PhD Theses Conservation

My name is Nicole and I am excited to be in my fourth week as the new digitisation project conservator working on conserving the PhD theses before digitisation. The PhDs I am working on range from 1750–1961 and are mostly bound. The volumes vary in size and material. The earlier volumes are bound in leather and hand written, while the later volumes are bound in book cloth and typed.

At present my time is split between two locations for conserving the PhDs: the Library Annex and the Main Library conservation studio.

So far I have mainly been working on the medical PhDs which include some beautiful and what must have been very time consuming drawings. The volumes also house many photographs and x-rays, including the x-ray of a shilling swallowed by a patient!

My current conservation work focuses on the volumes which had been flagged up by the survey carried out prior to my arrival. The treatments I have undertaken so far include surface cleaning, consolidation of red rot using Klucel G in IMS, inner joint repair to reattach loose or detached boards, minor paper repairs and reattaching damaged spines to volumes using a hollow made from archival paper.

Detached spine on bound volume

Detached spine on bound volume

The aim of the conservation work is to stabilise the volumes for digitisation and to ensure the text and imagery are visible. On occasion rehousing is needed, made out of archival board.

Thesis to be rehoused

Thesis to be rehoused

 

Keep an eye out for updates on this project!

Paper and Water: Conservation Principles

This week’s blog post comes from Special Collections Conservator, Emily, who recently attended a conservation training workshop in Edinburgh…

Earlier this year in September, I attended a two-day course organised by Helen Creasy from the Scottish Paper Conservation Studio and hosted by the National Library of Scotland entitled ‘Paper and Water: Conservation Principles’. The course was based on the book “Paper and Water: a Guide for Conservators” (Banik and Brückle), which has become an essential text for conservators since its publication in 2011, and provided by Doris Müller-Hess and Hildegard Homburger, private conservators from Vienna and Berlin, respectively.

This course examined the interaction between cellulose and water and the effect this has during conservation treatments. Paper conservators frequently use treatments that employ water, from simple treatments repairing a document using wheat starch paste, and using a poultice to remove historic repairs, to more complex treatments such as washing paper to reduce discolouration and acidity in the paper, so it is vital to understand this complex relationship.

Paper and Water: Conservation Principles

Paper and Water: Conservation Principles

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Thomson-Walker Internship – Round 2!

This week’s blog come from Victoria Haddock, a recent graduate, and our second Thomson-Walker intern….

I am currently approaching the end of my fourth week of a ten-week internship working on the Thomson-Walker collection of medical portrait prints at the CRC conservation studio here at the University of Edinburgh.

I graduated earlier this year from the MA paper conservation course at Camberwell College of Arts and have been fortunate to have been quite busy over the summer with various short term contracts and was overjoyed to have been offered this opportunity here. It has been quite a whirlwind of new people to meet, things to learn and see in the last month and I’m sad to think it has already passed by so quickly.

Victoria in the conservation studio

Victoria in the conservation studio

There is certainly no fear of me running out of work to do though, with a collection of approximately 2500 prints to work through! I’m the second of a planned series of interns who will have to remove these prints from their current storage, where some anonymous person decades ago lovingly spent hundreds of hours taping all of these prints onto board and paper which has now become very acidic and brittle and prevents further conservation work or digitisation projects taking place. Like many conservation projects, I have to undo all of this work done with the best of intentions previously, and throw the unsuitable board unceremoniously into the recycling bin. You can read about the importance of good housing in this blog by Special Collections Conservator, Emily.

Boxes of prints, before treatment in acidic boxes

Boxes of prints, before treatment in acidic boxes

Boxes of prints, after treatment in acid-free boxes

Boxes of prints, after treatment in acid-free boxes

Following the procedures outlined by Samantha Cawson, the first Thomson-Walker intern (here is a link to her blog where she explains everything – with puns!), most of the adhesive tape (a paper gummed tape mainly) can be easily removed by applying lens tissue packages containing CMC (carboxymethyl cellulose) for anything up to 30 minutes, and peeling away the carrier.

Prints, during treatment

Prints, during treatment

It has been a great experience so far, and I have been fortunate to have gone on a tour of the National Library of Scotland’s conservation studio, be part of some of the studio tours here and the conservation taster days run for the students. It is a great place to work as there is always something amazing being brought in to the studio and there is also a fabulous view, which as many conservators will know, that not being consigned to a cold basement is a rare and wonderful thing!

Print, after conservation

Print, after treatment

Book conservation skills for paper conservators

This week’s blog post comes from Projects Conservator, Katharine Richardson, who recently attended a workshop to learn basic book conservation techniques….

Last month I attended a two day workshop, Book Conservation Skills for Paper Conservators, at the National Library Scotland. The course aimed to teach paper conservators basic practical book conservation skills. It was led by our friend and colleague, Caroline Scharfenberg, who is an accredited, freelance book conservator based at the University of Edinburgh Conservation Studio. I was very excited to learn a bit more about Caroline’s practice, and it was a great opportunity for me to get away from my desk for a bit and learn some new interventive conservation skills.

On the first day Caroline gave a series of lectures on the theory and ethics involved in book conservation as well as a brief history of book binding. We were then able to put some of the theory into practice through a practical exercise preparing a condition assessment and treatment proposal for some of the National Library’s book collections.

Class preparing their condition assessment and treatment proposals

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A Hurdy-Gurdy Experience

Today’s blog post comes from Michelle Kirk, a West Dean College student (MA Conservation of Furniture and Related Materials) who undertook a conservation placement with the CRC this Summer...

Although usually practising and training within the realms of furniture, this summer kicked off to a musical start with a work placement at the CRC, under direction of their musical instruments conservator Jonathan Santa Maria Bouquet.

This was an especially exciting time due to the redevelopment of St Cecilia’s Hall, and I was presented with a number of objects to work with, one of which intrigued me more than anything else – a rather sorry looking late 18th century hurdy-gurdy (MIMEd 1052) made by ‘Ouvrard’ in Paris.

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The instrument before treatment. Photographed by Susan Pettigrew

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Shooting the breeze

It’s not every day that you are asked to conserve a magic spell on papyrus, but this is exactly what happened when I was asked to take a look an ancient fragment of text, recently discovered in the archive collections at the CRC.

The fragment was unearthed by an archives intern who was assessing the foreign language material in the David Laing collection. A vague catalogue entry labelling the box as miscellaneous languages, and an inscription on the folder wrongly identifying it as Chinese script, meant that this item had not been consulted for years and the staff were unaware of its existence. It has been suggested that it could be an Egyptian spell from the book of the dead, but further research is needed to confirm this.

Fragment of papyrus, before conservation

Fragment of papyrus, before conservation

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Conservation Placement – Northumbria University

Lisa Mitchell, conservation placement student from Northumbria University, describes her experience of working at the CRC in this week’s blog post…

Over the past two weeks I have had the pleasure of working with the conservation team at the CRC as part of my summer placement for my Master’s degree in conservation on works of art on paper.

Following an intense but fulfilling first year studying at Northumbria University, the summer has provided a very welcome respite from assignment writing and the opportunity to put some of my newly taught conservation skills into practice!

Working alongside Emily Hick, the Special Collections Conservator, I have been fortunate enough to assist her in the completion of the final stages of the conservation treatment of a collection of 32 portraits from India, which Emily has recently written about in her Passage to India blogs (part 1 and part 2 can be read by clicking on the highlighted text).

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A Passage to India – Part 2

In this week’s blog, Special Collections Conservator, Emily Hick, describes the next stage of conserving a collection of Indian paintings, and explains how she used a rigid gel to remove old tissue papers that were adhered to the front. You can read part one of this blog here.

After completing a condition report and putting together a treatment proposal, we began interventive treatment. The first step was to surface clean the paintings. This removes all loose surface dirt, which can be harmful to paper documents, and prevents the dirt from sinking further into the paper fibres during the later aqueous treatments, making it difficult to remove. To do this we used a soft goat hair brush on the painted areas and smoke sponge on the borders. We cut the smoke sponge into small pieces and used a dabbing motion to avoid removing any of the gold leaf sprinkled on the surface. A good quality Mars Staedler™ rubber was cut into thin slithers and used to remove areas of ingrained dirt on the edges of the painting.

Ingrained dirt at the corner of a painting

Ingrained dirt at the corner of a painting

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Student Placement – Joey Shuker

Joey Shuker, conservation placement student from Camberwell College of Art describes her experience of working at the CRC in this week’s blog post…

I have been very fortunate to have spent the last four weeks in the CRC as part of my summer placement for my masters degree in Conservation of Paper. I have just finished the first year of a two-year masters at Camberwell College of Art, part of the University of Arts London.

I have been working mostly in the studio with Emily Hick, but my placement here has also taken me to the National Library of Scotland conservation studios, The Scottish Conservation Studio (private studio) and I have spent days working at the Annexe (the CRC’s of site facility) with Katharine Richardson.

One of the projects I spent most time working on was conserving a collection of photographs of Leith in the 1920s.The condition in which the photographs arrived in meant they where not able to be digitised. The prints were mounted on thick card that had distorted due to past environmental and storage conditions. The distortion of the card mount was pulling and creasing the photograph. Being so distorted meant that any pressure to put them under glass during the digitisation process would have caused more damage to the print. The decision was made (before I arrived) to remove the mount backing which would allow the prints to relax and flatten.

Days were spent removing the backing down to the layer just above the back of the print. A scalpel with a no.22 blade was used to remove the backing layer by layer and a pencil grid was drawn on each layer to ensure even removal which would support the print during this process.

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Curved photograph and mount

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Grid on back to aid even removal of card

After the majority of the backing mount had been removed and the prints began to relax and could be pressed under glass overnight. Backing removal was something I had learnt on my course but I had only ever done it on large prints rather than a collection of small ones.

Doing aqueous treatments on photographs was something I had not yet covered on my course. Emily showed me a humidification method that allowed enough moisture to soften the paste holding the last backing layer on, but didn’t affect the print. We used fords gold medal blotter, which was recommended for use with photographs as it is thinner and holds less water. We used a blotter sandwich for humidification, the print were humidified for 30 minutes. After this time, the last layer of backing could be easily peeled away and the paste could be removed with a spatula.

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Blotter sandwich for humidification

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Removing the paste

After this treatment and being put into a press for a couple of days, the box of photographs that arrived at CRC curved and stiff are now relaxed and flattened and ready to be sent to the photography lab for digitisation. This was a great project to work on as I could follow the project almost from start to finish.

I have learnt many new skills and I have been introduced to new treatment methods throughout my time here. Alongside working with Emily and the conservation team in the studio, I have also had introductions to other members of staff who have taken time to show me their role in the wider CRC such as the Archives, Photography Lab, Exhibitions, Rare Books and the Musical Instruments Conservation studio.

This placement has been highly valuable to my studies and preparing for work after university. Many thanks to everyone at the CRC that I have met during my time here.

Joey Shuker

Conservation Student Placement

Volunteer Voice – Laura Keizer

In this week’s blog, we interview a conservation volunteer to find out what they do in the studio and the benefits of volunteering….

Laura Keizer surface cleaning a bound volume in the conservation studio

Laura Keizer surface cleaning a bound volume in the conservation studio

1.What is your name?

Laura Keizer

2. Where are you from?

I’m originally from the Netherlands, but – following a short stint in Reykjavík – have been an Edinburgh resident for over three years now

3. What do you do when you are not volunteering?

Despite currently being swamped in dissertation research for the MSc in Book History and Material Culture, I love to go hiking in the Scottish hills and highlands, hunting for castles or other medieval vestiges on my bike, or simply reading a book or knitting.

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