Assessing books for exhibition

This week Special Collections Conservator Anna O’Regan talks us through her experience of learning new skills and how they were applied to conserving a group of books for an upcoming exhibition.

Over the last few months working part-time as a Special Collections Conservator at the CRC, I have gained numerous new skills such as assessing books for digitisation, exhibitions, and loans. Having had limited experience with assessing books before, I jumped at the chance to assist in a consultation of a group of books marked for exhibition.

Leventis Foundation Exhibition Registrar and Project Manager Emma Ulloa and myself, along with Special Collections Conservator Emily Hick who joined us virtually, collaborated to assess the group of books picked out for Edina/Athena: The Greek Revolution and the Athens of the North, 1821–2021. Emma and I, maintaining social distancing throughout the consultation, were able to assess all the books picked out and agree which ones were suitable to exhibit and which ones were not. Emma called out reference numbers for the books and updated the exhibition spreadsheet from one side of the room while I handled the books with Emily there (virtually) beside me. I was able to pick the books up and have Emily look over them with me via the Wolfvision CZ-V6 overhead projector. I talked through any damage or lack thereof that I was seeing, commenting on the function of the books and whether there were any loose pages or pieces of leather, if the spine was intact, or if something wasn’t quite right so we could investigate it further together.

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“Meet the…Special Collections Conservator” Podcast

Our Special Collections Conservator, Emily Hick, recently took part in the “Meet the…” series organised by VOiCE (Volunteers in Collections Engagement) at the Centre for Research Collections (CRC).
This was a live online event which discussed how Emily first became interested in conservation, her training and career so far, and gave an insight in to her day-to-day life as a conservator at the CRC.
For those who missed the event, it was turned into a podcast called which you can listen to here.
It is part of a podcast series entitled “We’ve Got History Between Us“. Over the coming months they will be exploring the different aspects of collections management, archival practice, and the wider museum and heritage sector. They aim to shine a light on the different types of volunteering going on at the Centre for Research Collections, bringing you interviews and discussion panels with staff members, talking about artefacts, upcoming exhibitions, museum ethics and new acquisitions.
A woman works on a fine long piece of art work.

Special Collections Conservator, Emily Hick

Crowdsourcing Conservation – Thomas Nelson Collection

Following on from the popular “Crowdsourcing Conservation” sessions held in February 2017 and 2018, the Centre for Research Collections held seven more crowdsourcing events from October 2018 to March 2019. This time, we focussed on the Thomas Nelson collection. Over seven days, 67 volunteers helped to rehouse 197 boxes of archival material. The collections are now stored in acid-free folders and boxes, and are much easier to handle and access.

Photograph of open roller racking row of loose volumes and bankers boxes on shelving.

Thomas Nelson Collection, before rehousing

The same row open and now filled with brown archive boxes neatly stacked.

Thomas Nelson Collection, after rehousing

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Completion of the Thomson-Walker Project

In this week’s blog our final Thomson-Walker Intern, Giulia, talks about the completion of the Thomson-Walker project and her experience of working at the CRC…

A woman works on a large piece of papers. Glass weight keeps the page flat.

Giulia working in the studio

We did it! The conservation of the Thomson-Walker collection of medical portraits is finally complete! It took four years, five interns, dozens of batches of carboxymethylcellulose (CMC), several metres of lens tissue, and an indefinite number of acid-free paper sheets, but the 3,000 prints are finally free from acidic secondary supports, adhesive residues and tape hinges, and are now ready to be fully catalogued and digitized. At the beginning of my internship, I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to get through the final boxes in the collection. The previous interns’ fantastic work (you can read all about here, here, here and here) left me with 600 prints to conserve, from portraits classed under letter “P” to the ones under “Z”, with two jam-packed boxes labelled “S” in between. I really wanted to do my best to complete the project, since I was going to be the last intern to work on the Thomson-Walker collection, and also because I was determined to challenge myself, testing the workload I was able to carry out in a short period of time.

Print of an engraving laying in white folder.

Print, after conservation, rehoused in a single crease acid-free folder

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Thomson-Walker Internship – Round 3!

In this week’s blog we hear from Clàudia Callau Buxaderas, who is the third in a series of interns to work on the Thomson-Walker collection…

It has been almost eight weeks since I started my internship at the CRC and sadly, this is already my last week working here. After graduating in conservation at the University of Barcelona, I worked as an intern in other institutions and studios around Spain and now I feel extremely lucky to have had the opportunity to work on the Thomson-Walker collection, a large collection of 2700 prints. I am the third conservator to work on this project, which has definitely been an advantage as I was able to start my work on the very first day. I have to thank the two interns before me for that, Samantha Cawson and Victoria Haddock, as they have provided detailed reports to help the future interns on this project. This information has been essential for me to get into the rhythm and way of working in the studio. In the same way, I hope to provide other interns in the future with some new ideas. Given the size the collection, it is always beneficial to find new ways and methods to speed up the work and to get the most of these (very short!) weeks.

Clàudia working in the studio

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Scottish Session Papers Condition Survey

In this week’s blog, Special Collections Conservator, Emily, describes the conservation problems encountered during a condition survey of a collection of bound volumes…

I have recently carried out a condition survey of three collections of Scottish session papers across three sites in Edinburgh; the Centre for Research Collections, Signet Library and Advocates Library. Session papers are documents used in the presentation of cases in the Court of Session, Scotland’s supreme civil court. They are the written pleadings of contested cases, plus non-legal documentary exhibits such as drawings, plans and maps. The papers give a valuable insight into the social, economic, political and legal history of Scotland. I am carrying out this survey as a part of a pilot project to evaluate digitisation options, and estimate the time needed to conserve and digitise the collections and the associated costs. This project is being carried out in conjunction with John Bryden, Project Photographer in the Digital Imaging Unit team.

Session papers at the Centre for Research Collections

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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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Paper Conservators: News and Ideas Exchange 2016

This week’s blog post comes from Conservation Volunteers Mathilde Renauld and Paula Burbicka, who recently attended a paper conservators new and ideas exchange event at the CRC….

Scotland’s Paper Conservators gathered on May 4th 2016 for informal 5-minute presentations and socialising, hosted by the Centre for Research Collections (CRC), University of Edinburgh.

Organiser Helen Creasy (The Scottish Conservation Studio) began by enumerating the outcomes of last year’s news and ideas exchange; this year’s well attended event will also assuredly be impactful. Talks were enthusiastically received, prompting many questions and fruitful discussions.

Paper conservators at the news and ideas exchange

Paper conservators at the news and ideas exchange

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George, in Focus: Hidden Text Revealed

In this week’s blog, Special Collections Conservator, Emily, discusses how she is using different imaging techniques to reveal concealed script.

I was recently challenged with a seemingly impossible task in the conservation studio; to reveal hidden texts in a book without using any invasive conservation treatment. The item in question is Recueil de Desseins Ridicules (1695), a bound volume with 111 illustrations by French artist George Focus. The illustrations have been pasted down overall on to the pages of the volume, however, there is writing on the verso of the drawings which is now, of course, obscured. Little is known about the artist, and this text is thought to be unique, so being able to read it could reveal a great deal about this enigmatic figure.

Illustration from Recueil de Desseins Ridicules (1695) by George Focus

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