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.

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Thomson-Walker Internship – Round 5!

Our final Thomson-Walker intern introduces herself in this week’s blog post….

“I feel like a pastry chef!”: this was my first thought while trying to smear an even layer of a carboxymethylcellulose (CMC) poultice on a strip of lens tissue to remove a very thick residue of what distinctively smelled like coccoina (a marzipan-scented Italian glue, made from potato starch and almond paste). Being Italian, I couldn’t help but recognise the fragrance bringing back so many childhood memories. I didn’t imagine, back then, how difficult it actually is to remove this adhesive from the back of a 17th century print!

My name is Giulia, I have a Master’s degree in conservation of paper, book and photograph material, and I’m going to be the last intern working to conserve the Thomson-Walker collection of medical portraits. A little more than 600 prints of the 2,700 that constitute the collection still need to be removed from the acidic paper and board supports, and rehoused in acid-free folders and boxes, so that they can be finally catalogued, digitized and studied by researchers.

Print from the Thomson-Walker collection prior to conservation

My interest in the issues regarding the removal of adhesives has grown since I obtained my degree. In November 2016, I did a two-month Erasmus traineeship at the Archives Nationales in Paris, where I treated a series of costume inventories drawn-up with a variety of inks, that had been glued to acidic cardboard, plywood and Masonite supports (it was quite tricky to remove them: if you’d like to read about it, you can find a post about this project here, if you know a little bit of French).

So when I came across the advert for the Thomson-Walker internship, I immediately knew it would be a project I would love to take part in. What attracted me most to this project was the incomparable opportunity of working on a vast collection of prints – the second largest in the UK and one of the biggest in Europe – which spanned over 400 years and varied greatly in the printing techniques. From a professional point of view, I knew the project was going to challenge my organizational, prioritising and time-management skills, and help me acquire some practical experience in making storage solutions. During my studies, and especially after graduating, I’ve been trying to gain experience on a wide range of paper-based materials, such as scrapbooks, set models, tracing papers and, for the past six months at the National Central Library of Florence, books. I still hadn’t had the chance to work on a large collection of prints, so when I was offered the position I felt like I was adding essential experience to my checklist.

Using a poultice to soften adhesive

Removing paper hinge using tweezers

When reading the advert and the previous interns’ entries (here, here, here and here), I was really impressed with the rich interdisciplinary approach the CRC internship programme was offering to recent graduates. By providing meetings with other professionals working at the CRC, tours of conservation studios in Edinburgh, and assisting with volunteers and outreach activities, a preview of what it really means to work as a conservator in a public institution can be gained.

Now I have almost finished my second week at the studio, and I’m really getting into the work routine and trying my best to keep a rhythm. But then I stop for a moment, I focus on the gentleman who’s staring back at me from the small 17th century print I have just finished treating, and I can’t help but contemplating how gorgeous his portrait looks….

Print from Thomson-Walker Collection

Thomson-Dunlop Research and Conservation Internship

Our blog this week comes from Michela Albano, who recently spent four weeks working with our Musical Instrument Conservator, Jonathan Santa Maria Bouquet…

Thanks to the Thomson-Dunlop Research and Conservation Internship, I had the opportunity to spend four weeks in the autumn of 2017 at St Cecilia’s Hall: Concert Room and Music Museum. This provided me with an amazing experience in an energetic and supportive environment where the deep knowledge of musical instruments preservation is fruitfully combined with a welcoming and enthusiastic team.

The project I undertook was driven by the interest in, but lack of knowledge of, two rare musical instruments in the University’s collections known as “violins without sides,” “rib-less violins” or “flat violins” (I strongly suggest you to come and see these instruments at the Museum as they are quite unusual!). There are only three such instruments known and all of them are currently held in Scotland: two at St Cecilia’s Hall and a third at Dean Castle in Kilmarnock. What a fortunate coincidence.

“Ribless”, “without sides” or “flat” violins on display at the St. Cecilia’s Hall Museum

Overall, little is known about these intriguing instruments and this project aimed to clarify dating, provenance, and attribution, as well as to try and establish their function within a musical context. To reach these outcomes, the instruments were investigated using both historical and scientific approaches. The scientific analysis of the instruments was my main task.  I used photographic documentation both in the visible light range and under UV induced fluorescence to learn about the materials used in the violins’ construction, understand their current condition, and to see evidence of prior conservation and repairs. Next, Computed Tomography (CT) scanning allowed for the analysis of the inner structure of the instruments, shedding light on the manufacturing processes. In addition, these CT images were used for non-invasive dendrochronological investigation to figure out the age of the wood – thus clarifying the dating of the objects. Finally, I carried out spectroscopic and microchemical analysis on the materials used in the violins’ construction. This provided information on the oils and the resins used by the maker for the varnish. The results of this study, combined with the historical research being completed by a fellow intern, will provide more information of these mysterious objects.

Violin in visible light

Violin in UV light. When UV light is absorbed by certain materials, it is reflected towards the eye as longer wavelength visible radiation (visible light). The presence of fluorescence may assist with materials identification, detecting damage or surface coatings, and uncovering areas of previous restoration. The colours of the observed fluorescence will depend mainly, but not only, on the material.

This internship has been a special experience for me, both professional and personally. I have gained valuable skills which will be highly beneficial for my career development. Moreover, this internship allowed me to meet great people and work in a very positive and supportive environment. I have learnt a lot about musical instruments whilst acquiring conservation knowledge through hands-on experience. Discovering the amazing treasures in the wider CRC collections has shown me the advantages of the cooperation between great teams of conservators and museum professionals in a well-connected and collaborative environment. Finally, as an intern from Italy, this experience not only provided growth on a professional level, but was an amazing opportunity to learn about Scottish culture and to discover Edinburgh, a truly fascinating city. I am excited to see the final results of the project and I look forward to future collaborations with St Cecilia’s Hall and the University of Edinburgh.

Details in visible light

Details UV light

Problem Photographs in the Patrick Geddes Collection

This week’s blog comes from Project Conservator, Nicole Devereux, who has come across a sticky situation with some photographs during the ‘Evergreen: Patrick Geddes and the Environment in Equilibrium’ project…

The Patrick Geddes collection has a wide variety of material including large maps, photographs, bound volumes and letters, all of which have their unique conservation challenges. One interesting problem I have come across in this collection is a photograph stuck to glass. This is usually caused by humidity and can be prevented by stable environmental conditions or by placing a mount or spacer between the photograph and the glass so they don’t come in contact.

Photograph of Edinburgh from the Geddes Collection stuck to glass

The problematic photograph in question is a silver gelatine print on fibre based paper where the top corner has become stuck to the glazing. After researching this issue, I found treatments for photographs stuck together, but not stuck to glass. I decided to experiment to see if these methods found during my research would help detach the print. The first method suggested was immersing the photograph and glass in deionised water for a very long period of time, with some authors suggesting leaving the photograph immersed for more than a month! I wasn’t sure how long the photograph could be immersed before damage would occur, so I decided to carry out some experiments with some silver gelatine prints from my personal collection.

I cut two of my photographs into strips and left them in three separate baths. One bath contained slightly warm water and I left the strips immersed for six hours. This didn’t have any effect on the photographs, however, there are risks involved in using warm water as an increase in temperature increases the rate of chemical reactions, and subsequently, the rate of deterioration. The second bath had cool water, and I left the strips in for one week. By the end of the week, the ink on the photographs had started to bleed. The third bath contained deionised water and a small amount of Industrial Methylated Spirits (IMS), as it has been suggested that IMS can help facilitate the process of removal. After three hours the photograph had started to turn yellow at the edges.

Photographs immersed in water for one week. Photographs have begun to bleed.

None of these methods were deemed suitable, and further research is needed to find a solution to this issue. Experimentation on samples is an essential part of conservation, and although I wasn’t successful in finding an appropriate method to remove the photograph from the glass this time, I will continue to research this problem until I find a suitable resolution!

Thompson-Walker Internship

This week, we have a final blog post from Irene, our fourth Thomson-Walker Intern….

Times goes by so quickly, and I am already reaching the last week of my internship at the Centre for Research Collections (CRC). The main purpose of this internship was to conserve a collection of medical portraits in the Thomson-Walker collection. This mainly involved removing prints from acidic backings and rehousing them. Some of the prints were adhered completely to the backing board, so the verso of the print could not be seen. When removing the backing from one print, I found that there was writing on the back which was previously hidden. This means that as well as improving its condition, more information can be learned about the print.

Print with backing partially removed to reveal text on verso

I have come across some very interesting prints in the collection. The coloured ones are usually my favourite, as there aren’t many in the collection, but one in particular caught my attention: a portrait of a French nurse. I have conserved over 400 prints during my internship, and this one has been the only female portrait I have seen, so I found it very exciting!

Print of French Nurse

During my time here, I have also had the chance to work on many different projects and activities such as seminars with students and innovative initiatives such as the ‘Crowdsourcing Conservation’ event in which volunteers helped to rehouse a large collection over a two-day period. It has been a great experience working at the CRC. I have gained plenty of hands-on practice, and I’ve had the opportunity to work with a fantastic team from who I have learned many things. My time in Edinburgh has been hugely beneficial for my future career as a conservator.

Store Room Surprises!

Project Conservator, Helen Baguley, describes some of the more unusual objects she has found in our store rooms, and how she has conserved them, in this week’s blog…

One of the most exciting aspects of my role is surveying the collections housed at the Main Library and the University Collection Facility (UCF). This gives me to opportunity to look at collections I would not usually come into contact with, and I get to discover what is in the University’s vast collections. The purpose of these surveys is to determine any conservation work which needs to be carried out to safely house the collections and preserve them for future use. Some of these collections have already been appraised by archivists and some are awaiting appraisal. I create the surveys in Excel and write a report of my findings. The report records the current condition of the collection, lists the types of materials found, gives recommendations for future housing, and provides a cost estimate for the materials needed to carry out the work.

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Thomson-Walker Internship – Round 4!

This week’s blog comes from our newest Thomson-Walker intern, Irene García Bustos. Irene is the fourth in the series of interns to conserve the Thomson-Walker collection of medical portraits. You can read about previous intern experiences here, here and here!

Firstly, let me introduce myself! My name is Irene, and I have a degree in Conservation and Restoration of Cultural Heritage and a master’s degree in Preventive Conservation at Complutense University of Madrid, graduating in 2017. Since finishing my studies, I have had the opportunity to spend over a year doing several internships in photograph and paper conservation at different institutions in Madrid.

Irene working in the conservation studio

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Crowdsourcing Conservation 2018

Due to the success of last year’s ‘Crowdsourcing Conservation’ event, we are repeating the session on 19 and 20 February 2018! You can read more about last year’s event here.

This year, we will continue to work with the Laing collection, this time rehousing section IV. Over the two-day period we aim to rehouse 96 boxes, completing the boxing of the Laing manuscript material.

Boxes from the Laing II collections, before (left) and after (right) rehousing

Damage has been caused to these collections due to the current storage in vertical boxes. Folders have slumped in under-filled boxes, and caused planar distortion of the papers. Tearing and creasing has occurred due to the lack of internal protection. To solve this problem, we want to rehouse the collection in acid-free folders and boxes.

Each day will consist of a training session in the morning, followed by practical work. In the afternoon, students will be joined by staff members from the CRC who will talk to them about their roles, whilst helping to carry out the conservation work. Good quality complimentary refreshments and catering will be provided throughout the day to encourage networking during break times.

Crowdsourcing Conservation event at the CRC 2017

This is a great opportunity to get some hands on experience with special collections, and find out what it’s like to work at the CRC!

Places are limited to 15 participants per day. You can book your place through Eventbrite. If you have any questions, please email emily.hick@ed.ac.uk.

Booking will close on 8 February, to allow us to organise catering. Book now, don’t miss out!

Timetable

9.30 – 9.45: Welcome

9.45 – 10.00: Introduction to the Laing collection

10.00 – 10.30: Rehousing training

10.30 – 11.00: Rehousing begins

11.00 – 11.30: Tea break (refreshments provided)

11.30 – 13.00: Rehousing

13.00 – 14.00: Lunch break (lunch provided)

14.00 – 15.30: Rehousing and networking

15.30 – 16.00: Tea break (refreshments provided)

16.00 – 17.00: Rehousing and networking

 

Under the Skin: Studies in Parchment

This week’s blog comes from Special Collections Conservator, Emily, who recently took part in a training event in London on the conservation of parchment. This is the first in a two-part blog. It focuses on the introductory section of the workshop, consisting of a series of lectures to develop understanding of the material. The second post will look at practical techniques for the conservation of parchment…

From 19 to 22 October, I attended a four-day training event on the conservation of parchment at the National Archives in Kew. Parchment can be a problematic material to work with as it highly sensitive to moisture. Since many of the treatments we use in paper conservation utilise water, we have to employ methods that use the smallest amount possible to avoid irreparable damage. We have a large amount of parchment in our collections at the CRC, including approximately 3000 parchment charters in the Laing collection, so I was keen to find out more about this material and learn the very latest techniques for its conservation and preservation.

Parchment charters in the Laing collection

The event consisted of two days of lectures, followed by a two-day practical session. The lectures were open to a large number of people, whereas the practical workshop was limited to a maximum of 15 attendees.

The talks during the first two days focused on the making and analysis of parchment. The first talk was by Theresa Lupi, freelance Book and Paper Conservator in Malta, who discussed aspects of codicology and how it can be helpful to conservators. By studying different elements of the manuscript, we can learn how the parchment was made, what tools and techniques were used to prepare it and how this might affect its longevity and the treatments we can use. Following this, Theresa also gave lecture on fragments of manuscripts. Parchment documents were often recycled and reused in the past, and fragments can be found in the bindings of later books or used a wrappers for other items. These fragments can give clues to the how manuscripts were historically used.

Drawings in manuscripts in the CRC collections

Next, Dr Fiona Brock, Lecturer in Applied Analytical Techniques at the Cranfield Forensic Institute presented a paper on the radiocarbon dating of parchment. Fiona first described the method of radiocarbon dating and discussed the advantages and disadvantages of using this method to estimated when the parchment was made.

After this, Professor Matthew Collins from the University of York presented his research which focuses on the identification of skins in our archive, and how this can tell us about the history of livestock management and craft. Matthew uses small eraser slithers which are gently rubbed against the parchment to remove a minute amount of material from the parchment. These tiny samples are analysed and the type of animal used to make the document can be identified. This service is offered for free and you can obtain a sample kit by emailing matthew@palaeome.org.

The day ended with a presentation by Jiří Vnouček, Conservator of Parchment and Paper at the Royal Library of Copenhagen. Jiří discussed the methods of parchment making and how it has changed over the centuries. Studying the production techniques can give conservators clues which help date and give provenance to the manuscript.

The next day began with another talk from Jiří, which followed on from his presentation the previous afternoon. He first focused on the methods of parchment making in the UK, and showed the below video of the methodologies used in Britain in 1939. He also discussed parchment making in Iceland and how the preparation can affect the final result.

The following talk by Angelica Bartoletti, Researcher in Conservation Science at the Tate, examined parchment on a nano-scale. Angelica states that not all damage to parchment is visible and by scrutinising the material on a micro-scale, we can detect damage before we can see it with the naked eye, and develop conservation techniques to reduce the effects of that damage.

The penultimate talk of the day was by Dr. David Mills, Microtomography Facilities Manager at Queen Mary University of London. The main focus of this talk was on the Apocalypto Project, a collaborative effort between conservators, scientists and computer vision experts to investigate how x-rays can be used to reveal obscured writing or text on parchment. David and his team used a CT scanner to take a 3D x-ray of a tightly rolled piece of parchment. Using a computer programme, they were able to digitally unravel the scroll and decipher the handwriting, without causing any detectable damage to the document. This technique has also been successfully used to view previously inaccessible archives, including glass plate negatives which have been stuck together, and a roll of film that was severely degraded by vinegar syndrome, which can be viewed in the video below. Amazingly, this service is offered for free! Email David (D.mills@quml.ac.uk) for more information.

The final talk of the day was by Edward Cheese, Conservator of Manuscripts and Printed Books at the Fitzwilliam Museum Cambridge. He gave a talk on the repair and binding of parchment manuscripts. Edward evaluated the balance between the risks of conservation treatment, against the benefits to collection items when they have been conserved. For example, Edward argued that although treatments such as humidification may have negative effects on the substrate, this is preferable to leaving the document unusable, or leaving the item in a state which encourages repeated stress on certain areas when handled. For example, a parchment charter that is difficult to open should be humidified and flattened, rather than repeatedly opened and closed which will eventually cause a split, even though the humidity may cause damage on a micro level.

Overall, I found the first two days of the event informative and inspiring, and it provided a great base for the practical session that followed. Read the second part of this blog to find out more about historic conservation of parchment, and up-to-date methods conservators use today – coming soon!

Conservation Volunteers in the Collections Rationalisation Project

This week our Project Conservator, Helen, talks about the great work volunteers have done as a part of the Collections Rationalisation project…

Some of the main aims of the Collections Rationalisation project at Edinburgh University is to ensure that the library space is being used as efficiently as possible and that collections housed at the University Collections Facility (UCF) are stable and safe to be handled. For this project, priority collections which require conservation have been identified and highlighted. So far the main focus of the project has been on the special collections, in particular the rare books.

Roller racks at the UCF

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