Tag Archives: Conservation

An Astonishing Transformation

THE OBJECT

In the archives we have this somewhat intimidating collection of College records:

KCA/684: Before

Intimidating because it’s mostly 15th-century Latin, and it’s in this temporary-looking heavy straw-board folder

The old packaging

from the early 20th century which is itself falling apart, and you worry the pages will get out of place. Yet everything says it’s important: the vellum is so fine and soft that it drapes like fabric (nice to handle but it means you have to pay careful attention when turning pages), the wide margins bespeak a luxurious undertaking, and it’s one of the College’s oldest of its own documents. The first thing recorded in this volume is a detailed inventory of the College’s valuables in 1453-7.

THE TRANSFORMATION

Or at least we did have this intimidating object, until it was conserved over the winter by the Conservation Consortium and restored to what must be a very close approximation of its former glory.

During this process the Consortium carefully diagrammed all the quires, showing where blank pages had been cut out for use elsewhere:

Quire diagram

Then they flattened, under controlled humidification, and cleaned the pages,

Flattening the pages under weights

stabilising those that had the worst historic damage using Japanese paper. This is a soft tissue paper, often handmade, of consistent quality and free from impurities such as iron particles which can lead to paper degradation, rust spots, or ‘foxing’. It is transparent so that it can be glued over tears in existing pages while still allowing the text to be read, and allows for easily reversible interventions.

Based on evidence found within the book

Evidence of previous binding

and drawing from other historical contemporary book structures they recreated a late medieval-style binding. Boards were hand-carved from quarter cut planks of seasoned oak. The bookblock was carefully sewn to achieve a flat, well-supported opening,

Sewing the block

finishing it off with a quarto style alum-tawed (white) leather binding.

Claude applying glue to the leather binding

Sewing the binding to the spine of the book

Book conservator Claude Grewal-Sultze even went to the Bodleian Library to learn lessons from the conservation project on the Winchester Bible.

The result looks fabulous and now it’s hard to keep your hands off it – the smooth oak end-boards present a friendly, inviting surface.

KCA/684: After

Decorative sewing on the endband

You still have to be careful turning the soft pages of course. The document even appears smaller and lighter than it had done. Archivists will be surprised to hear that even after conservation and in its new protective box (made of archive-quality mid-weight cardboard), it fits in its old location.

The total cost of the renovation was £5000. This has been paid for by a generous donor, to whom we are very grateful.  

THE CONTENT

The volume contains more than just the inventory advertised on the cover, though it’s a magnificent inventory, befitting the holdings of a royal institution. We hope to publish a commentary on it in due course. The volume contents are:

1453-7 inventory (folios 3-12), high points of Henry VI’s charters for King’s (folios 13-26), Library books (folios 58r-65v), a list of members of the foundation (folios 70-77), and pledges (folio 81). There are blank pages between the sections, showing a consciousness that King’s was here to stay – further information would be added in due course.

Space on the page for additions

Due to the specially designed binding, the volume can be opened flat without causing damage.

The 1453-7 inventory was published by G. Williams (‘Ecclesiastical Vestments, Books, and Furniture, in the Collegiate Church of King’s College, Cambridge, in the Fifteenth Century’, three articles in The Ecclesiologist, 20 (1859), 304-15; 21 (1860), 1-7; and 24 (1863), 99-102). Williams left out additions to the inventory subsequent to the original scribe’s activity. These additions were transcribed by MR James and W St John Hope in a copy of Williams’s article (call mark Coll 2/23).

In 2018, various sections of this volume featured in an article Peter Jones wrote (‘Commemoration at a Royal College’, pages 106-122 from Commemoration in Medieval Cambridge, ed. John S. Lee and Christian Steer, in the series ‘The History of the University of Cambridge: Texts and Studies’ published by Boydell Press for Cambridge University Library).

SUBSEQUENTLY

Many of the objects listed here can be found in inventories made 50 or more years later (call mark KCA/22).

KCA/22 also left space for additions

The 1554 inventory in that book is interesting because in the intervening years the vestments had been turned into costumes – see our online exhibition about Queen Elizabeth’s 1564 visit.

Although not as elegantly presented as KCA/684, KCA/22 is still a spaciously designed book with a variety of flourished capitals and a use of display scripts. The inventories in KCA/22 were transcribed by MR James (Provost of King’s) and W St John Hope (antiquarian), and those transcriptions can be found in the archives under call marks Coll 2/23 and KCA/687. The same donation is covering the cost of conserving KCA/22. Part of the conservation will include replacement of the stiff parchment cover which has shrunk, making the pages’ leading edges vulnerable.

Peter Jones, Fellow Librarian
Patricia McGuire, Archivist

 

Video: Conserving Rare Books at King’s College, Cambridge

As part of our HLF-supported Thackeray Project, we have produced a video that looks at rare book conservation generally, before moving on to a case study of the repairs performed on a single book from the Thackeray Collection (Le rime di Francesco Petrarca, Thackeray.L.3.40).

Enjoy!

 

GB/JC/IJ

Volunteering at King’s

I joined the Thackeray Project at King’s College Library as a volunteer in June 2017 having found out about the project through an online newspaper article. I decided to take part in the project because I have a great passion for history and for books. I also believed that I would gain valuable experience at King’s which would be important for my long-term interests in museums, libraries and archives. As a member of the project I had a number of duties which included: phase boxing of rare books, preparing and invigilating the Jane Austen open days and editing on the King’s College website/blog.

Me standing next to a stack of phase boxes.

The boxing of the Thackeray collection books was central to the project. There were many books that were in need of archival-standard ‘phase boxes’ in order to protect them from further wear and tear. Although it took me a little time to learn and understand how the books were numbered and shelved (having only had experience with the Dewey Decimal system previously), I loved boxing the books because I liked handling them and studying their bindings and pages. I also enjoyed the fact that I was helping to preserve history for the future, something which I’m very passionate about.

Me with College Librarian, James Clements, awaiting visitors to the Jane Austen Open Day.

When the boxing stage of the Thackeray Project was coming to a close, I became involved in the preparation and the invigilation of the Jane Austen open days which we had over the summer of 2017. I really enjoyed both aspects of the open days. As with phase boxing, I loved being close to the volumes and learning about Jane Austen and her works; I’ve come away with more knowledge about Austen than I had before. A particularly memorable moment was seeing the Sanditon manuscript which took centre stage at the open days. After many weeks of preparation, i.e. selecting the books, writing the captions, preparing the posters and so on, we had our first Jane Austen open day on 18 July 2017, the bicentenary of her death. I took part in invigilating the event, monitoring the displays and assisting the general public with their enquiries. Although it was extremely exhausting, I had a wonderful time. It was especially pleasing when I found out that we had 1,061 visitors in total for that day which was an indication of the success of the event.

Visitors viewing the Jane Austen exhibition.

As part of the Jane Austen bicentenary events being run at King’s, we also created an online exhibition of the Austen books shown at the open days on our website and our blog. I took part in the planning of the posts and galleries and did the editing of the photos and text. It didn’t take me long to learn how a website and blog work. I enjoyed helping to edit them because I like knowing that when I look back at these posts, I will remember that I helped to put them there: this makes me feel that I have a personal connection with the Austen events. It also gave me useful IT skills which I feel will be helpful for the future.

King’s College webpage showing the Jane Austen section of the digital library.

I really enjoyed being part of the Thackeray Project. I fell in love with all of the books and with King’s College itself. I have enjoyed working with rare books so much that I have decided that I would like to specialise in this area in the future. I continue to volunteer in the library. In addition to my work in the library, I have recently started to volunteer in the Archives as well (as of November 2017).

Harriet Alder

Thackeray Project Digital Library

It might seem that we have been a little quiet here recently, but that is because we have been working hard behind the scenes on our digital library which we are now able to share with everyone.

Rare book spines (from left): vellum (gatherings exposed), three with raised bands and decorative gold-tooled panels, the last without raised bands, but with coloured leather spine labels tooled in gold.

One of the objectives of our HLF-funded project, which is centred around the rare book collection of former King’s Provost George Thackeray (1777-1850), is the creation of a corpus of digital content that will last well beyond the lifetime of the two-year project. This can now be viewed on the King’s website here.

Title within woodcut architectural border (McKerrow and Ferguson 278). William Gouge, The Saints sacrifice (London: George Miller, 1632; Thackeray.I.7.5)

The digital library, which we will continue to add to during the project, currently includes a gallery of book bindings, title pages, a gallery showing the stages of book conservation and a page devoted to the first and early editions of Jane Austen.

Title page of the first English edition of Emma (Thackeray.J.57.10)

Stay tuned for many more images from the Thackeray collection!

JC

Dusty Tomes

If it appears it has been a little quiet on this blog recently, that is because since Christmas we have been busy cleaning our rare books with the help of a team of colleagues from our Housekeeping Department and with specialist training from a senior conservator. Those of us who work in memory institutions such as libraries, archives or museums are all custodians of our heritage looking after our special collections for the next generation. Rare books, like anything else, need to be looked after in the right conditions, and cleaned in order to keep them in good order and reduce the risk of problems arising.

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King’s Senior Assistant Librarian and Domestic Assistant cleaning rare books

At King’s we follow industry standards to ensure that our rare books are stored in the correct environments. We use air conditioners and dehumidifiers (where necessary) in our stores to ensure that conditions remain constant. Paper needs to be stored in the temperature range of 16 to 19 degrees celsius and at a relative humidity of between 45 and 60 percent. If the conditions become too warm and humid we run the risk of mould growth on the books, and if they become too dry and cold there is the risk that the paper becomes brittle and breaks. To ensure that we retain these levels, our stores are all monitored 24/7 and checked by a librarian every day.

dehumidifier-and-tinytag

A typical wall-mounted dehumidifer (background) and a device that constantly records the temperature and relative humidity (foreground).

Various pests can also cause considerable damage to rare books, including bookworms, silverfish and moths which are attracted to and will chew through the paper, leather or glues used in the making of books. Whilst all libraries have examples of books that have suffered such damage in the past, we do all we can to ensure such outbreaks do not recur.

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Worm holes (old) bored through the leather binding and upper board (front cover) of this sixteenth-century book.

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A typical library/museum adhesive insect trap

One measure used at King’s is to monitor regularly each rare book store using blunder traps, a small trap with a sticky surface which is placed at ground level and will trap any insect that walks into it. Monitoring these traps regularly allows us to discover quickly if there is an outbreak of a particular insect type in a rare book store and take appropriate action.

Preventing the build-up of dust and dirt helps in the fight against some of the problems outlined above. Cleaning rare books is a delicate process, however, as many will inevitably be in a more fragile state than a modern book, or might have beautiful hand-decorated bindings that have to be cleaned with the utmost care. Everyone doing the cleaning had to be trained in how to handle rare books.

Colleagues cleaning rare books. Here you can see a soft brush being used to brush the dust on the top fore-edge of the book away from the spine onto the tray beneath.

Colleagues cleaning rare books. Here you can see a soft brush being used to brush the dust on the top fore-edge of the book away from the spine onto the tray beneath.

The process involves removing all the books from one shelf (working from the top shelf down), cleaning the shelf, cleaning all the books individually, and then replacing them on the shelf. No chemicals can be used on or near rare books, and special fine brushes are used to dust the books, always brushing away from the spine to ensure the dirt and dust doesn’t build up in the spine. Those books that have more robust leather bindings can be ‘dry cleaned’ gently using a so-called ‘smoke sponge’ (made of vulcanized natural rubber) to remove surface dirt. We have also been making use of special conservation vacuum cleaners to hoover up dust and dirt. These have much lower suction levels than conventional vacuum cleaners and also come with a variety of fine, small brushes.

Some of the brushes and smoke sponge used for cleaning rare books.

Some of the brushes and smoke sponge used for cleaning rare books.

The result of all this work speaks for itself:

before-and-after_edited

A shelf of dusty and dirty books from the Thackeray Collection before and after cleaning.

This important work is part of our HLF-funded Thackeray Collection Project.

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