THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Collection Care blog

16 posts categorized "Parchment"

10 June 2020

Rolls from the King’s Library: An Unexpected Arrival

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Rebecca D’Ambrosio

What do you do when something unexpected happens? When out of the blue something quite big lands in your hands? This is something that we can all too easily relate to today.

Back in March 2019 this is the question I faced when 85 rolls arrived at the Library in need of cleaning, repair, housing, cataloguing and a new storage space. 85 items are a lot of work to fit into an already busy schedule and it had a significant impact on my work over the following 12 months.

A large bench in the conservation centre with all the rolls when they arrived at the BLCC

Picture 1: The rolls when they arrived in the BLCC (British Library Centre for Conservation)

The story concerns rolls that were previously stored in King’s Library at the British Museum, the gallery today known as the Enlightenment gallery. The British Library’s dedicated building in St Pancras opened in 1997 when the main collection was moved, which was followed by the King’s Library Collection in 1998. These rolls however only came to the British Library last year.

When the British Library’s collections were still at the British Museum, the rolled items were locked in secure cupboards underneath the display cases in the King’s Library. This included some rolls from the King’s Library’s collection but also many other rolls from the general collection which were stored with them because of their size.

See photos of King’s Tower and the Enlightenment Gallery today: https://www.bl.uk/about-us/our-story/explore-the-building/what-is-the-kings-library#

In the 1970s, the King’s Library Gallery was re-furbished with new display cases. Then, after almost 50 years, one of the old cases that had been in storage was forced open to reveal a previously forgotten compartment. Inside, they found dozens of rolled sheets formerly stored in the King’s Library, long since established as ‘historically mislaid’ by curators at the British Library. The Museum hastily handed them over.

See photo of the enlightenment gallery before renovation: https://www.britishmuseum.org/about-us/british-museum-story/history

On arrival they were brought to the Conservation Centre for an initial condition assessment. Once it was confirmed that there were no signs of pests or mould I conducted a more detailed assessment of the conservation needs of each roll, liaising closely with the Cataloguer and Curators who would update the details in the catalogue.

I started by assessing each roll individually, recording any conservation treatment required for their safe storage and handling. A spreadsheet was provided with the rolls where I had planned to record for each item whether it needed:

  1. Surface cleaning
  2. Repair
  3. The rolled dimensions, in order to make a storage box.

It quickly became apparent that it would not be so straightforward. Firstly, many rolls had other elements that would complicate their repair, boxing and storage, such as: loose or attached labels (paper or parchment), textile ties (of various colours and conditions) and wooden rods (in varying conditions) that also needed to be recorded. But more problematic were the shelfmarks; many weren’t easy to read, some rolls shared the same shelfmark, others were so similar it was hard to tell the difference, and some had shelfmarks that were not listed on the spreadsheet. This made locating each roll in the spreadsheet very difficult, I had to use any other information I could find to identify what was what.

Spreadsheet screenshot with added columns for assessment

Picture 2: Spreadsheet with added columns for assessment (shaded in green)

Spreadsheet screenshot showing similar shelfmarks

Picture 3: Example from spreadsheet of items with similar shelfmarks

As these rolls already belong to the British Library’s collection there should already have been a record of each roll in ABRS (Automated Book Requesting System). However, the Cataloguer had a difficult time locating the rolls on the catalogue because of the unclear shelfmarks. Using all the information he had – date, title, source and stamp, and any other information on the physical items – he searched the various catalogues, electronic and printed ones, and eventually found 53 of the rolls in the catalogue, all of which had been marked as ‘mislaid’. Of the remaining ones, 14 more were found in a manuscript location list drawn up in the 1970s in a notebook labelled 'Location List [Rolls] King's Library', the location being 'housed in 1st case in Gallery', referring to the British Museum’s Enlightenment gallery. Finally, the Cataloguer suggested new shelfmarks, which will be used to label the rolls’ storage boxes.

Location list for Kings Library rolls binding Location list for Kings Library rolls blue and black ink on paper

Pictures 4, 5: Location list for the King’s Library’s rolls

Location list for Kings Library rolls blue ink on paper

Pictures 6: Location list for the King’s Library’s rolls

The conservation was straightforward, but lengthy. Every roll had a thick layer of dust that needed to be cleaned, this was done with a chemical sponge, gently lifting the surface dirt. Some also needed repair as they were damaged along the edges, these were repaired from the back of the roll using Japanese tissue paper and wheat starch paste. A few in poorer condition also needed repair from the front using a thinner tissue that added the necessary strength and remained discrete. Once complete, the rolls were put into their custom-made box and sent to their new storage place where they are now accessible for any interested researcher to marvel over.

Before conservation treatment showing stained area held flat with weights After conservation repair showing a much cleaner roll

Pictures 7 & 8: Image of before and after conservation repair

Before conservation repair showing illegible text and tears After conservation repair with tears improved
Pictures 9 & 10: Image of before and after conservation repair

To finish I will share why this unexpected arrival was such an exciting one. The collection is of significant value and includes items such as:

  • The ‘Description of the Jousts held at Westminster 13th Feb 1510 to celebrate the birth of Prince Henry’, a unique printed and hand-coloured copy of the original painting on paper belonging to the College of Arms, this roll being the longest of the 85, measuring over 5m long.
  • Prints from the famous 18th century Italian printer, Piranesi, such as the Colonna Trojana, unique in this roll format. This is one of the rolls belonging to the King’s Library collection.
  • Various genealogies such as ‘Heroldt - pedigree of Germanic kings etc’, a very large roll depicting each family members with their coat of arms and with detailed images of German cities in the background.

Partially unrolled 'Description of the Jousts held at Westminster' on the conservators desk

Picture 11: ‘Description of the Jousts held at Westminster 13th Feb 1510…’

The full Colonna Trojana scroll laid out in the BLCC and held flat with weights

Picture 12: ‘Colonna Trojana’

The full Heroldt - pedigree of Germanic kings scroll laid out on a long table in the conservation centre

Picture 13: ‘Heroldt - pedigree of Germanic kings etc’

Un-expected things happen. I learnt through this project that we can (and should) plan for the future and do this well to make our work as efficient as possible, but it’s nothing new that many things remain out of our sight and we have to learn to be flexible and adapt as these come along.

I really enjoyed being part of this project of organising (and doing some of) the cleaning, repairing and housing of this amazing roll collection from the King’s Library. It was exciting to be part of this long story, have a role in making this ‘once lost but now found’ collection available for many others to enjoy.

Roll in its made to measure phase box on the conservators bench

Picture 14: Roll in its made-to-measure box

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.

04 October 2017

Talk: Iron Gall Ink - Conservation challenges and research

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Join Zoë Miller and Paul Garside in a lunchtime Feed the Mind talk at the British Library to find out how conservators are treating manuscripts at risk of being destroyed by their own writing.

Iron Gall Ink: Conservation challenges and research
Mon 9 Oct 2017, 12:30 - 13:30

Full details and booking information can be found here.

So what is the problem with Iron Gall Ink?

Handwritten text on a piece of paper with laid and chain lines visible showing fracture and losses in the iron gall ink.

Conservators caring for the 150 million items in the British Library face many challenges, from crumbling paper to detached book boards. But arguably one of the biggest issues is the conundrum of how to care for one of the most widely used and inherently damaging historic inks - iron gall ink.

You have probably come across this ink with its distinctive brown colour and halo of discolouration. Made from a combination of tannins (from oak gall nuts), iron sulphate (extracted from cave walls or pyritic nodules) and gum Arabic, this ink can become corrosive and thereby damage the writing surface it lies upon. Why was such a damaging substance used so prolifically? Because iron gall ink can be made from readily available materials, and cannot be rubbed or scraped away without leaving a textual stain behind. Thus it was used to write important manuscripts and legal documents for thousands of years. These include such iconic ‘Treasures’ of the Library as Magna Carta and the Lindisfarne Gospels, and range from illuminated manuscripts to personal correspondence and formal maps to impromptu sketches including those of Leonardo Da Vinci.

A geometric drawing done in iron gall ink, with the ink being lost or water damaged in some areas.

The beauty - and evil - of the recipe lies in its properties of corrosion. When applied to paper or vellum the ink ‘burns’ into it leaving a mark which is insoluble in water or alcohol, and which cannot be erased. Over time it may attack the underlying paper or parchment, weakening the material and causing areas of text to be damaged or lost. In the very worst cases, we can lose the text completely as it drops out of the sheet of paper! The work of conservators is vital in identifying vulnerable items and intervening when necessary.

Handwritten text with iron gall ink showing some areas of severe loss where the iron gall ink has destroyed the paper.

What can be done? Come and find out at our Feed the Mind talk on Monday 9th October where, using visual examples, we will examine the historic use of this ink, including the influence which different recipes and writing implements can have on its properties. We will illustrate the range of treatments that are currently used in the Conservation department to address this problem, some traditional and some very modern, as well as the ongoing research to develop new approaches. This will demonstrate one of the many ways in which conservation helps to safeguard the collection and ensure its survival for future generations. Book your place now.

A handwritten page with most text written in iron gall ink and some text written with a red ink.

12 September 2016

Job Opportunity - Digitisation Conservator (Hebraic Digitisation Project)

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Digitisation Conservator (Hebraic Digitisation Project)
Salary - £26,000 to £29,966 per annum
Full Time, Fixed Term for 30 Months (2 ½ Years)
British Library, St Pancras site, London

Acknowledged as one of the finest and most important in the world, the British Library’s Hebrew manuscripts collection is a vivid testimony to the creativity and intense scribal activities of Eastern and Western Jewish communities spanning over 1,000 years. The Hebrew Manuscripts Digitisation project, started in 2013, is continuing into a next phase making more of the British Library’s collection of Hebrew manuscripts available online.

This is an opportunity for an experienced conservator to undertake conservation treatment of paper and parchment Hebrew Manuscripts to enable digitisation and in order to improve the longevity, stability and accessibility of these items. The conservator will work closely with the project manager and curators as well as the project survey conservator. You’ll operate with minimal supervision and have the skills and knowledge to plan, manage and track your work to ensure that deadlines are met. You must be able to communicate effectively with people at all levels, and be able to keep clear, consistent and accurate records of all activities undertaken.

You need to have either a degree in conservation or equivalent knowledge and skills sets, and practical hands-on experience in conservation of library materials for digitisation and/or large-scale conservation projects. A broad knowledge of available conservation treatments within the field of book/ paper conservation together with the ability to diagnose conservation problems and to develop and evaluate options for solutions. You should also have a high level of manual dexterity, together with knowledge of materials chemistry and the properties, behaviours and interaction of a wide range of organic and inorganic materials. A good knowledge of preventive conservation issues is also required.

Closing date: 2 October 2016. Interview date: Week commencing 10 October 2016.
For further information and to apply, please visit www.bl.uk/careers vacancy ref: COL00983

05 September 2016

Growing a thick skin

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Camille Thuet, Parchment Intern at the British Library, shares her experiences working at the British Library Centre for Conservation so far this year. Parchment (noun): A stiff, flat, thin material made from the prepared skin of an animal, usually a sheep or goat, and used as a durable writing surface in ancient and medieval times - Oxford dictionary

Camille stands at a desk and starts to unroll a large rolled map.

2 February 2016 - First day

I'm very excited to start my 11 month internship here. The building is impressive and in every corner I feel like something is happening. I am very glad to be the first intern that will focus on a specialised material, in my case: vellum and parchment. The British Library is giving me a great opportunity to fill-in my knowledge and become a specialist. I am expecting to work on a broad selection of items from the collection which will present a range of conservation problems.

3 February 2016 – Meeting the team

Today I've met my two mentors, who will support me with my work: Zoe in the conservation studio and Paul for the science-based research projects. They are both passionate about their work and are keen to learn new things as much as I am. A lively and dynamic atmosphere emanates from the huge conservation studio. About 35 conservators are working there, 35 different personalities from various backgrounds. I feel this internship is going to be fascinating…

9 March 2016 - My first parchment challenge

When used as a book cover parchment needs to be flexible; the joints where cover and spine meet are repeatedly taking tension during handling. When there is material missing or weakness in this particular area, the cover is not protecting the text-block any longer and handling can create damage. The infill material must be flexible, strong, toned to match the original aged hues of the cover, and have a similar surface finish with parchment. Many tests were needed to find a Japanese paper which looks like the perfect answer.

A close-up of Camille holding a conservation pencil in front of the book which is open.  The book rests on a table with its cover now released from the text block.

A close-up of the book showing the cover in the process of being reattached.  The book resting on two foam book supports.
Top left: Using a conservation pencil to release the lace-in. Top right: The cover released and ready for treatment. Bottom left: The cover about to be reattached to the text block. Bottom right: The opening after treatment.

The book spine before treatment--there are areas of loss with much of the spine being gone on the right side.

The spine has been repaired, the losses infilled with new parchment.

The book spine before and after treatment.

18 May 2016 - A big project!

I am thrilled to be working on a book from the 13th century. Its pages are ancient parchment and its cover is a reminder of the volume’s passage through time. Everybody can have access to this seminal text by Cicero online today but particularities of this include the handwritten margin-notes by scholars from various periods in history. The parchment text-block has survived many readers from Italy to England and is heavily damaged: losses, tears, iron gall ink corrosion, and a myriad of previous treatments but to name a few.

This book is holding mysteries: the lower part of the first twenty pages has been cut off for no obvious reason. It is not unusual for an 18th century’s restorator to collect parchment from a book to repair a more valuable parchment document, but 20 pages… really? Could this be an old mould treatment? Or, censorship of Middle-Aged notes or drawings?

A close-up images of a page showing text in red and black, with a decorative C drawing in red and blue. Another close-up showing a series of pages which have been cropped at the bottom.

Left: Detail from a 13th century book. Right: 20 pages mysteriously cropped!

The 18th century binding only allows me to open the book 45° which makes it almost impossible to read, and future handling perilous given its actual condition. One of my tasks is to prepare the fragile book for digitisation so that we can share its mysteries with the world. I have come to the difficult yet essential decision to disband the book and I am supporting the most vulnerable areas before the imaging process by using gelatine remoistenable tissue. The Japanese paper used has been toned with airbrush-sprayed acrylics. Indeed, the result on the image must disrupt the visual appearance as little as possible so as to influence future interpretation as little as possible.

The manuscript sits open on two book supports made of foam.  Camille inserts a scalpel into the spine of the book, starting the disbinding process.

Left: Manuscript with a 45° opening. Right: Disbinding the manuscript.

2 June 2016 – A wall of rolls

A parchment document feels always more relaxed when conserved flat but large documents which can’t fit on shelves would usually be rolled. The British Library has a large collection of scrolls and rolled documents which are in need of some bespoke storage. A tightly rolled skin becomes cockled, distorted and loses its surface coherence which causes severe repercussions on the media. Won’t it be a massive loss if all the gold sheets of an illuminated document are flaking-off? For a roll parchment, the bigger the core, the better! This means items need big cores as support and ingenious storing and boxing systems accordingly. The challenge is to marry this with the constant fight for space under Euston road!

A rack of shelving with various collection items stored in boxes of different shapes, sizes, and colours.

My aims for this project are to assess the collection, prioritising heavily damaged items for conservation treatment and reorganise the collection storage conditions… not too hard then!

26 July 2016 – Half way already!

When I first stepped into the studio I wasn’t a parchment specialist. I am still not quite there, but… I am becoming confident with this complicated material by meeting specialists, attending workshops, conferences and treating a unique collection of parchment objects.

To be continued…

Camille Thuet

27 April 2016

Opportunity: Digitisation Conservator

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Salary range is £26,000 - £29,966 per annum
Full time (36 hours per week)
Fixed Term Contract for 18 months
St Pancras, London

The British Library is undertaking a number of new digitisation programmes including four hundred pre-1200 manuscripts and illuminated manuscripts and Kings Topographical maps. The ‘Discovering Literature’ web resource is also moving into its next phase requiring items to be digitised. 

This is an opportunity for an experienced conservator to undertake condition assessments and conservation treatment of paper and parchment books and manuscripts to enable digitisation as part of these and other projects. The conservator will work closely with the project managers and curators and will report to the Conservation Digitisation Manager. You’ll operate with minimal supervision and have the skills and knowledge to plan, manage and track your work to ensure that deadlines are met. You must be able to communicate effectively with people at all levels, and be able to keep clear, consistent and accurate records of all activities undertaken.

You need to have either a degree in conservation or equivalent knowledge and skills sets, and practical hands-on experience in conservation of library materials for digitisation and/or large-scale conservation projects. A broad knowledge of available conservation treatments within the field of book/paper conservation together with the ability to diagnose conservation problems and to develop and evaluate options for solutions. You should also have a high level of manual dexterity, together with knowledge of materials chemistry and the properties, behaviours and interaction of a wide range of organic and inorganic materials. A good knowledge of preventive conservation issues is also required.

For further information and to apply, please visit www.bl.uk/careers quoting vacancy ref: COL00841

Closing Date: 12 May 2016
Interview Date: week of 23 May 2016

23 October 2015

Magna Carta Conservation Team at the ICON Awards

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The British Library conservation team that worked on the Magna Carta project attended a glamorous awards ceremony at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers last night. The team were shortlisted for the Institute of Conservation (ICONAnna Plowden Trust Award for Research and Innovation, which went to Tate for their impressive Rothko Conservation Project. A huge congratulations to the Tate team and to the Imperial War Museum who were also in our category for their amazing space vacuums, air bazookas and duster drones project in the War Against Dust.

Four members of the Magna Carta conservation team stand to have their picture taken; they are standing in front of a dark wood wall.
Left to right: Cordelia Rogerson, Christina Duffy, Gavin Moorhead, Julian Harrison

The Magna Carta Project was a collaborative process of sophisticated research and innovation that enabled a pragmatic solution for rehousing and displaying an iconic document. Our biggest challenge was overcoming long held preconceptions and expectations that a high profile artefact required an expensive high-tech approach. You can read more about our work here.

Flyers for the Icon Conservation Awards rest on a table. They list information about the event such as date, time, and location.

It has been a great privilege to work with Magna Carta and the curatorial team in the build up to the British Library's most successful exhibition Magna Carta: Law, Liberty, Legacy.

Many thanks to all colleagues across the British Library and other institutions who helped progress the project into something we are all very proud of. Thanks to ICON and their sponsors Beko for organising a terrific night celebrating an incredible range of conservation work going on around the UK.

Congratulations to all the entrants, shortlistees and winners!

Christina Duffy

21 October 2015

Parchment Internship at the British Library

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Intern, Parchment Research & Conservation, British Library
British Library job reference 00476
11 month Internship, 36 hours a week (full time), London

The British Library is pleased to offer a funded Internship, concentrating on parchment research and conservation. The internship is funded by the Clothworkers Foundation. The internship will run between November 2015 and October 2016. This opportunity is available to conservators who have graduated in the last 2 years, have limited work experience in conservation, and who wish to develop their research and practical, hands-on conservation skills. The successful candidates will have a book or paper conservation qualification(s) (an MA in conservation would be desirable).

The internship has a bursary of £19,000 with a £2,000 bursary for training and associated travel costs. The bursary will be paid on a monthly basis (subject to tax and NI). The internships are open to those who have the right to live and work in the UK.

A piece of parchment with texts rests on a neutral background. The raking light shows off the folds and undulations of the item.
Parchment under raking light (Add MS 33597)

The intern will spend approximately half their time working on one or two parchment research projects, supervised by a Conservation Scientist. The projects will be agreed and defined with the aim of practical outcomes for parchment assessments or treatments. The remaining half of the internship will involve developing and implementing a range of treatment options for individual items or a small collection of items. This may include remedial treatment, collection surveys and environmental monitoring. Treatment reports will be written at the end of each treatment project. Projects will be based on material that has been scheduled into the 2015 –16 work programme.

The intern will be expected to use a project management framework and monitor their progress against their work plan. At the end of the internship, the intern will give a presentation of the work completed. Please note that the intern will be supervised by a British Library Scientist and a conservator throughout their internship and work will be monitored on a regular basis. British Library Conservation has some suggestions for parchment research projects and additional ideas are welcomed.

A closeup of a parchment scroll featuring text plus drawings on the left hand side: a hand grabbing a lock of hair and a man's face.
A parchment scroll (Add MS 32006)


Please apply online via the British Library website: http://www.bl.uk/careers/index.html

In addition to the application form online, you also need to provide two or three examples of treatment records from your portfolio for items you have worked on. This evidence only must be emailed separately to Cordelia.Rogerson@bl.uk by the vacancy closing date. Include your name and the vacancy reference number in the email (00476).

Closing date 8 November 2015. Please note that applications received after this date will not be considered. Interviews will be held the week commencing 23 November and 30 November.

Dr Cordelia Rogerson
Head of Conservation

25 August 2015

Digitising Hebraic Scrolls

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As part of the Hebraic Manuscript Digitisation Project (HMDP), we are currently imaging 74 scrolls. These range in size from one smaller than a little finger to another a whopping 52.41m long – three times the length of the conservation studio. The tallest is nearly a metre with its rollers.

The scroll and its case rest on a table. The case has a light-coloured wood handle, and a round case with a crown-like top hold the scroll. The case appears to be made from a cream-coloured material, possibly bone or ivory.
Esther scroll in decorative case (Add 11831)

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We did a brief survey last year and realised some of the scrolls were very damaged, so we have spent another two months assessing each one individually. Even this was not a simple task. Many of the larger scrolls are also very heavy, so two conservators have worked together to make sure they were handled safely, using lots of weights as stops to prevent them rolling off work-surfaces. The parchment scrolls have been tightly rolled for a very long time and even looking at them has been a challenge, as they try hard to re-roll themselves unless held down securely.

A closeup of a scroll showing pest damage.
Text was rewritten after surface delamination; plus insect damage and excreta (Or 4224)

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What are they? As well as some fine large Torah scrolls on parchment, made for synagogue use, we also have a number written on leather. The most important of this group is the Kaifeng Torah, made in central China in the 17th century. Read more about it here

There are also much smaller scrolls made for personal or family use. In particular, we have quite a few Esther scrolls, and some with the ritual texts for the Passover meal. Most copies of Hebraic scriptures are unadorned, to focus attention on the religious texts, but scrolls for family celebrations may have decorative margins or full coloured miniatures. The smallest scroll, adorned with silver, was almost certainly an amulet as the script is too tiny to be easily read.

The tip of a finger holds a scroll open. The finger is about one-third the width of the scroll, showcasing just how small the scroll is. The text is very tiny.
 The smallest scroll. The finger appears huge in comparison to the tiny script. (Or 4670)

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The survey showed that up to half of the scrolls needed some kind of conservation treatment. Many were quick tasks done during assessment (edge tears or broken sewing joining panels) to avoid having later to roll and re-roll the scroll yet again. However, a dozen of the scrolls needed a good deal of repair simply to get them through the digitisation processes safely, and were sent to the main conservation studio.

Another close up showing the tight sewing on the left hand side, and a cracked surface in the middle.
Sewing is too tight and the holes too close together. The leather surface is also crazed and inflexible in part. (Or 1462)

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Many of the scrolls have integral rollers. We thought it safer not to repair these if broken, lest it give a false sense of security, though we never lift scrolls by the roller handles anyway, since so many are now frail. Even more fragile are the few scrolls that roll back into cases as the mechanisms now tend to stick. Thankfully, once digitised, these will be handled rarely.

Two pieces of parchment are held together with sewing. In this image, along the left hand side, the sewing has broken and a large tear has developed in the scroll.
Common damage: the sewing has broken and a tear has developed across the text. This must be repaired before imaging as handling will make it worse. (Or 4224)

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The scrolls are made of rectangular panels of parchment or leather (often called membranes) joined end to end. We were surprised to find that the majority were linked only by long, crude running stitches of linen thread, but these joins had mostly remained intact. We understood this better when we found a pair of scrolls with joins of fine oversewing (possibly done by a seamstress, not a leather worker), where the thread had torn through the leather; the frequent holes essentially acting as a perforation strip.

A closeup showing text on the scroll which is partially covered by wax which has dripped.
Evidence of use is carefully preserved; here molten wax has dripped onto the scroll. (Or 1463)

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A few of the scrolls have protective silk panels stitched to the verso at the outer end and we also found four mantles. Our textile conservator, Liz Rose, is cleaning and repairing these to make them safe to handle and image. They will be boxed separately and available for display in the future. As part of the project, many of the scrolls will also be rehoused in custom-made boxes.

A close up of the mantle, which has a floral design on a cream background. There are a number of tears in the silk.
An extremely damaged mantle; the silk lining is also split in many places (Or 13027)

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Although our imaging technicians are well used to digitising oriental scrolls, as well as other rolled materials such as maps, we think this is the first time anyone has digitised such a large group of Hebraic scrolls. Conservators were involved early in the process of selecting suitable equipment. Although no Hebraic manuscript books have been scanned, we concluded that it would be safer and more efficient to scan some of the scrolls – though using the equipment unconventionally, without the glass sheet to flatten them. There was a full risk assessment before imaging began, and the imaging technicians received specialist handling training, including a requirement to work in pairs.

A close up of the margin of one scroll showing illustrations of three animals: an elephant, a hippopotamus, and another elephant.
Marginal decoration of an Esther scroll (Or 1047)

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A close up of a handpainted printed image. The image is likely Mary and baby Jesus. Jesus stands below Mary, and Mary squirts breastmilk into his mouth from above.
Image printed on parchment and hand coloured. The printing block was probably generic, used to decorate many different texts, but is unusual for a Hebraic manuscript. (Or 13028)

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Conservation’s role in the digitisation of the scrolls is now finished, but there is still several months’ work to be done on processing and stitching the images before everything is uploaded to our website. Meanwhile, you can view many of the books digitised during the project here: using “Hebrew” as the keyword.

Ann Tomalak, HMDP Phase 1 Project Conservator

06 July 2015

Under the Microscope with Magna Carta

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We recently held a very successful public event sharing our conservation work in preparation for the British Library Magna Carta: Law, Liberty, Legacy exhibition. The exhibition marks 800 glorious years of Magna Carta since it was granted by King John of England in 1215. The conservation project involved removing six manuscripts from their frames and rehousing them for display. While they were out of their frames, the manuscripts were examined using various scientific techniques. High-resolution digital microscopy enabled incredible magnification of the iron gall ink and parchment which make up the charters. Here is a selection of the images captured of Cotton MS Augustus ii.106, one of the British Library’s two original Magna Cartas dating to 15 June 1215. Enjoy!

The Magna Carta rests on a platform with a microscope above it which Christina Duffy looks through.
Imaging Scientist Christina Duffy
A full view of Magna Carta 1215. It is a rectangular pieces of parchment with small text.
Magna Carta 1215

Magna Carta 1215 (Cotton MS Augustus ii.106) – one of four surviving original 1215 copies.

Iron gall ink

Iron gall ink has been used since the middle-ages and is found on many of our most treasured collections including the Lindisfarne Gospels, Beowulf and Magna Carta. The main ingredients of iron gall ink include iron sulphate, tannins from oak galls and water. Overall the ink is in very good condition on this charter allowing us to appreciate the beauty in the detail of some of the intials.

A close up of the bottom left of Magna Carta 1215.
Magna Carta 1215 detail

 

20X magnification showing an uppercase letter which looks like an O that has been half filled in, with dotted lines going down the centre.
Iron gall ink at 20x
An even closer image of the O - some cracks are visible.
Iron gall ink at 30x
An even closer shot, showing loss of ink on the parchment surface.
Iron gall ink at 150x

At high magnification we can see that some areas have experienced ink loss, but the Great Charter is still legible due to the remaining ink shadow left behind. Find out more about iron gall ink in a previous post here.

A closeup of the text along the right hand side of the Magna Carta. Text runs in horizontal lines across the image.
Magnca Carta 1215 detail right

 

A close up of some of the text, showing a variety of letters, including ones which look like an uppercase T and O. Some loss of ink is visible.
Ink loss at 30x
An even closer look at the O shape, with cracking and link loss very visible.
Ink loss at 100x
Yet a closer look at the ink loss. At this level of magnification, the ink which is left looks like rocks or ground coffee beans.
Ink loss at 200x

Parchment

The parchment on which Magna Carta has been written is thought to be sheepskin. Parchment is an animal pelt which has had the hairs removed by liming or enzymatic action. It is then stretched and dried under tension creating a perfect writing surface with a thin opaque membrane. Below are some images showing damage to the  upper dermal layers of the parchment. Find out more about parchment here.

A close up of text in the centre of the Magna Carta.
Magna Carta 1215 detail centre

 

An even closer look at the text. There is a what looks like a hole--damage to the skin--in a oval-like shape. The right side of the oval is curved as normal but the left side is shaped like the edge of a triangle.
Damage at 30x
An even closer view of this oval-shaped damage. There is a ring of black around this hole.
Damage at 50x
An even closer look of this damage, showing that the skin is quite textured.
Damage at 150x

CC by You can find out more about this charter on the British Library Magna Carta resource page.

Christina Duffy (@DuffyChristina)