Collection Care blog

5 posts categorized "Qatar"

27 June 2020

Paper Express! A Hand-Made Tale

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.

18 January 2018

Job Opportunity: Conservator, Gulf History and Arabic Science

Description: Part time (0.6 FTE / 21.6 hours per week), fixed term contract to 31 December 2018

The full job description and application process can be found here.

Caring for the world’s knowledge

A book in the process of being bound, is held in place in a wooden vice on a desk.

The British Library leads and collaborates in growing the world’s knowledge base. We have signed a major partnership to make thousands of digitised historic documents and ancient manuscripts – relating to centuries of history of the Gulf – available online to researchers, scholars and the general public across the Gulf region and around the world. The Collection Care department, which comprises some 40 people, is responsible for the care of one of the largest, richest and most diverse research collections in the world.

This is an opportunity for an experienced conservator to work in a small, busy team. You will be carrying out conservation and preparation treatments on a wide range of collection items relating to the Gulf region that are being digitised as part of this project. 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 treatments 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 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 and the ability to treat fragile and delicate materials, 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 with the ability to deliver training on the handling of library material to support and implement best practices within the British Library/Qatar Foundation partnership project and collaboration with the colleagues in the main British Library Conservation Studio (BLCC).

For an informal discussion about the role, please contact Flavio Marzo, Gulf History Arabic Science Project Conservator on 0207 412 7740.


Closing Date: 11 February 2018

Interview Date: 22 or 23 February 2018

13 February 2017

The beauty within: conservation of manuscript Delhi Arabic 1928

Flavio Marzo reports on the conservation of a unique manuscript from the Delhi Arabic collection.

I have recently undertaken the conservation of a very interesting Arabic manuscript that is a good example of how the mixture of features means richness and beauty.

The manuscript, produced in the first half of the XIX century, contains two different texts bound together, about cosmology and astronomy. This book, measuring 285 x 175 x 30 mm, is one of the scientific volumes that we are presently digitising within the project sponsored by the Qatar Foundation, here on the 6th floor of the British Library, for the Qatar Digital Library web site.

The front and back cover of the manuscript, lying side by side, completely separated from the text block and spine. The covers are handmade and roughly the same in imagery, bearing a central ovoid which has had its illustration worn away. This shape is buttressed at either end by two shield-like shapes, which again bear traces of imagery. They are on a brown background, framed in black, in itself framed in brown. Both covers bear writing on white stickers.
Right/front and left/back cover of Delhi Arabic 1928.
The spine of the book, as viewed from the side of the manuscript. The heavy wear can be seen clearly, with only a small amount of the original leather still present, at the centre. The two ends have both been heavily worn, and the text block can be seen coming through the brown underlayer of fabric. Round Insect damage holes can also be seen.
The spine of the book.

 

This manuscript is also another item from the Delhi Arabic Collection; a fantastic series housed at the British Library that has been the subject of other previous blog posts of mine, written for the British Library Collection Care blog.

The book came to us because it needed extensive conservation before any further handling, from cataloguing to photography, would have been possible. Something needed to be done, but as soon as I started to examine the book in detail I realised how interesting and unique its binding was.

Categories are essential to communicate, we need a common language to share information and a common vocabulary to be able to understand each other, but this inevitably often requires simplification. The history of book binding and the craft of book making are not different, we have created a vocabulary that helps us to categorise styles, techniques and features, assigning to specific definitions chronologically and geographically defined areas.

‘Islamic style binding’ is one of them; it identifies books that are bound following specific techniques and are characterised by specific codified and agreed upon features.

At a first look, this book seemed to bear all of those characteristics:

1. A type of decoration with inlays made of tooled toned paper was applied to the leather, as well as being framed with lines of drawn gold pigment. 
2. The boards were not larger than the book block (no squares).
3. It had a flat spine.
4. The burnished shining paper of the pages bore Arabic writing.

A paper inlay on the inner corner of one of the covers, showing decoration that has been, along with the corner of the cover, attacked by insect pests, in the evidence of round bore holes, while the corner itself is heavily damaged and the iternal structure is exposed.
One of the paper inlays, lifting.

 

I was also expecting an unsupported sewing (without sewing supports) and Islamic style end bands, but this was not the case.

The sewing, made with a very thick linen thread was actually made on strips of tanned leather with the thread passing behind them in the so called ‘French style technique’ (link stitch) where the thread passages are linked together during the sewing, as visible in the following image.

A closeup image of the manuscript with its front cover open, showing the inside of the cover and the front page, and text block. The image is illustrating the damage done to the manuscript, as the cover is almost entirely detached from the main text block. There is a large triangular open tear on the front page, while both textblock and cover show severe damage caused by insects, as evidenced by small bore holes and deep grazing marks at the corners.

a zoomed in image of the manuscript on its spine side, showing the text block and centred on the sewing in the 'French style' the white threads interweaving. In the bottom left a finger can just be seen holding back the very tattered remnants of the spine.
The leather strips and the passages of the sewing thread in the ‘French style’.

 

The end bands, or at least what was left of them (only the one at the tail survived almost entirely) were also a surprise, they were in a western style, sewn with two silk threads (pink and green) onto a round core made of linen cord.

The Manuscript shown with the focus on the end bands at the bottom of the exposed spine. The end band is brightly colored in green and pink thread, somewhat frayed at the ends, wrapped around a linen core. The cover of the book can be seen as well, with some of the insect bore holes prevalent.
Detail of the surviving 'western style' end band at the tail of the book spine.

 

What a magnificent multicultural binding! An Islamic style cover with French sewing and western end bands; how many stories this damaged little book is telling all at once - not only the fascinating content of the text but also the intriguing mixture of features that speaks of a binder obviously bridging two different worlds and their book binding craftsmanship.

The book was made in the XIX century, a time when the western domination of the Far East (the book was part of the Imperial Mughal Library so possibly produced in India) was already quite established, and so the reciprocated exchange in craftswork and tastes.

Was the binder a westerner or an easterner artisan? It is hard to tell even if the predominance of eastern features, like the attachment of the leather cover to the book block achieved by only adhering the leather to the spine without any lacing of the supports, makes me favour the second option.

The challenge here was then how to treat the book. The leather strips were completely gone and the sewing very loose. A huge amount of insect damage, especially on the spine folds of the bifolia, had made most of the pages detached. Likewise, the leather on the spine and the board edges were almost completely gone.

Approaches in modern conservation are based on some clear principles and ethics, two of which are ‘minimal intervention’ and ‘fit for purpose’. In this specific case I chose the ‘minimal’ approach aimed at keeping all the historical evidence of an object undisturbed as much as possible. I decided to work ‘in situ’ and try to restore all the elements of the binding leaving them as they were.

This was a very ‘minimal’ but not at all ‘fit for purpose’ approach. Digitisation project workflows are based on the constant processing of material to be imaged and uploaded online. Conservation within these work streams is there to support this flow, making sure that the items processed are stabilized and safely handled to produce good quality images. In this context, the ‘fit for purpose’ approach means that conservation treatments on single items should not take more than 5 to 10 hours to be completed. To repair the manuscript, however, took me one week. The time was needed and it was found within the scope of the project, but making sure that we were also keeping a steady flow of material to work on for the rest of the workflow strands.

A new spine lining made of Japanese paper was applied onto the spine to secure the book block as much as possible and to support in place the remnants of the end bands before starting to work on the pages.

The manuscript undergoing treatment, seated in a wooden vice with handles at the edge of both sides of the photo. The spine is free of the vice, and the linen remnants of the spine hve been reinforced with Japanese tissue paper, while there are white linen strips inserted under the two central sewing. A green desk can be seen in the background, with scissors, a metal ruler, a metal spatula tool and a green pencil.
The spine of the book and the remnants of the end bands are reinforced with Japanese paper layers adhered with wheat starch paste and the new linen tapes inserted under the passage of the sewing.

 

New cotton tapes were inserted under the sewing thread passages where the leather strip supports were originally placed. In most of the sections the sewing thread was secured in place with small pieces of Japanese paper and wheat starch paste. The loose pages were secured with hinges of Japanese paper, making sure that the correct collation was maintained.

The boards were re-attached to the book block as they had been by attaching the original linen spine lining and the remnants of the old leather supports reinforced with the new cotton tapes.

All the remnants of the covering leather on the spine were secured to the spine lining now supported by a new Japanese paper hollow. No infill with new leather was made, but the spine was repaired only with thin toned Japanese paper instead, leaving the linen fabric of the original lining exposed.

The Manuscript book photographed after conservation work. The book is lying down, with spine facing the camera. The spine itself has been reworked, with the linen backing and the remnants of leather spine well afixed and consolidated with toned Japanese tissue paper along the exposed linen backing of the spine.
The book after the conservation work.

 

During the conservation of the book block, a note was also found inserted. Written on this note are the shelf mark and probably a request from the cataloguer for the restoration of the book (‘Repairs & binding’).

The note was most surely inserted at the time the book was being catalogued since the handwriting on it matches the calligraphy on the cataloguing labels adhered on the right and left boards.

Two photographs compared side by side. The left photo is a pink paper slip, with tidy handwriting in black ink, as a request for 'Repair & binding'. Running down the right hand side of the slip is a printed message in a bold capitalised font 'M.S. Not To Be Issued'. The image on the right is of the two stickers afixed to the cover of the book, in wgite with two thick and thin blue borders. The text, in the same handwriting and thus showing then eed for comparison, has in the top sticker, 'Delhi Arabic 1928' while the second, slightly more rectangular lower sticker, reads in the same handwriting, 'Arabic catalogue' and in roman numerals, 3, then 2, then the numbers 2187. Some insect bore damage holes can be seen around the stickers on the front board.
Pink slip with handwritten shelf mark and annotation compared with the shelf mark written on the labels adhered on the right/front board.

 

At the British Library, the practice of inserting pink slips to highlight the need for urgent conservation work is still in use today. This procedure obviously dates back quite far.

We know that the manuscripts in the Delhi collection were moved from Calcutta to the India Office in London, and at a certain point divided into their respective language collections. This arrangement was made after they were catalogued in 1937, so it is reasonable to assume that the labels were placed not much later than this date.

The request on the slip was obviously ignored and the book was not restored, a ‘negligence’ that probably saved the manuscript from a complete rebinding that would have destroyed all the historical evidences of this unique artefact.

The perception of beauty is another very controversial topic; this work of mine was meant to preserve as much as possible all the evidence of a very unique and fascinating item, keeping the original features in place and preserving all the possibly hidden information for future research.

The tattered look of the damaged book was also preserved, arguably not a pleasing look, but time has left its marks and that has its own beauty.

Flavio Marzo

04 October 2016

Conservation code cracking: finding meaning in hidden symbols

Everyone loves a good puzzle - and this was definitely found to be the case when Flavio Marzo, conservation team lead for the Qatar/British Library Project, sent an email around to colleagues with a series of mysterious symbols attached. What did they mean? The ancient doodles were uncovered by Flavio during conservation work of a manuscript from the Delhi Collection. Could the code be deciphered by British Library experts? Flavio reports.

Digitisation processes can be quite repetitive. Here at the British Library Qatar Digitisation Project we try to achieve the best we can and this means a lot of quality checks to ensure high levels of efficiency through standardised processes.

There is no difference in our approach to the conservation strand of these digitisation projects. Standardised treatments are applied daily to a great number of items that are processed and prepared to enable a good final result and to ensure safe handling of library material. Unsurprisingly, these items are unique and their content extremely fascinating.

Recently, as part of the material scoped for the second phase of the project, I had to repair a manuscript before imaging and uploading onto the Qatar Digital Library.

This manuscript contains two mathematical treaties bound together dating back to the beginning of the XVIII century. It was in need of conservation treatment because the sewing of a previous restoration attempt was impairing the opening making some of the text inaccessible and impossible to be imaged.

The manuscript is one of 36 scoped for the project belonging to the Delhi Collection. The Delhi Collection encompasses more than 2900 manuscripts stored across the British Library. The manuscripts are all that is left of the Imperial Mughal Library that was acquired by the English run Government in Delhi after the final destruction of the Delhi Red Fortress.

Those texts are now finally becoming available to readers for the first time thanks to the surrogates that we are uploading onto the Qatar Digital Library website. They all are in very poor condition and for this reason many of them have never been made available to readers in our reading rooms.

The prime concern for conservation when treating items is to find the right balance between the level of intervention necessary to make a book strong enough to be safely handled while still preserving the unique and invaluable physical features related to its history and use. These concerns are even more apparent for the Delhi Collection manuscripts since their history and the vicissitudes relating to their move to London are still quite confused.

This manuscript and the treatments carried out to conserve it are a very good example of how challenging it can be to decide what to do and where to stop, but also a very unique case of a fascinating discovery. When the little manuscript (measuring just 182 mm high, 120 mm long and only 7 mm thick) was brought to the studio its book block was detached from its cover.

 

The manuscript rests on a table.
At a certain point of its life the manuscript was restored and a new over-casted sewing was made to keep the loose, badly damaged pages together.



 

 

A digitally-drawn diagram showing how the volume was constructed.
Diagram of the construction of the book block and the full leather cover.




This new sewing, even if achieving its purpose, was badly impairing the opening of the book making some of the marginal notes illegible.

 

 

Two side-by-side images show how some of the text had been sewn into the gutter.
Annotation disappearing into the gutter before (left) and after (right) the removal of the over-casted sewing passages.



 

We know from historical sources that these manuscripts were moved from Delhi to Calcutta for evaluation in the view to be then transferred to London; it was during this time that they were left neglected and befell extensive damage. It was most likely around the same time that the manuscripts were crudely restored and the present cover was applied to the text.

Changes are unavoidable during restoration processes, but conservation is committed to keeping this to a minimal level and always trying to preserve evidence of past treatments while keeping detailed treatment documentation.

After consultation with the curators it was decided to remove the over-casted sewing to improve the opening. The passage holes of the sewing thread were left undisturbed and even the passages of thread on the first and last sheets, not causing any harm to the book, were left and secured in place with wheat starch paste.

Unfortunately most of the pages of the two small manuscripts, repaired even before this last restoration campaign, became loose with no clear evidence of the original construction of the sections.

Many of the sheets were attached to each other at the inner joint and it was decided, after discussion with the curators, to keep this arrangement since no other evidence of thread passages was found. New joints were made with Japanese paper to create the bifolia for the quires.

 

A digitally-drawn and colour-coded diagram of the manuscript's construction after conservation.
Diagram of the construction of the manuscripts after conservation.

 

Diagram of the construction of the manuscripts after conservation.

The three sections were sewn together with an unsupported sewing using the holes found in only three conjoint bifolia. This is represented in the previous diagram by continuous black lines.

The different layers of original spine lining were re-adhered as they were originally. The end leaves were re-connected to the book-block by gluing them along the spine edges to the first and last leaves of the book, as they were previously.

Only the front right paste down, originally attached to the inner face of the board was left detached and this was due to a very interesting discovery. During the conservation treatment of the end-leaves some hidden manuscript annotations came to light.

 

The manuscript is open to the right board, showing the signatures and scribbles.
The right board of the cover was made from reused manuscript material. A couple of signatures (now under investigation) appeared, accompanied by what looked like a series of squiggles almost entirely hidden by the leather cover.



 

After a more careful examination it became clear that these symbols were actually much more than simple doodles. I decided to figure out how to decode them.

Two images which show arrows pointing to the scribbles and the leather lifting away to reveal more.
The line of symbols emerged partially obscured by the turn in of the leather cover on the fore edge of the inner right board.

An email was written with images attached and it was sent to all colleagues working here at the 6th floor within the British Library/Qatar Partnership: an open invitation to participate in the decoding. Less than an hour later the mystery was solved. The squiggles were in fact a rebus - a puzzle where words are represented by pictures and letters, and its translation came out as: I see you but you cannot see me

The breakdown is shown below:

The scribbles are a code which reads: I see you but you can not see me.
What an incredible and exciting discovery!



This really is the most appropriate motto to what I am always saying about conservation and the challenges in preserving evidence of historical clues: they are there, they look at you, but we are not necessarily able to see them.

The curator of the Arabic manuscript strand of the project, Bink Hallum, was the person who cracked most of the code. This demonstrates how tasks can be resolved through collaboration and sharing of expertise.

So many invisible pieces of information, during our careers, look at us from the items we handle everyday. We don't always have the necessary knowledge to see them, but surely we have the responsibility to preserve and convey them for posterity.

Flavio Marzo

08 July 2014

A visit to Doha and an exciting new reality

Flavio Marzo ACR, Conservation Studio Manager for the British Library/Qatar Foundation digitisation project reflects on his visit to the Arab and Islamic Heritage Collection Library:

A partial skyline of Doha with skyscrapers dotting a bright blue sky. The buildings are all very modern featuring metal, glass and lots of curves.

CC zero Doha, Qatar

During a recent trip to Doha, Qatar, I was invited to speak at the ‘Past to Present: Art Conservation Conference’ at the Museum of Islamic Art, held on 28 November 2013. I was invited to visit the Arab and Islamic Heritage Collection Library by Dr Joachim Gierlichs, Associate Director for Special Collections and Archives at the Qatar National Library, and Mark T. Paul, Head of Partnerships at the Qatar National Library. As I presently manage the conservation studio that has been created for the British Library/Qatar Foundation Partnership at the British Library, my trip to Doha was a chance for me to meet some of my colleagues for the first time.

I spent the morning after my arrival visiting one of the Library’s main collections, the private study library of Sheikh Hassan Bin Mohammed Bin Ali Al-Thani, founder of Mathaf, the Arab Museum of Modern Art, and a prominent scholar on the history and culture of Arabia. The collection includes rare and valuable texts and manuscripts relating to Arab-Islamic civilization, as well as books, periodicals and maps from European orientalists, travellers and explorers who were fascinated by Arab-Islamic cultural heritage.

The walls of the Library are lined with books on wooden shelves, the walls are maroon in colour, and there is seating in front of the shelves.
Arab and Islamic Heritage Collection Library.



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One of the highlights of the visit for me was the opportunity to meet the three conservators working at the library and to visit the conservation studio. The studio, although limited in space, is well equipped for carrying out full treatments of printed and manuscript items.

A man in a lab coat stands in front of a table where two of his colleagues are working with books.
Chanaca Perera, conservator in charge of the studio, with his team.
A woman and man pose for the camera. The woman is wearing black with a polka dot scarf, and the man is in a suit jacket with a tie that has a dotted pattern.
Dr Stavroula Golfomitsou and Flavio Marzo.

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The afternoon was spent visiting the new facilities of the UCL Qatar Centre for the Study of Cultural Heritage in Education City, opened in partnership with the Qatar Foundation and the Qatar Museums Authority in 2012.

An area of the conservation studio showing tables, extraction hoods coming down from the ceiling, shelving on the wall, and other scientific and artistic equipment.
Main studio in the UCL Qatar Centre for the Study of Cultural Heritage.



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While there, I visited the classrooms, met some of the students and spent time with Dr Stavroula Golfomitsou, who has developed and led the Conservation Studies Programme at UCL Qatar since its beginning in 2012.

My impression of Doha and the different institutions and people I met there was very positive: while there are difficulties due to bureaucracy and the nature of the sometime unbearably hot local environment in summer, these difficulties have not restrained or threatened the hope for the future and the proactive spirit that I felt. This is in no small part due to the support given by this rich and fast-developing country, which is investing so much in the field of cultural heritage and research – perhaps something we might like to learn?! I really hope so.

Flavio Marzo