Coming to a Close

The latest blog post comes from Alexandra Wade (Preservation Project Assistant), who tells us about the conservation work that has been carried out on Lambeth Palace Library’s manuscript collection over the past 18 months.

In May of 2017 I joined the conservation team at Lambeth Palace Library as a Preservation Project Assistant. I was assigned to a specific project to clean and box 590 volumes in the early manuscript sequence; a project funded by the National Manuscript Conservation Trust (NMCT).

“In 2013 a cataloguing project funded by the Library Trustees completed in 2013, prompted a closer look at the collections condition and storage as well as promoted further use of this material. It was decided that a clean and re-boxing program was needed to protect and preserve the collection from environmental and handling damage as well as prepare the material for the move to the new library building in 2020.

MS 466

The binding of MS 466 

The early part of the manuscripts sequence contains a number of volumes from the Augustinian priory of Llantony, and they include such treasures as an Anglo-Saxon glossed psalter from the early 11th century (MS 427). Consequently, they are among the most important part of the holdings and a central resource for those using the Library’s reading room and other public services. They also form the subject of requests for loans to exhibitions, such as MS 306, a collection of 15th/16th century chronicles once owned by the antiquary John Stow, which was lent to Palace Green Library, Durham, for the ‘Magna Carta and the Changing Face of Revolt’ exhibition in 2015.”[1]

The overall focus was to undertake a programme of condition checking, cleaning and protecting.  This started with: a quick survey to identify initial conservation issues, which led on to mechanically dry cleaning each manuscript; whilst collecting any fragments including debris in the gutters; and to create a bespoke phase box.

MS 253

Ingress dirt within MS 253

Most of the collection is parchment which is often very susceptible to moisture. The material can expand in damp conditions rapidly and dramatically and we were keen to avoid this issue. By choosing a dry mechanical cleaning method we were able to remove the dust but add no dry or wet particulates to the original material.  A smoke sponge was used; originally developed for removing fire damage and soot from a wide range of materials; it is now a staple in conservation studios. Preservation Equipment Limited describes it as: “made of either vulcanized natural rubber, or our synthetic latex free material.”[2] The sponge is made with very tightly packed air bubbles throughout. When one puts pressure on the sponge when holding it, it creates a slight vacuum, sucking material and debris up into the sponge. It had a very positive effect on the text, paper and parchment. A decision was made not to take the sponge over the text. The inks used on texts of this age can be unstable and prone to breaking apart under pressure, therefore the sponge was only used on the marginalia and blank areas of the leaves.

brushes and sponge

Examples of hakes brushes and smoke sponge used in dry cleaning

To clean the main body of the leaves a hake brush was used. These are: “[f]lat, wide, soft, white goat hair brushes, gentle enough for delicate Japanese papers and tissues. Used for dusting, washing, sizing, mounting, gluing or spreading any thin media.”[3] Although exceptionally soft, these brushes are unable to be taken over red, green, or blue inks as these inks are more unstable than black ink and will lift if disturbed. Cleaning was carried out around these areas. Over time I acquired a selection of other natural hair brushes in different sizes that allowed removal of dust and debris from the guttering and from the folds in the pages.

The library and stores will be moving to a new, purpose-built building in 2020, therefore for the past year the conservation team has been packaging the volumes ready for transportation. To do this in-house a Zund project cutter was purchased which allows templates to be designed to suit our needs. There are two kinds of boxes: four flap and clam shell, which are allocated depending on the depth of the volume.

4

The manuscript sequence is now boxed

Using a book measurer, the exact dimensions of every book were taken and using the catalogue as reference, the correct name and item number were confirmed. Boxes are produced flat and then folded before fitting them to the book. We chose not to use a template that would require glue to assemble them but instead used tabs. This reduces the risk of adhesives finding their way onto the books over time and creating a conservation issue in the future.

Whilst undertaking the cleaning items of interest were found in the guttering of the books. Things such as: pressed flowers, finger nails, flies, and loose leaves of other material have all been found in texts. Instead of removing this material it has been kept it in situ, sometimes housed in an acid free paper to protect it if required. The manuscript number is written onto the envelope; should it ever be separated from its original document it can be slipped back into place. In the interest of maintaining the provenance of the item and the text, the additional piece must be re-inserted where it was found.  There has been a push in recent years to examine bindings, and the material that may be trapped in a binding and in the debris in the guttering. Such information may add provenance and understanding to the way the contemporary owners of these books lived, worked, and studied.

9

An unlucky fly within the pages of MS 20

The additional finds have been well received by tour groups and MS 573, within which the Islamic Star of David shown below was found, is to be the subject of our Item of Interest blog for this month. The additional finds (dust, pollen, seeds, hairs, friable pigment etc) can be scientifically analysed further to enhance any provenance data or to discover new historical context.

Judgements were made on the condition of the manuscript and in some cases, it was decided to place handling suggestions on the box and on the digital records. Consideration was given to: how secure the manuscript block was, if the manuscript leaves were detaching from the binding, the effectiveness of the binding cover as a protection for the manuscript leaves, specific damage to leaves, evidence of pest damage, and weakening of the binding components (both structurally and materially)-balanced alongside the risk of producing the manuscript to search room readers and for filming. This safeguards the manuscript from poor handling practices and protects the manuscript from stress damage. This first phase of cleaning allowed us to flag materials that may need future conservation in a further phase of work.

BeforeAfter2

An example of damage and the ingress dirt that can accumulate

The project was showcased to students visiting from Camberwell College of Arts and West Dean College, and tour groups from various backgrounds. By being in the studio I have been able to learn from the projects that colleagues are undertaking at the same time, some of which overlap with this project. I have also attended courses and lectures on topics that correspond with the collection and undertake additional research. Being able to handle, inspect, and work on the books provides depth and further understanding to their remote learning. It has been a great pleasure and privilege to be able to work on this project and the experience afforded to me has been invaluable.

conservation evening
Examples of manuscripts ready to exhibit at a Conservation Evening event

In total we have now cleaned 552 manuscripts and boxed 554.

[1] J. Atkinson, ‘Initial report’, National Manuscripts Conservation Trust, 2016 P. 1

[2] Preservation Equipment Limited, Smoke Sponges [website], 2018, https://www.preservationequipment.com/Catalogue/Cleaning-Products/Sponges-Cloths/Smoke-Sponges (accessed 2/06/2018)

[3] Preservation Equipment Limited, Hake Brushes [website], 2018, https://www.preservationequipment.com/Catalogue/Equipment-Tools/Brushes/Japanese-Brushes/Hake-Brushes (accessed 2/06/2018)

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