, of Henry I, shows clearly the image of a mounted rider, bearing spear and shield. The Grainy texture of the seal, with its browny exterior in contrast to the white underlaying color, where the seal has been damaged or or broken away. A conservator, wearing a brown apron, is slowly stirring a glass beaker atop a hotplate.

Finally, to work out a new mount and storage for the charters, we discussed various ways of tabbing the charters to fix them to a mount board. We planned the tabs first.

A plan of the rehousing, as drawn on paper. The image consists of a large rectangle, with two circles where the seals would lie, and a cut above the seals in line with the charter itself.

Using a light Japanese tissue, we attached small splints to the verso to keep the various strips of parchment in place and protected.

Two pieces of Japanese tissue paper, as seen up close, on a green cutting board, lying next to a set of tweezers. The two pieces of tissue paper are off-white in colour, with very long fibrous edges.   The two pieces of Japanese tissue paper, now attached to the rear of the parchment, where there is a large designed-split to accomodate the seals.

We cut uniform sized tabs of Japanese tissue with a water pen and attached these to the verso with a light application of wheat starch paste. This can easily be removed in the future, if needed.

A series of tabs made of Japanese tissue paper attached to the rear of one of the charters. A black weight, sitting on a light board, is keeping the parchment flat. A blue water pen being used to cut the tissue paper, which is held in place using a clear ruler. Two strips of japanese paper are lying to the side, already eased away from the main sheet.

a example picture of a tab of Japanese paper sticking out underneath the parchment. The flwoing script of the charter can be seen, albeit faded in the light. A hand is uplifting the charter, showing the tissue tabs sticking out from all sides of the parchment, afixed underneath. The Charter is resting on white plastazote.

Once the tabs were adhered to the verso of the charters, we cut slits into a sheet of Plastazote foam and pushed the tabs through the Plastazote so that they would not be visible from the recto.

A hand holding a slim green metal conservation spatula, in a similar size to a small paintbrush, is gently pushing the tissue tabs down into cut slits of the white plastazote base which the parchment is resting on. The tab being eased into the cut slit is at the bottom left of the of the parchment.  Underneath the white plastazote base, the tabs which are attached to the parchment resting atop, can be seen dangling down, after being pushed through cut slits into the material.

The effect was a bit like the charter is floating on top of the foam. The charters are secure and they cannot move around. The Plastazote could also accommodate a small indentation cut into it to support the wax seals

Within its new mount board:

The charter of Henry I, with the brownish seal, is pictured on the new white plastazote base, with the edges of the parchment lying flat against the base.  The same charter, still resting on its new white plastazote base, is now seen with a new conservation-friendly mountboard, which has framed the charter. The mountboard is slightly offwhite in colour.

I was able to get both charters and the two descriptive labels all housed and ready for a new box. It was a really exciting and interesting project to learn about and get to experience. I am so grateful to the various staff that supported me and helped me through it.

During my month at the BLCC I was given the opportunity to share this project with three different public tours. This was really fun and also meant a lot to me as I as I had first become interested in conservation by attending a public tour of the BLCC in 2015.

02 July 2018

Unravelling an archaeological silk bundle

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MPhil student Clara Low is studying Textile Conservation at the University of Glasgow. As part of her course she is completing a placement for six weeks between her first and second year, here at the British Library.

The following images were taken by Clara whilst she worked on the unfolding of a silk bundle. The Tangut silk fragment was excavated in Kharakhoto (western Gobi desert) in 1914 by Aurel Stein. Clara used controlled humidification to enable this process. She worked with Vania Assis, paper conservator for the International Dunhuang Project and Liz Rose, textile conservator. See the amazing results below.

Silk bundle resting on paper. The silk is a mottled brown in colour, and while the item is bundled, small printed designs in dark ink can be seen, and in the middle left of the bundle a glimpse of some stars in dark ink.
Or 12380/3665 before conservation. 

 

The Silk bundle partially unravelled. The brownish colour has taken a lighter hue, and also reveals some small holes and tattered edges.
Or 12380/3665 during conservation – revealing a printed design.

 

Clara is working on the silk bundle, contained in a white tray on a bench. She is using tweezers to gently unravel the bundle.
Or 12380/3665 - Clara working on the fragment.

 

The reverse side of the Silk bundle, now completely unravelled and lying flat, after conservation work. The bundle is longer at the bottom, with most of the left hand side of the fragment missing. There can now be seen some characters superimposed on a series of stars on the bottom left hand side. There are also various holes in the silk.
Or 12380/3665 after conservation – reverse showing characters, (bottom left), seams and stitching.

 

The obverse of the Silk bundle after conservation. The repeated printed pattern can be seen more clearly on this side.
Or 12380/3665 after conservation – obverse showing characters and printed stars (bottom right).

 

a close-up of the Silk fragment, showing the five-pointed stars while a fragment of text in Chinese Characters  written in black ink, is superimposed on top.
Or 12380/3665 after conservation – detail of characters.

 

Can anyone tell us what it says?

 

Update: many thanks to Andrew West for a speedy solution:

A screenshot of the Twitter account of Andrew West, who has provided information on the pictured Silk fragment, identifying the as being from the Song Dynasty around 1214 A.D.

Another Twitter Screenshot from Andrew West's account, with another picture of the Silk fragment identifying the birds depicted amongst the stars, and stating this matches the description of another piece.

11 April 2018

Textile Discovery in the Rare Books Reading Room

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Textiles at the British Library come in many guises. This remarkable book was discovered by a reader in the Rare Books Reading Room last week and was shown to a member of staff. 

The shelfmark is C.70.g.6. and the textile additions are described in the notes field below:

  • Title: [A series of engravings of subjects from the Life of Jesus Christ. Designed by M. de V. Engraved by J. C. Weigel.]
  • Author: Marten de VOS
  • Contributor: Johann Christoph WEIGEL
  • Publication Details: [Nuremberg?, 1725?]
  • Identifier: System number 003817622
  • Notes: The draperies, etc. are cut out, and supplied by pieces of cloth and silk pasted at the back of the engravings.
  • Physical Description: 4º.
  • Shelfmark(s): General Reference Collection C.70.g.6.
  • UIN: BLL01003817622
A page from a manuscript, showing a biblical scene involving Jesus Christ, where the three figures which are brightly colored using textiles.
Engraving coloured from the reverse with pieces of textile showing through cut-out holes.

 

A close up of the previous image, showing the blue and golden-brown textiles which are pasted onto the engraving image of the figure to the fore.Below the image is text in Gothic script, which clearly shows the name of Jesus at the start.
Engraving detail showing texture of textiles.

 

The same image, this time shown from the reverse of the page. The scraps of textiles of various colours including blue and brown, are often superimposed over each other.
Reverse detail showing overlapping textile patches stuck to the page.

 

Our textile conservator Liz Rose is often overwhelmed by the quantity, quality and diversity of the textile objects within the collections. It should be remembered that the British Library is a reference library and many of these wonderful objects can be viewed in the library reading rooms.