The Good, the Fair and the Unusable. Conservation of Session Papers at the CRC.

This week, Projects Conservator Nicole introduces a brand new project she is working on at the CRC…

I am currently working on a 6-month pilot project to conserve three collections of Scottish Session Papers prior to digitisation. The collections are held across three institutions: the Advocate’s Library, the Signet Library and here at the Centre for Research Collections. These collections consist of around 6,500 volumes, comprising of multiple case papers in one volume. The case papers of the Scottish Court of Session are the most significant untapped printed source for the history, society and literature of Scotland from 1710-1850.  They cover an extraordinary period in the nation’s history from the immediate aftermath of the Union of 1707 through the Jacobite wars, the Enlightenment, the agricultural and industrial revolutions and the building of Walter Scott’s Edinburgh.

The aim of my project is to determine the most efficient and effective way to conserve the volumes before digitisation. The approach to conservation work for digitisation projects differs to other approaches in conservation in that often large volumes of items need to be stabilised for handling in a relatively short space of time. Efficient workflows that focus on minimal intervention are key to ensure the collections are conserved quickly and are robust enough for digitisation. For this stage of the project, we have taken a selection of 300 volumes from all three institutions in four different condition categories:

  • Good – minimal surface dirt
  • Fair – moderate surface dirt, and/or detached labels
  • Poor – moderate or extensive surface dirt, and/or detached boards
  • Unusable – the text block is split in multiple places. Digitisation cannot take place without causing further damage

A large number of the volumes have detached boards. These boards must be reattached prior to digitisation to prevent further loss of pages during imaging. Trying to find a way to reattach these boards quickly and securely has been an interesting challenge. After carrying out research and experimentation, I came up with a solution that would be efficient and strong enough to reattach the boards and also look aesthetically pleasing.

First, the detached board is split at the head and tail to the same length as the panels on the spine. Archival linen toned with acrylic paint to match the leather on the spine is then inserted into the splits with EVA (an acid-free adhesive) and clamped.

Toned archival linen inserted into split board

Next, 5 – 10mm of leather is removed from the spine to which the toned linen hinge attached to the board, is adhered too. My originally plan was to lift the leather on the spine, and insert the hinge underneath, but unfortunately this was not possible due to the poor quality leather which crumbled when lifted. After the leather was removed a 2% solution of Klucel G with Industrial Methylated Spirit was applied. This consolidates the leather enabling the linen to adhere strongly to the spine.

Leather removed from spine

After the board was attached, an inner joint repair using Japanese paper and wheat starch paste was added for extra strength.

Board reattached

I am pleased with the result which is strong, aesthetically pleasing, and time efficient. This is an exciting new project, and I’m looking forward to seeing what new conservation challenges will present themselves throughout my time working on these collections.

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