Collection Care blog

53 posts categorized "Research"

22 August 2016

Hidden horoscopes and puzzling predictions in Papyrus 98

Why would certain passages from an ancient horoscope and related predictions be smudged and partially erased? This is what researchers are currently trying to determine using multi-spectral images recently captured of Papyrus 98.

Glass enclosure of Papyrus 98.

Papyrus 98 (British Library Pap. XCVIII) is fully digitised and can be viewed online here.

The British Library holds over 3000 papyri, along with several thousand unframed fragments. Western Heritage Collections cares for our Greek and Latin papyri, while papyri in other languages are found in our Asian and African Collections. The papyri collections are sequentially numbered running from Papyrus 1 – Papyrus 3136 with a separate sequence of 37 items forming the Egerton Papyri collection.

Papyrus 98 underwent multi-spectral imaging to improve legibility on some partially erased and smudged passages. Papyrus 98 is housed in a glass enclosure with inscriptions visible on both the recto and verso. The original collector was most interested in the Funeral Oration of Hyperides over Leosthenes and his comrades in the Lamian war [BC 323] which was placed in the recto position at the front of the glass frame. This partially imperfect Greek text is thought to date to 1/2 century CE with the greater portion of the oration in fourteen columns. However, it has since been discovered that it is on the verso of the current housing where the oldest and first text was inscribed on the papyrus.

The items sits on a table while being imaged.
Due to the long profile, multi-spectral imaging of Papyrus 98 was achieved by imaging the manuscript in sections and digitally stitching the images together.

On this 'verso' side is an astrological treatise consisting of three and three-quarter columns of a Greek language horoscope partially in small uncial characters similar to those of Hyperides. This is followed by an Egyptian language set of predictions relating to the horoscope written in cursive handwriting in what is referred to as 'the Old Coptic Script'. The Papyrus 98 manuscript showcases the earliest example of this Old Coptic Script.

The overall majority of the Greek text in this manuscript is in excellent condition, with the exception of the partially erased sections at the bottom of column III and IV which precede the lines in which the Egyptian language section begins. Other areas of faded or partially rubbed out sections were also identified and hoped to be recovered with multi-spectral imaging.

Close-ups of text on the object in Infra-red and ultraviolet.
Top: Infra-red image of Papyrus 98 showing uncial Greek in the left column and cursive Egyptian (Old Coptic Script) in the right column. Bottom: A composite colour ultra-violet image of Papyrus 98.

 

Researchers are still going through the results trying to figure out why these particular passages were erased and what was, or is, the significance of the obscured text. While the raw images have provided some clarity in certain areas, there are several algorithms which will be run on the data set to isolate and enhance the blurred regions. This is just one of many projects that our conservation team are working on to aid scholarly research and enable further access through digital means.

A side-by-side of two imaging processes; on the right you can see streaks of different colours.
Left: Original image showing fragmented sections of Papyrus 98. Right: Colour space analysis showing the same region in pseudo-colour.

A small number of British Library papyri have been digitised in full and can be viewed on Digitised Manuscripts. Further information about published papyri can be found on the Trismegistos database. More about this collection item can be found on the Explore Archives and Manuscripts resource, while further information about our Greek and Latin papyri collections can be found here.

Dr Christina Duffy

 

28 April 2016

Much Ado About…Possibly Something

Conservator Flavio Marzo reports on his fascinating findings during the conservation of one of the books bearing the presumed signature of William Shakespeare.

As it is now the 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare and the British Library has unveiled a major exhibition about the Bard of Avon, I thought it was a good time to share the conservation work I carried out on one of the items currently on exhibition. In 2005 I was given the opportunity to work on an item here at the British Library bearing one of the few surviving (possible) signatures of the poet. The book, possibly part of Shakespeare’s personal library, is a copy of “The Essayes of Morall, Politike and Militaire Discourses” written by Michaell Montaigne and published in London in 1603. The volume was sent to the conservation studio to be treated before being sent out on a loan and presented some very interesting and unusual features.

The Examination

The cover and the book block were detached and the main task was to secure them together ensuring that any treatment was clearly visible and unobtrusive.

Left image: The front cover of the book in a medium brown leather with decorative gold tooling around the edges of the book, and a rectangle with a diamond shaped design at the centre. Right: The book cover has detached from the textblock, with the spine cover and front board resting on the table away from the textblock.
Left: Front cover. Right: Cover and book block detached.

The sewing of the body of the book, most likely the result of a quite recent restoration campaign, was made on five narrow strips of tanned brown leather. Probably at the same time new end leaves were added and secured to the first and last sections through an over-casted stitching. There was no evidence of spine lining or glue applied to the spine. When the cover was removed the original sewing supports remained laced through the boards and the page with Shakespeare’s presumed signature was attached on the inside of the left board.

The detached cover rests open on the table, with laces visible along the spine and handwritten text visible on the left board.
The inside of the detached cover with the signature page and the original supports laced with the cover.

The original sewing supports were made of strips of alum tawed leather with a second layer of tanned brown leather added to give thickness to the raised bands ensuring their visibility on the spine of the book.

Left: a close up of the white alum tawed leather support. Right: A close up of the spine showing the raised area where the leather cord rests behind the brown leather.
Left (viewing from the inside): A strip of alum tawed leather with clear distortions due to the original passages of the thread of the original sewing. Right (viewing from the outside): One of the trimmed tanned leather strips used to create the raised effect on the spine cover.

Areas of the leather cover were missing at the head and tail. After a thorough examination of the cover I realised that the page bearing the signature, adhered onto the inside of the left board, was not originally attached as a paste down, and in fact was never originally placed at the beginning of the book. Careful visual examination revealed that a raised oval was showing through the page.

An image of a page showing the oval at the bottom centre and handwritten text above it.
An image of the page taken with raking light clearly showing an oval shaped imprint from the recto of the page.

Since the page was adhered to the board along the edges only, it was possible to insert a light sheet between the page and the board. Under transmitted light it was possible to capture an image of what became clearly identifiable as a British Museum stamp - proving that this sheet was, until quite recently, still detached. Under transmitted light it was also possible to locate and record the watermark present on this page.

Left: A close up of the British Museum stamp in red. Right: A close up of the watermark.
Left: British Museum stamp imaged with transmitted light. Right: Watermark of the page with the signature.

This watermark was subsequently compared with others found on the pages within the book block. Although no perfect match was found between the watermarks, there was a very strong similarity between them.

A set of three similar watermarks; they appear to resemble a vase with handles and an ornate topper.
Other watermarks found within the book block.

Another detail that immediately caught my attention was the observation that the damages along the edges of this sheet did not match the losses and tears present along the edges of the first page of the book.

Two sheets of paper side by side to show the inconsistency in staining and damage.
Mapping of the stains and damages show how different and inconsistent they are along the edges of the two sheets.

Remarkably, these damaged areas matched almost perfectly to the last restored original end leaf of the book-block proving that this sheet was originally placed at the back of the book and not at the beginning.

Two sheets side by side which have similar damaged areas.
Matching damaged areas between the signature sheet and the last right end leaf.

The Repairs

The conservation of the volume involved the removal of the leather strip supports. These supports were failing and becoming brittle due to the acidic nature of the tanned leather. The strips were mechanically removed from the sewing thread passages and replaced with new linen tapes so that the book did not have to be re-sewn.

Left: The leather strip is removed with an awl. Right: The new strip has been added.
Removal of the leather strips (left) and their replacement with new linen tapes (right).

The leather of the cover was reinforced and in-filled with dyed Japanese paper and wheat starch paste.

Left: Strips of white Japanese tissue are added to the spine for reinforcement. Right: Toned Japanese tissue to match the brown leather has been added to the leather cover for support.
Japanese paper and wheat starch paste are used because of their strength and reversibility.

A new spine lining made of light cotton fabric was adhered to the spine of the book-block to further secure the sewing. The extensions of this spine lining with the frayed linen supports were then inserted between the leather and the boards and adhered to the boards to secure the book-block back with its cover.

The book lays open to its front page with the cotton strips in the process of being tucked under the front board.
The strips of cotton fabric are adhered between the leather cover and the boards to secure the book-block with the cover.

Conclusions

It is hard to say why this page was tampered with. Possibly it was thought that by attaching this page to the front board it would become more difficult to steal. Sometimes conservation needs some forensic skills, but it always requires great attention to detail. Physical features when correctly interpreted can tell us a lot about the history of an item. It is extremely important when repairing items of historical value that conservators are careful not to inadvertently hide or remove features which may later prove to be significant.

This work, carried out a long time ago, is today still one of my most cherished projects. I am very pleased to be able to share it with you, especially during this year so significant in the history of the Great William Shakespeare.

Flavio Marzo

See this intriguing collection item for yourself at our exhibition: Shakespeare in Ten Acts open until Tuesday 6 September.

18 January 2016

Hidden figure in Leonardo da Vinci notebook revealed

Multi-spectral imaging at the British Library has revealed a figure, in previously unseen detail, on a folio of a notebook belonging to Leonardo da Vinci. Da Vinci expert Professor Martin Kemp believes the sketch may be part of a series of 'fugitive images' occasionally unearthed on da Vinci's work.

Two images of the same area of the Da Vinci page, one showing a erased area, the next showing a standing figure now visible under multi-spectral imaging.

Figure 1: A comparison of the erasure as seen by the naked eye (left) and the revealed figure (right) after multi-spectral imaging.

Leonardo da Vinci (1452 – 1519) was a prolific note-taker with over 7,000 pages of his thoughts surviving today. The British Library is custodian of a notebook known as Codex Arundel 263 after its English collector Thomas Howard, 14th Earl of Arundel. These notes and sketches come from different periods in da Vinci's life, though most date to 1508, and cover a range of topics including mechanics, astronomy, optics, architecture and the flight of birds.

Codex Arundel 263 was not originally a bound volume, but was put together after his death. The variation in folio type and size show how many of da Vinci's ideas, studies and inventions were observed outdoors as he went about his day. The notes are written in Italian showcasing his famous left-handed mirror writing. Folios 137v and 136r, housed together and currently on display in the British Library Treasures Gallery, were taken for multi-spectral imaging analysis to enhance and potentially reveal a hidden sketch in a small area of discolouration visible in the lower half of folio 137v.

Dr Christina Duffy standing to the right of an exhibition case showing two pages of the Da Vinci Arundel notebook. The pages are framed in mountboard with placards in front of them.

Figure 2: Imaging Scientist Dr Christina Duffy with Codex Arundel 263.

The smudge measures no more than 6 x 3 cm and has been suspected by scholars to contain an elusive sketch of a figure by da Vinci - possibly erased by himself.

Folio 136r and 137v shown as two ajoined pages opened out. The paper, of a brownish tint, contains designs and writings both vertically & horizontally, with the left-hand folio showing the darkened smudge containing the hidden figure at the lower right.

Figure 3: Codex Arundel 263 folio 136r and 137v showing notes, calculations and diagrams including a mechanical organ and timpani/drums.

The analysis took place at the British Library Centre for Conservation where high resolution images of the folios and region of interest were captured. Multi-spectral imaging is one of the many tools our Conservation Science team use to non-invasively and non-destructively increase the body of knowledge on collection items for scholars, curators and conservators. The da Vinci sketch was placed underneath the monochrome sensor camera and exposed to light of various wavelengths ranging from the ultraviolet at 365 nm to the near infrared at 1050 nm.

Multispectral Imaging machine. The room is filled with ultraviolet light, with a brighter light on the table where the image will be exposed, underneath the multi-spectral camera. Two reflective boards are tilted at an angle either side of the camera, while behind them are two lights on tall stands.

Figure 4: The Multi-spectral Imaging system is based in the British Library Centre for Conservation. 

These wavelengths reside on what is known as the Electromagnetic Spectrum - a wide spectrum encompassing radio and X-rays. The human eye can only detect light within the visible region of this spectrum limiting our ability to see potentially faded or invisible information. Multi-spectral imaging therefore enables the capture of detail which we cannot see with the naked eye.

Figure 5: The British Library imaging system acquired multiple images of the folio at several different wavelengths from the ultraviolet to the near-infrared.

Filters placed underneath the camera's lens were also used in combination with the lights to capture images of fluorescence resulting in the generation of vivid images highlighting the fugitive figure on folio 137v. The images raise fascinating questions about why the figure was drawn here, and why great efforts were made to erase it.

A Pseudocolor image of the Da Vinci pages, created using three different filters in Multi-spectral imaging. The page shows as mostly light blue, with yellow around the edge, centre and towards the top right in patches. The text and images show as black, while in the erased area, the figure can now be seen, also in black but less pronounced.

Figure 6: This pseudocolour image was generated by combining three monochrome multi-spectral images captured using ultraviolet light with a red, green and blue filter respectively.

Multi-spectral imaging is an incredibly exciting process and has revealed many secrets from our collections to date, including recovering once thought lost text from the 'Burnt Magna Carta' last year. It is an incredible privilege to work with some of the world's most valued treasures and subject experts. Everyday brings new discoveries to light (quite literally!) and the prospect of unlocking more secrets from the British Library's vast and varied collections is thrilling.

The entire Codex Arundel notebook has been digitised and is available to view online

Dr Christina Duffy (@DuffyChristina)

 

21 October 2015

Parchment Internship at the British Library

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 June 2015

A CT Scan of the St Cuthbert Gospel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Christina Duffy (@DuffyChristina)

 

07 May 2015

Public event - Magna Carta: Under the Microscope

We’re delighted to announce that the conservation team behind the work done on the British Library collections in our latest exhibition Magna Carta: Law, Liberty, Legacy will be speaking at a public event on Friday 26 June 2015 18:30 - 20:30 to share their findings. Speaking on the night in the British Library Centre for Conservation will be Head of Conservation Cordelia Rogerson, conservator Gavin Moorhead, conservation scientist Paul Garside and imaging scientist Christina Duffy. Book your place here.

A set of four images. Top left: A conservation scientist cuts white foam on a green cutting board. Top right: A customer inspects the frame which lays on a table. Bottom left: A conservator uses a knife to prise open two layers of a mount board with the Magna Carta inside. Bottom right: An imaging scientist inspects the Magna Carta under magnification. The Magna Carta rests on a flat surface with a microscope above it; the magnified image appears on a computer screen.
Join our project team of conservators and scientists on 26 June 2015.

 CC by 

The project spanned over three years in preparation for this year’s 800th anniversary of the 1215 Magna Carta and involved the reframing and scientific analysis of all of the Magna Carta charters held in our collections, including the two 1215 original versions.

The item rests on a soft surface while Gavin inspects it. The charter is house in cream mount board.
Conservator Gavin Moorhead works on the 1215 Articles of the Barons (Additional MS 4838).

CC by 

The team undertook an initial examination of the original frames to determine their structure and composition. At the event you’ll hear how probes were manually inserted into the frames to take samples of the air inside in order to determine what kind of micro-environment the charters were living in! The stability and compatibility of new materials, which would be used for mounting in the new frames, was ensured using infrared spectroscopy, pH tests, and lignin tests.

A pile of folded red and blue textiles rests on a table.
Mounting materials were tested before incorporation into the new frames. Join us to find out what the blue and red colours indicate.

CC by 

With the frames removed the team had a rare opportunity to investigate the condition of the manuscripts using near-infrared spectroscopy and high resolution digital microscopy. Unpublished images of the ink and parchment at up to 200 times magnification will be shared with the audience.

A up-close shot of the Magna Carta under a magnifier. Part of the charter is visible in the image along the wax seal.
What does 800-year-old ink look like at 200 times magnification? 

CC by 

You will also delve deep into the exciting world of multispectral imaging and see versions of the charters and their seals under ultraviolet and infrared light. The incredible results of the text recovery project on the damaged 1215 Canterbury Magna Carta, from which much of the ink was lost, will be shared.

Once our tests were complete it was time to rehouse the charters – you’ll hear from our conservator Gavin Moorhead about the challenges and decisions required to mount for display one of the most recognised manuscripts in the world which would feature as the dramatic finale to the exhibition.

The Magna Carta in its frame sits in a displace case in the exhibition.
The British Library's London Magna Carta at our exhibition, Magna Carta: Law, Liberty, Legacy.

CC by 

Don’t miss out on this great event and book your place now! We look forward to meeting you!

Christina Duffy

20 April 2015

Making Islamic-style paper

The British Library Centre for Conservation recently hosted a professional course on Traditions of Papermaking in the Islamic World, organised by The Islamic Manuscript Association, in association with the Thesaurus Islamicus Foundation.

The top half of the watercolour depicts two men with pulp in a sheet and a hammering machine to make pulp. The bottom half of the watercolour shows the pulp in a vat, a man with a screen, sheets of paper drying, and various tools used in papermaking.
Add Or Ms 1699: A 19th c. watercolour from Kashmir shows the preparation of the pulp and papermaking. (Add Or Ms 1699)

The week began with a day of presentations covering every aspect of traditional Islamic hand papermaking, including early descriptions of the process, bibliographies, the characteristics of papers manufactured in different eras and different parts of the Islamic world, and the materials and tools used. We looked in some detail at the raw materials (mainly flax and hemp) and at the construction of the mould and screen on which the paper is formed. The process has continued in India into modern times, and we viewed films of traditional workers either squatting to work or standing in a pit.

Katharina stands holding a papermaking frame: a wooden frame with a screen made from grass, reed, or split bamboo. To the right of Katharina stands Tim who is speaking.
Katharina Siedler shows the screen and supporting frame while Timothy Barrett explains the paper-making process

For the next three days the small group of participants made paper – though fortunately using smaller vats, so we could stand at a table. Two excellent instructors, Timothy Barrett (Director, University of Iowa Center for the Book) and Katharina Siedler (historian and papermaker, who has her own studio in Berlin) guided our efforts. The hemp and flax pulps had been prepared in a Hollander beater at the University of Iowa in both long and short fibred versions to give a sense of the characteristics of each. In addition, participant Jacques Brejoux (Moulin du Verger, France) brought linen pulp, prepared with a medieval-style stamper at his mill.

Timothy holds the screen with a sheet of paper attached above a plastic tub of water and paper pulp.
Tim makes the first sheet of paper

Islamic-style paper is made on a flexible screen made of grass, reeds or split bamboo held together with horsehair (think of a much finer version of a sushi rolling mat.) This is placed on a wooden frame, and removable side-pieces hold it flat. The mould is dipped into the vat of fibre suspended in water. It can then be floated, and gently moved to aid the formation of an even sheet of paper. The mould starts to drain as it is lifted from the vat. The side walls are removed and the screen lifted. The sheet of new paper can then be rolled onto a flat board (couching).

A piece of paper is laid on a piece of felt--the paper is placed on the felt from the screen. Next to the couching process a green plastic shallow tub has water and a screen soaking in it.
Katharina couches newly made paper.
Gavin pulls a screen from the water and pulp bath, and a sheet of paper rests on the screen, made from the pulp.
British Library conservator Gavin Moorhead has a go

The next sheet is usually placed directly on top, though we interleaved with Reemay®, because of space and time limitations. When a good stack (post) has built up, another board is placed on top with weights to squeeze out more water. In warmer countries, the sheets are brushed out on walls to dry. We used a drying rack.

A man dressed in a black beret and black dungarees stands on top of the stack of felt, sandwiched between boards, to press them. A while plastic bin is there to catch and excess water. In the background and to the right, another participant has dipped his screen into the paper pulp and water.
Jacques Brejoux presses the post while John Mumford (Thesaurus Islamicus Foundation) makes linen paper

By next day, our papers were ready to continue the processes of sizing them, allowing them to dry again, then flattening and burnishing them.

Tim lifts a piece of paper from the stack.
Tim separates the post of paper for drying

Everyone was able to take away some sheets of paper they had made themselves, plus good reference samples made by our instructors and, equally important, examples of common vat faults, so that we learn to recognise these when we find them in Islamic books.

Kristine has a sheet of paper in front of her, which she is added size to by added size with a ball of white cloth which resembles a large cotton ball.
Kristine Rose (Chester Beatty Library) sizes paper
Katharina stands at a table and burnishes a piece of paper: she uses a tool and rubs it around the paper. Behind her pieces of paper hang on a line to dry.
Katharina makes burnishing look easy

On the final day a much larger group assembled for a symposium, summarising many of the topics and themes we had discussed in previous days and setting them in context. Librarians, conservators and historians introduced recent work and research in collections as diverse as the University of Michigan and the British Library. Those who had not been present the whole week stayed for a demonstration of paper-making at the end of the day.

The week was most enjoyable, but intensive and with serious purpose. Those of us who work with oriental collections now feel more confident to explain the marks or flaws in the paper that we encounter. We better understand the history of such items, and can use compatible materials and techniques if we have to treat them.

Ann Tomalak

23 February 2015

Preserving our digital heritage: how are we really doing?

Digital archiving has hit the headlines recently, as people begin to worry publicly about our society’s digital memory.

An image showing various books and papers which appear to be falling in 5 vertical strips along the image. Two of the strips are in the foreground, while the others are farther back. Surrounding these falling items are crisscrossing lines in blue.

Are they right to worry? As suggested by Google Boss Vint Cerf last week, it’s true that if you do nothing to manage and preserve your digital content, then it will inevitably fade away with time as the software and formats with which to read them become obsolete.

This is a particular concern for national institutions holding vast amounts of digital content, as we are charged with preserving digital assets in the very long term, for the next generations of future historians and researchers in centuries to come.

This endeavour, which we refer to as digital preservation, has been the subject of research in libraries and archives around the world for the past two decades and, reassuringly, there is much progress being made.

The British Library, like many national institutions, has a team dedicated to ensuring our collection of more than four million digital items is accessible indefinitely. The diversity of our digital collection makes this a huge challenge: we’ve got everything from web archives to eJournals and eBooks, digitised archives and manuscripts (including tens of thousands of emails), as well as datasets and huge collections of audio and video content. We don’t collect games, or mobile apps, and we leave archiving Twitter to the Library of Congress, but setting that aside, the collection is still incredibly diverse.

A compilation of various images. From the top left and circling inwards: Chapter 1 of a book with an illustration of a mother reading to a little girl; two wavy blue lines intersecting a neon purple swirly line; the title text for Hamlet; an email screensheet; a screenshot of the Electronic Theses Online Service logo; part of a map; and a section of The Manchester Guardian.

Our digital preservation team works closely with IT and curators on development of end-to end-preservation workflows for all of our digital collections. Our work is currently led by the strategic priorities laid out in our 2013-2016 Digital Preservation Strategy , underpinned by our twelve principles of digital preservation. We have a systematic approach to preserving our digital collections, because planning and preparation is essential to avoid being caught out as formats and technology disappear over time.

The digital collections are preserved in our purpose built Digital Library System, which replicates content across four storage nodes in different parts of the UK.

We have plans in place to make sure that these digital collections are not part of the ‘lost century’ that Vint is worried about; we’ll be monitoring format changes, assessing risks and establishing a technical registry and preservation watch system . This work is constant, because technology is changing all of the time.

At the same time, much of this content is being made available to researchers in the British Library’s Reading Rooms, and we’re investigating with academics how future historians will tackle this enormous resource, as well as how it might be curated.

We share expertise with other institutions in the UK through our work with the Digital Preservation Coalition, a non-profit membership organisation founded specifically to help institutions understand and address digital preservation challenges. We also take a leading role in the International Internet Preservation Consortium, which looks specifically at the challenges of web archiving, and which comprises over 50 members in 30 countries around the world.

Emulation and the use of ‘virtual machines’, which was one of the solutions proposed by Vint Cerf, may yet form part of our solution. Lots of work has been done in this area over the past decade, and our web archive technology already utilises an emulation solution within its Interject prototype for accessing resources in non-current formats.

At the end of the day though, preservation is much more than just a technical problem.
Preservation is about planning, it’s about management, it’s about process, it’s about permanence, and it’s about people. You need all of these things for preservation to happen. And that’s what we’re working on.

You might be wondering how this large-scale digital preservation work applies to your own personal digital content, like those collections of emails and photos we hold our desktops and hard drives. It’s early days, but it’s possible that in the future the expertise and solutions that we and others are developing will be adopted by commercial systems.

For now, just knowing which ones you want to keep, then keeping them accessible and backed up is a great start. More advice on this is available from the Library of Congress.

For further information about the work of the Library’s Digital Preservation team, visit the British Library website.

For more information about the Digital Preservation Coalition, visit their website at www.dpconline.org

Visit the British Library Living Knowledge webpage to learn more about making our intellectual heritage accessible to everyone, as we look ahead to 2023.

Maureen Pennock, Head of Digital Preservation

12 February 2015

Photographed by the Hand of a Sinner

Senior Imaging Technician Kristin A. Phelps takes us behind the scenes of the British Library’s Imaging Services where there are several ongoing digital projects at any given time. 

Click here for an Arabic translation of this article, as translated by the Thesaurus Islamicus Foundation and Dar Al Kutub Manuscript Project.

In the foreground is an open volume, cut off about halfway by the camera, with an illumination on the left page and text on the right. In the background is a computer screen showing the digitised illuminated page.This page shows a seated figure in blue and red robes writing on a piece of paper.

Prior to the 14th Century, Byzantine artists who painted icons preferred to shun hubris and leave their works unsigned. Their work would be placed in churches to be seen and revered by thousands of the faithful over the centuries. Occasionally, an artist would sign their work with the phrase “Painted by the hand of a sinner.” This allowed the sacred value of the icon to remain unfettered by human presence.

Fast-forward to the modern world and a secular context: millions of digital images are accessed every day on websites of museums, libraries, archives and other collections. These images are taken by unseen photographers and are unsigned. The anonymity of the process allows for ‘pure’ and non-distracted understanding of the object by a viewer. But, who are these modern day artists who make invaluable works of art, faith and history accessible to all of us? How does their particular art form impact what we are able to view on our computer screens, tablets and smart phones?

To answer these questions we are going behind the scenes of the British Library’s Imaging Services where there are several ongoing digital projects at any given time. One project in particular, the Greek Manuscript Digitisation Project (GMDP), is working to digitise centuries old Greek manuscripts, some of which include illuminated portraits of the Evangelists executed by anonymous hands. The British Library’s third phase of the GMDP began in April 2014 and is scheduled to be completed March 2015 with a target of digitizing over 300 manuscripts, which is roughly equivalent to 120,000 images. The project has been funded by the Stavros Niarchos Foundation, the A.G. Leventis Foundation, Sam Goff, the Sylvia Iannou Foundation, the Thriplow Charitable Trust and the Friends of the British Library, among others.

Three images in a row. On the left is a camera mounted to a photo stand. The centre image is a wider shot of the photo stand showing the camera mounted above a book which is being photographed. On the right there is another book being photographed. The books are held at a 90 degree angle, so the page being imaged is flat, and the other side of the book is strapped to a soft cradle.

A series of 8 photos in two columns showing Imaging Services staff. Many of them look into a camera's viewfinder or at the set up of the photo stand.

The British Library’s Imaging Services currently employs eight full time photographers, or Senior Imaging Technicians, who represent approximately 110 years combined of photographic experience at the Library. While two of these photographers have been tasked with working on the GMDP, all of the photographers will work on the project at one point or another. 

The eight photographers come from a variety of backgrounds including more traditional photographic backgrounds as well as artists, a former school teacher, a former 3D graphic designer with a specialty in computer gaming and a former archaeologist.

Once a book is delivered to the Imaging Studio, the physical digitisation process can begin. Every manuscript is unique and its physical condition can vary widely. For this reason, a conservation assessment is being performed for each manuscript to be imaged for any of the digitisation projects. This written report guides the photographer responsible for the book to ensure that manuscript is returned in the same condition it was received.

 Once the assessment has been read and understood, the manuscript is set up for capture on a cradle. Many manuscripts can be photographed using an L-shaped cradle, designed by the Conservation Department, to allow photography without damage to the material. When the manuscript has been appropriately set up, it can be photographed in RAW format page by page utilising Phase One cameras with digital backs.

A book rests strapped into its cradle. Above this the camera has caught a human hand in motion--it looks as if someone has perhaps just finished strapping the book in and you get a blur of their hand moving away. Senior Imaging Technician Neil McCowlen looks at his computer monitor.Once the images are captured, they are reviewed and edited in Capture One (minor adjustments only including cropping, straightening and exposure adjustments).  

Finally, the RAW files are processed into both Tiff and Jpeg files before being passed back to the various digital project teams for online publication.

Does this process sound simple and straightforward? It rarely is. Often times, a manuscript needs to be carefully propped up to become level, or has a page which is not flat. The photographer is then responsible for manipulating the manuscript with a very gentle and cautious manner to make the resulting image provide the best view of a page. In addition, items may be housed in glass which cannot be removed for imaging. Senior Imaging Technician Tony Grant gets a book set up in its cradle prior to digitisation.Or, objects may be large and unwieldy or extremely small. Lighting conditions may need to be changed if the manuscript contains significant amounts of gold leaf decoration. And, of course, there are always physical adjustments of the camera position and settings as well as employing a variety of lenses. Throughout the process the photographers have to use their judgment and experience in order to “do no harm” and yield images that represent faithfully the original material. After observing everything which must be considered to photograph a manuscript, the question arises: are these professionals artists or technicians? The Library photographers themselves are split when it comes to answering this question. Half of them consider their particular type of photography an art form whilst the rest view it as form of scientific imaging.

No matter what the answer to this question is, one thing is certain. These photographers deliver an impactful and important volume of work to the digital masses. Scholars from across the world have advanced their research without the need to physically visit the British Library. Thousands of people are able to connect with global cultural and religious heritage with a click of a button.

Of course, the GMDP project is just one example of a common wider trend of museums, libraries and archives digitising their holdings for online publication. In Europe alone as of 2014, 87% of cultural heritage institutions had digital collections. ENUMERATE’s 2014 survey found that the most important perceived reason for digital collections was academic research, which points to the growing field of Digital Humanities. With all the new material available online, a visual revolution of the democratisation of knowledge is happening. Now a scholar is no longer hindered by the inability to travel afar to libraries and museums to see objects; instant access to manuscripts and 3D objects is only a click away. Scholarship is becoming more diverse because open access to online collections allows those who wish to see something to be able to do just that. In fact, in its still young life, the third phase of the GMDP has already been the focus of scholarly research as well as being used and shared by a number of New Testament and Patristic blogs.

Of course, none of this would be possible without the diligent and specialised work of the photographers at institutions like the British Library. But if you asked one of the British Library Imaging Services’ photographers about their role in the process you receive humble responses, not dissimilar to what you would have expected from the original “sinners.”

Kristin A. Phelps, Senior Imaging Technician

A black and white image of Senior Imaging Technician Laurence Pordes standing before the photography set up.

24 November 2014

‘The Salmon Book’: Conservation in Reverse

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

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

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

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

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

The challenge for us was immediately clear:  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CC by Hemp cords being laced into the board.

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

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

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

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

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

Dyes are put on the leather to tone it.

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

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

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

CC by Edges are charred using a candle.

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

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

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

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

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

Royston Haward and Zoe Miller

Collection Care blog recent posts

Archives

Tags

Other British Library blogs