Author Archives: pmcintyr

Conservator Claire turns to the dark side (but it all ends well).

I am now in my final week of the Lyell Project; time has flown by as myself and our exceptional interns have breezed through the plethora of material in this collection. Once they had finished their internships, my work turned to focus on some of the most challenging conservation work … the printed books!

Held within both the Lyell new accession and the University’s own collections, 22 printed volumes and a handful of special collection volumes were identified as being in need of interventive treatment. Several of the printed volumes had significant structural damage to their boards and spines. It was clear that through use, the tension the volume had undergone – that is the opening and closing – had led to this damage. I had to be careful that whatever method I chose to rectify this would be sympathetic to the remaining structure, and that new materials would need to be carefully introduced to support the volume structurally. All 22 volumes were at different stages of degradation; they all needed some form of structural repair to mitigate this damage. It was a similar picture with the special collection volumes, which were alike in binding style. This blog focuses on the worst of those bunch.

A small handful of the volumes were in the condition that you see Figure 1 below. Spines and boards were detached or even missing altogether. What was left, was falling apart, and the leather had little integrity.

Special Collections volume before treatment

Special Collection Volume before treatment (SC6373)

Figure 2- Diagram demonstrating the layers of the Honey Hollow technique

After some thought and research, I decided to use the ‘Honey Hollow’ technique to restore the structure of the volumes, which introduces new materials including a cast of the spine that acts as the new structure. The original spine is then attached to it, but no longer takes on any structural responsibility. This was the most feasible choice, as the condition and strength of the leather that was remaining was too poor. An illustration of the Honey Hollow technique can be seen in figure 2:

 

All book conservation work started with surface cleaning, consolidation of red rot and any corner repairs. Normally the first step is to lift the original spine piece from the volume. As this had already detached this was not needed. Once they had been safely stored, the casting could begin. The book was placed in a finishing press, and cling film was tightly wrapped around the spine to act as a barrier from any moisture whilst casting the spine. Pieces of 12gsm Japanese tissue were cut and attached layer by layer onto the exposed spine using wheat starch paste. Dependent on the width of the book, between 7-10 layers of tissue were required to make a strong cast.

Figure 3 – Casting of the spine using Japanese Tissue and wheat starch paste

Once the cast had dried, it was removed and trimmed. The book remained in the finishing press whilst the leather on the boards was carefully lifted using a leaf spatula. This is where the new Aerolinen fabric would be inserted. This fabric is commonly used in book conservation for both board reattachment and spine repairs. As it needed to wrap around the entire spine, a piece of the linen was pasted to the cast with a 1cm margin either side for insertion into the boards. The attachment to the spine needed to be strong, so EVA was the adhesive used for this part of the process.

Figure 4 – Left: Lifting of the board leather, Right: New Aerolinen cast

Aerolinen can be toned to make the original spine piece in other applications, however in this case it is best to cover the linen with a toned Japanese tissue of a heavier weight. A medium tone was chosen that could match the darker parts of the leather, rather than the lighter areas where it had degraded. Once attached and trimmed, it was now time to attach the original spine cover to the cast (making sure it was the right way up!).

Figure 5 – Toned Japanese Tissue cover of the cast

As often only two thirds of the original spine cover was left, some more acrylic painting had to be done to mask the toned paper. The degradation of the leather was much worse on the spine piece, so the toned Japanese tissue did not match it as well as the sides. After a little bit of painting, the overall look of the new cast was more in keeping with the original spine. All that was left to do was to repair any inner joints inside the book at the start and end of the volume with a light Japanese tissue.

Figure 6 – Special Collection Volume after treatment

The technique overall was a success; this volume and others like it are now safe to handle, and the repairs blend in with the original condition of the rest of the book. It was a really interesting technique to employ and, more importantly, a satisfying one.  This was a great experience for me to put both my ethical and technical skills to work to protect the volumes and retain what was left of the binding.

Claire

 

 

 

New blog from the Digitisation Service

Project Photographer John Sikorski attends to the process of setting a Lyell Notebook into the digitisation camera.

Its taking teams of multi-skilled people to open up the Charles Lyell collection! Read all about the Cultural Heritage Digitisation Service Team’s efforts to digitise the Notebooks on their latest blog here:

From Castles to Cradle: Photographing the Lyell Notebooks | Digital Imaging Unit (ed.ac.uk)

Its a long road ahead, but already 87 of the Notebooks are now completed and online. The images are being added to the University of Edinburgh’s Image website, LUNA, and you can find them here:

Search Results: All Fields similar to ‘Coll-203’ and Who equal to ‘Lyell, Charles (Sir)’ – University of Edinburgh

Thanks to all the CHDS staff – keep going!

Lyell staff update the Murray family donors

It was a great pleasure for some of the Lyell project staff to welcome the Murray family to the Library, and to show them how their generous support is allowing the archive to be conserved, digitised and curated. The repairs and bespoke rehousing of the notebooks were found to be particularly interesting.

John, Claire, Pamela, Susan, David and colleagues look forward to updating the rest of our supporters as well as welcoming further donors to Edinburgh in the months ahead.

Some of the Lyell project staff  post with John and Ginny Murray when they met at the University's Main Library

Hello from Pamela, new Strategic Projects Archivist

Strategic Projects Archivist, Pamela McIntyre started in mid January, and will be leading on the Charles Lyell Project. Pamela introduces herself, and shares her insight on the internationally significant Sir Charles Lyell archive.   

Hello! After training in a number of repositories across the UK I qualified as an Archivist from Liverpool University in 1995. My first professional post was a SHEFC-funded project to catalogue, preserve and promote the archives of Heriot-Watt University, and its then associated colleges – Edinburgh College of Art, Moray House and the Scottish College of Textiles. Since then, I’ve worked with local authority, private and business archives, and with fine art and museum collections. I have always really enjoyed the practical elements of archive work, and getting people involved, and consequently, I’ve diversified, working in the third sector with volunteers. My last post was Project Development Officer, Libraries. Museums & Galleries for South Ayrshire Council – some highlights of my time there include breaking the ‘Festival of Museums’ with a ‘Day o’ the Dames’ event (sorry, Museum Galleries Scotland!), hosting an amazing exhibition about the history of tattoos, and spending two days at Troon, Prestwick, Maidens and Girvan beaches in support of COP26. I’m thrilled to join Edinburgh University, getting back to my archival roots – and it’s safe to say, Charles Lyell and I are getting on great!

I’m so impressed with the work that’s been done so far. I want to thank the previous staff for all of their efforts.

I am new to Geology, and one of the ways I get to know collections is by searching for subjects I do know about – using family names or places I know. Lyell travelled extensively, and whilst this may well influence my forthcoming holiday plans – it was particularly reassuring to find and read about his trip to the Isle of Arran – a place I love.

From Hutton’s visit in 1787, many geologists have visited Arran. Robert Jameson published his account in 1798, followed by John Macculloch in 1819. Geologists from overseas also visited, and Lyell had studied von Dechen and Oeynhansen’s accounts of 1829. As Leonard Wilson notes in his book Charles Lyell: the Years to 1841:

With its granite mountains and numerous dikes of traprock intersecting and altering stratified sedimentary rocks, Arran was a veritable laboratory for Lyell’s study of hypogene rocks and for the confirmation of his metamorphic theory.

Charles and Mary Lyell stayed at Arran for the first two weeks of August 1836, a trip chronicled by Lyell in Notebooks 62 and 63. Notebook 62 is digitised, and available on the University of Edinburgh’s LUNA image website. From page 60, Lyell noted their plans – arriving in Glasgow, a meeting with Hooker, and stop offs at both the Hunterian and the Andersonian – then plans his trip around the island.

Notebook No.62 p.60 plans for travel round the island of Arran

He then began an analysis of the geology of the island, posing questions, and offering amazing drawings.The pages of the notebooks are packed with details, almost at a breath-taking pace.

Notebook No.62 p.62

 

Notebook No.62 p.63

Lyell immediately made connections with what he saw in Arran with Forfarshire, Fife and Antrim, whilst taking the details of experts and mineral sellers resident in Glasgow, and making another simple line drawing showing the skyline of Goatfell.

By page 66 he is making significant notes entitled ‘Elements’, culminating in what appears to be the proposed structure of chapters for his book.

Wilson adds to the context of that trip; Mary met Lyon Playfair on the boat across – Andrew Ramsey later joined the party. Playfair accompanied Mary on the beach collecting shells, whilst Ramsey and Lyell geologised. At the end of their trip to Arran, the Lyells returned to Kinnordy until the 28th September. Wilson notes:

It was a long rest and summer vacation – a complete break from London, foreign travel and scientific meetings. During the preceding four years Lyell had worked through three editions of the Principles, three tours on the continent, one long trip through Sweden, and all the duties and demands of the foreign secretaryship and presidency of the Geological Society. Mary had acted in part as his secretary and assistant. She wrote many of his letters, helped to catalogue shells, and protected him from visitors. She had accompanied him on his excursions on the continent often under extremely primitive conditions; she had been abandoned in hotel rooms while Charles was off geologizing; she was often lonely. The vacation was for her too a chance to revitalise. When they arrived back at 16 Hart Street Lyell wrote to his father “Everyone is quite struck with the improvement in Mary’s health & appearance’.

I know Mary Horner Lyell as the daughter of Leonard Horner, who by setting up the Edinburgh School of Art in 1821 laid the foundations for Heriot-Watt College. It’s a small world. I am looking forward to being reacquainted with Mary, whose intelligent support to her husband is evidenced in the Lyell Collection by copious correspondence from when they first met.

Mary Elizabeth (née Horner), Lady Lyell
by Horatio Nelson King
albumen carte-de-visite, 1860s
NPG x46569
© National Portrait Gallery, London

I have not come across any mention of Ailsa Craig! However, I have found a reference to Kilmarnock, a topic for a future blog! Familiarisation – to some extent – achieved, it’s now time to decide priorities, to create projects, to engage with people, and to continue the aims of opening up the Lyell collection to all.

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An update from Project Conservator, Claire

My name is Claire Hutchison and I am very proud to introduce myself as the Lyell Project Conservator at the University of Edinburgh’s Centre for Research Collections. I am a Paper Conservator who has worked extensively across archives in Edinburgh on a number of archival projects. My work has led me to become a specialist in fragile formats, such as transparent papers, newspapers and wet press books. This is not my first time working at the CRC; I was lucky enough to be an intern in the conservation studio twice in my career.

I have learnt a lot about Lyell and his dedication to recording his findings since starting. It’s a very personal collection, and it’s clear that they were cherished by Lyell. The labels and indexes are beautifully written and constructed; one can only dream of having the same patience and dedication with their own notebooks. As a Conservator, I was also impressed to find examples where Lyell had hand sewn his index pages into the notebooks. It’s a wonderfully consistent collection which has been a pleasure to conserve. It’s also been made clear to me since starting just how sought after this notebooks are as requests have been flying in; researchers are keen to start connecting those dots across the collection.

Conserving the Notebooks prior to digitisation was imperative in order to prevent loss or further damage to the bindings. The 294 Notebooks were in varying levels of condition, however, overall they were stable with very few requiring intense treatment. It was clear from the flexibility of the spines that they had been well used and heavily manipulated by Lyell on his travels. The adhesive Lyell used to apply his labels and covering material was starting to fail. The earlier Notebooks suffer from red rot – commonly found in vegetable-tanned leathers from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The leather will become dusty, and the fibrous structure will deteriorate, resulting in the damage or complete loss of the leather binding.

Reattachment of covering material before and after

Internally, it was clear that Lyell had held and bent the spines to write into positions that had caused splits to form between the signatures of the text block. If not treated, these will worsen with handling and ultimately lead to loose pages or whole sections of the text block detaching fully from the binding. Lyell used either graphite or ink within his notebooks, so gelatine has been used to ensure that no bleeding or movement of the corrosive iron in the ink occurred. A strip of Japanese paper was applied to repair this inner joint and prevent further splitting (see example below).

Setup and attachment of inner joint repairs

In some rare instances, further intervention was needed where parts of the spine were lost and the sewing was exposed. This required lifting back the leather of the boards either side of the spine and inserting a repair to stabilise the structure. Layers of Japanese paper were applied to the spine and built up to the required thickness of the leather. Then a final layer of toned Japanese paper was applied to the top, blending in with the rest of the spine piece.

Spine repairs before, during and after treatment

Thanks to generous funding from the National Manuscripts Conservation Trust, two 8-week interns have started working on the Lyell Project. They are helping to assist in the overall efforts of the project, but also have been given their own branch of the collection to work on. Sarah MacLean is currently working on the 1927 donation of letters of correspondence. Joanne Fulton has been given the task of rehousing Lyell’s collection of Geological specimens. This month, my work on the project will continue with the conservation and rehousing of the printed material in the collection, such as Lyell’s own copy of the ‘Proceedings of the Geological Society’.

Stay tuned for more conservation updates soon!

 

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Project Re-boot!

The last few years has seen us all face challenges and embrace change – and the Charles Lyell Project is no different. The Project has said farewell to Elaine and Elise – and we thank them both so much for all their efforts and wish them well. We also need to thank existing University of Edinburgh, CRC and Digital Library staff for keeping the aims and objectives of the project alive – and we can report that there’s been significant progress on recruitment, funding, digitisation, and in conservation.

So – more blogs are GO!

Starting with conservation, we are delighted to signpost you to two brilliant blogs, detailing the work of the fantastic Interns who have been working on the Lyell papers and specimens.

Supported by Project Conservator Claire (her blog forthcoming) the Intern’s light but expert touch has greatly enhanced the health and well-being of the collection. Find out more here:

Righting Letters – Conserving the Lyell Collection | To Protect and (Con)serve (ed.ac.uk)

and

Homes for Rocks – Rehousing the Lyell Geological Specimen Collection | To Protect and (Con)serve (ed.ac.uk)

Reverse of an envelope addressed to Charles Lyell, part of the Acceptance in Lieu deposit. Photograph taken by Sarah McLean.

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