Collection Care blog

Behind the scenes with our conservators and scientists

Introduction

Discover how we care for the British Library’s Collections by following our expert team of conservators and scientists. We take you behind the scenes into the Centre for Conservation and the Scientific Research Lab to share some of the projects we are working on. Read more

10 September 2020

Joining the British Library Salvage Team

This is the third and final blog post in a series about the British Library Salvage Team and the impact of COVID-19. Previously, my colleagues Sarah Hamlyn and Nicole Monjeau discussed changes made to the Disaster Response Plans and team training in reaction to the evolving situation and types of risk. In this post, I reflect on my experience as a relatively new member of the Salvage Team, both prior to and during the lockdown.  

I joined the British Library Salvage Team in late 2019 as an additional aspect to my role as a Digitisation Conservator. I had previous experience of developing salvage plans at a National Trust property, so I was interested to build on this and compare the approaches of the different organisations. I also considered how joining the team would be a beneficial way of developing my knowledge of the Library and its collections, and working more closely with colleagues in the conservation department and from across the organisation. Becoming a member of the Salvage Team requires going through an application process because, in addition to experience of working with collections, members must demonstrate that they are able to remain calm in an emergency, adapt to diverse situations and make decisions under pressure.

Close up view of part of the first page of the induction checklist.
Copy of the induction checklist.

Acceptance to the Salvage Team is followed by a thorough period of induction. It is essential that team members become familiar with the site, existing procedures and the location of emergency supplies and equipment. My main concern upon joining was my limited knowledge of the building, due to its size and complexity and because, as a relatively new member of staff, I had not yet gained the familiarity that develops with time. Some of the most useful training activities for me, therefore, were orientation exercises conducted within the different storage areas. As well as independent induction tasks, I joined the regular team training programme (For more information on training, see the second blog post in the series.) I found the induction process to be positive, detailed and methodical, with a checklist to ensure that each area of activity had been completed. The content of the training served as a reminder that, despite thorough planning, incidents are unpredictable and response must be adapted to each case; which the current situation exemplifies.  

Three people looking at a floor plan of an exhibition together.
Team members taking part in an exhibition orientation exercise.

I had not yet finished the full course of induction training when lockdown came into place. My immediate concerns were accessing information, (the shared phones containing the salvage manual were with those who were last on call), and travelling to site.  However, both of these areas were rapidly attended to. Team members were issued with written authorisation to travel in an emergency and instructions of how to book a contracted taxi. We then received copies of the salvage manual and briefing notes detailing revised procedures, which I found particularly important for understanding what was expected of me during this time. A positive outcome is the change to using WhatsApp in place of email for reporting in for duty and general communications. I have found it reassuring that I receive a reminder of who is on call, and the group contact has aided team cohesion. As the lockdown progressed, I grew mindful about further potential challenges, such as managing a salvage response with the requirements for social distancing, navigating the building with the new one-way system in place and responding efficiently having had a long break from my usual work routines. However, the provision of a remote training programme and the regular interaction and feedback sessions that resulted from this, have been constructive and valuable factors in remaining connected and reducing uncertainty.  

Feedback shared during a remote training session.
View of a computer screen displaying written training feedback.

The combination of reading, videos, elearning, written exercises and discussions that comprised the remote training proved an effective learning method. This supported different learning styles and enabled subject areas to be considered from multiple perspectives, providing a more complete picture. Due to the variety of the sources, I learned about incidents and organisations that I was not previously aware of, which were often international examples in which priorities differed to those of the UK. A particularly relevant case for conservators is the Florence Flood of 1966, which is known as a pivotal event in the development of conservation as a profession, but which I had not studied in detail before. I found the discussion sessions especially helpful not only for confirming that others shared the same thoughts, but for filling the gaps in my knowledge and highlighting aspects that I had not considered. It has also been interesting to hear team members’ suggestions and contribute new ideas prompted by study. In the absence of being able to carry out physical practices, this remote training programme has maintained motivation, engagement and skills development.   

Two ©Playmobil figures, wearing personal protective equipment, are shown carrying a miniature book between them.
Team work

The response to the unprecedented impact of COVID-19 has necessitated flexibility and ability to adapt to an unfolding situation, which are fortunately qualities that members of the Salvage Team already possess. Though this time has been a steep learning curve for all, it has felt that the Salvage Team has become more resilient and creative as a consequence, with this difficult period resulting in a re-focusing of our purpose and approach.

Lizzie Fuller, Digitisation Conservator

03 September 2020

Salvage training during lockdown

This is the second of three blog posts in a series about the British Library’s Salvage Team, and the adjustments made to the Team during the COVID-19 lockdown. In a previous post, my colleague Sarah Hamlyn discussed how our Salvage Team normally operates and shared changes we’ve made during lockdown. Below, I am going to tell you about how our training for the Team has changed.

Pre-lockdown training

In order to ensure the Salvage Team is not only up-to-date in their knowledge of our salvage procedures but also confident and capable if they are called out during an incident, regular training for the team is a must. Pre-lockdown, our training programme involved a variety of exercises which touched on a range of aspects related to salvage and emergency preparedness.

When a new member is appointed to the Salvage Team, they go through an induction period with a number of different training exercises. This includes information on how the Salvage Team works, an exercise to get new members used to our salvage phones and the documents on them, a series of exercises that help acquaint us with various areas of the building, and a series of practical exercises so we get a sense of what it’s like to pick up wet collection items, how to freeze items, how to vacuum freeze items, and how to vacuum seal items. 

Nicole is dressed in a white Tyvek suit, face mask, and blue Nitrile gloves. She is placing a bagged book in the vacuum sealing machine.
Vacuum sealing training during my induction to the Salvage Team

In addition to induction training for new team members, we also implement a regular programme of refresher training for the whole team throughout the year. Some of these exercises follow a very regular pattern. For example, we carry out an exercise prior to the opening of each exhibition, so our team members are familiar with the exhibition itself as well the priority items which need to be salvaged first in the event of an incident. 

The team members stand close together to fill out a paper document.
Two team members work together to complete an exhibition salvage exercise

There are also exercises to refresh our minds about other aspects of salvage. Some recent examples include:

A salvage exercise to remind team members how the phones work – The team was instructed to answer a variety of questions, the answers to which were found in various documents on our phones. 

Two questions which ask: 1) On which colour phone screen do you find a map of floor 1? and What does EMS stand for and in what phone document do you find this answer?
The first part of the phone refresher exercise.

A salvage trolley restock exercise - Team members were given the task of locating one salvage trolley, which tested our navigation skills around the building. We then brought this back to a sorting area, which was set up with a variety of new materials that the salvage trolleys were restocked with. This exercise helped in two ways—it allowed us to replace old salvage materials with new, up-to-date items, and it also gave each team member first-hand knowledge of what each trolley contains. This would help us remember the type of materials found in each trolley. 

 



Salvage exercises in lockdown

Prior to lockdown, we had just appointed a new member to the Salvage Team, and they needed to continue with induction training. So one of the first tasks was to consider how to take training around salvage trolley locations which usually happens on-site, and turn it into an exercise that could be done from home. We ended up utilising the maps and trolley content information that is normally housed on the phones, and stored on the Library’s computer drives in pdf files, and asked questions that could be answered by referencing these documents. This would at least get the team member acquainted with what types of materials are found in our salvage trolleys, and they’d also have a general awareness of where the trolleys were found. In addition, they would be aware that these documents are found on the salvage phones, and if an incident were to occur they could use the phone to help them locate the nearest trolley. 

Two questions which ask: 1) What does the Salvage Trolley contain that could help you transport a selection of wet books to the freezer? and 2) Where is the freezer?
Part of the trolley induction exercise.

We also knew we needed a way to maintain a regular salvage training programme during lockdown for the whole team. There is risk that without being in the building regularly, you might not only forget what used to be everyday things about the Library, but salvage procedures could be forgotten as well. If you’re called out, you may find yourself feeling even more flustered than usual.  Additionally, as mentioned in Sarah’s blog post, our salvage phones which contain guidance on how to respond to an incident were with the people who had them last before lockdown, so this guidance would not be easily accessible for most of us should we be called out. So we decided to create a series of exercises which could be done from Salvage Team members’ homes.

But how to carry out an exercise from home? Well, we utilised what would be readily available to most people: material which is available online, including articles, videos, and eLearning modules.

We decided to send fortnightly exercises that walked the team through all the stages of emergency planning and the salvage process. This started at the very beginning with planning, and we sent the team links to the Museum of London Introduction to Emergency Planning elearning tool and the Collections Trust Emergency planning for collections webpage. We then asked them to answer the following question: In planning for emergencies, it’s recommended to mitigate risks to collections. Can you think of ways we have done this at the Library? Our exercises carried on in that vein, with topics including fire and flood case studies, decision making, and types of damage caused during a salvage incident, with a series of questions being asked relating to the resources in each exercise. 

With every two exercises complete, we gathered the team for Zoom meetings. Prior to these meetings, I collated all responses to the exercises, and decided how to present that information in a meeting, starting with simply sharing my screen and going through a Word document and eventually moving to making a more visual PowerPoint presentation. These meetings allowed team members to hear what other people thought and confirmed that on the whole we are considering the same issues. It was also a forum to raise questions and make suggestions. 

A computer monitor displaying a slide which says, 'What are some of the techniques in the videos that we might need to adapt if we were dealing with an incident at the Library? what would work for us and what wouldn't?' The text is white on a pink background and to the right of the monitor is a panel of participants in the Zoom meeting.
A slide from our feedback session via Zoom.

One highlight for me was a question where we asked people to tell us about incidents they’ve been involved in as well as lessons learnt when responding to these incidents. We got such great insights in these responses that we decided the responses should form their own exercise. This was a great way to share information with fellow team members and learn from one another.

Lessons learnt and next steps

In addition to this being a useful way to continue to train the team and to share knowledge, it was also a useful way for us to consider what might be missing from our plans and from the way the team operates. 

Throughout these training sessions, we’ve asked team members what would be useful to have in our own emergency plan and on our salvage phones. This has resulted in a number of suggestions which can indeed be implemented and will only improve our plan and responses to an incident. Some of these suggestions include: more training and involvement across the wider Library, particularly with other teams who would likely be responding to an incident; communicating with Salvage Teams from other institutions to compare notes; and visual aids like flow charts being added to the information stored on our phones. There were also a lot of requests for more team building through things like wash-ups after incidents and off-site exercises to get to know one another better.

The next step is to take all suggestions that have been made and to create an action plan. From there we can start to prioritise items and form our goals for the next year and beyond. We intend to involve the whole Salvage Team in putting together many of these objectives. Being one of the people who puts together training for the Team, I understand just how useful it is to create the training yourself. You form a better understanding of how our policies work, which will hopefully translate into making you a better responder should an incident happen. So by involving the whole team in future training and policy adjustments, we can all become better acquainted with our procedures. Additionally, it gives people ownership over the training they have requested.

Two Playmobil figures: one is pushing a trolley and the other holds BL-branded paperwork. They are set up to simulate a salvage scene.

Final thoughts

Overall this training has been a great way to learn from one another and to also push our own boundaries with regards to what we consider training. We are constantly looking to refresh and improve our training programme—after all, the better trained we are the better responders we will be—and this has shown us that we can adapt and be creative, and come up with exercises that suit not only a variety of learning styles but also a variety of working patterns.

Stay tuned for a blog post from Digitisation Conservator Lizzie, who will be sharing information about the Salvage Team from a perspective of someone who has been somewhat recently inducted.

Nicole Monjeau

Preventive Conservator

28 August 2020

Disaster Response Plans during COVID-19

The Conservation Department has a well-established emergency response system with Salvage Teams at both our London and West Yorkshire sites. Team members are on a callout rota and will work alongside other colleagues if we have an incident that threatens our collections.

On 23rd March this year, The UK Government announced a nationwide lockdown in response to COVID-19. We, like many others in the sector, had to re-evaluate our underlying assumptions about how we would respond to incidents affecting our collections. Countrywide we were now discouraged from travelling and asked to remain at home.

We are fortunate that our colleagues in the Estates, Health and Safety and Security teams have continued to work through lockdown, keeping our buildings and collections safe. This reduces the likelihood that the Salvage Team would need to be called out. However, we needed to make sure we understood when, and how, we could effectively respond if either Team were required.

Wet books used as props to train the Salvage Team in sorting and recovery techniques; the books are wet and warped.
A crate of wet and damaged books used in practical Salvage Team response and recovery training

Reviewing procedures

This meant we had to review our procedures in the midst of an unfolding situation. We had limited guidance and prior experience to refer to, and so worked methodically one step at a time. Firstly, we clarified what we were permitted to do under the lockdown restrictions and then considered what changes we needed to make to our procedures. The situation meant that we had to be flexible and we realised that any updates made could be subject to further change at a later stage.

Secondly, we needed to communicate any changes to the Salvage Team and other stakeholders, most of whom were now at home and not necessarily easily contactable.

Close up image of text on page
The aim was to produce clear updates to existing procedures

Team safety

Our primary consideration was the safety of the Salvage Team and other colleagues. We already have risk assessments covering normal salvage operations, so my colleague Emily Watts (Collection Care North Manager) and I began by drafting a COVID-19 specific health and safety risk assessment. The risk assessment covered all aspects of the response, from travel to safe working on site. Considerations included: Under what circumstances could the team travel? Were usual travel methods advisable? Were there personal considerations which meant that people preferred not to be on call at this time? 

Any changes that we made also needed to reflect site differences. For example, in West Yorkshire, most people drive while in London, the majority of the team is reliant on public transport.

Secondly, while we always consider the option of providing advice without being on site, we worked through this in more detail to reduce further the likelihood that anyone would be needed on site. If there was a need to attend, could team members arrange to arrive at the point when they were needed? What practical help could we provide remotely and what did we need to be on site to do?

Risks to collection

At the same time, I was taking part in a separate exercise to assess risks to collections during this period. It is natural to assume that while buildings are closed, risks also increase. However, while some may increase, others reduce. The risk assessment evaluated how the picture had changed and identified any increased risks. The outcomes enabled us to identify any mitigation that was needed, for example, regular on-site checks or closer liaison with colleagues who were on site.

Briefing notes communicated the risk assessment outcomes to the Salvage Team. We also briefed our key stakeholders; this ensured that there was a common understanding of the measures in place should there be an incident during this period.

As time has moved on, the lockdown has eased. We have started to reoccupy and open our buildings, and the risk assessment - as a living document - can be revisited and updated.

Practical salvage operations

Once on-site, we needed to consider how the Team could work safely. We needed to think about how the requirement for social distancing could be incorporated when, by its nature, salvage operations rely on close physical working with colleagues.

We have a range of PPE available to the team, but rather than this being selected in response to the incident, we now ask that people don specific items from their arrival on site. In terms of revised procedures, we want to maintain flexibility and not be too prescriptive. We are therefore encouraging Salvage Team members to plan the response carefully to limit the need for close working wherever possible. The Team have been encouraged to raise issues and, ultimately, told to cease operations if they have concerns.

Small adjustments to workflows can be made to ensure social distancing, but there is a knock-on impact. For example, we can minimise activities that do require people to work together closely, such as sheeting up with plastic. We can encourage the use of tools, such as trolleys, rather than passing items from person to person or moving them in pairs. However, we need to accept that this will mean that working methods are less efficient and so could take longer. Team members may also need to rotate more frequently and work shorter shifts, and have more breaks.

By contrast, working remotely, we have realised that video calling software creates more options to provide an immediate off-site response or to have a hybrid response with some team members on-site and others providing assistance from home.

Four Playmobil figures, wearing personal protective equipment, are shown using emergency response equipment
It was important to ensure the Salvage Team felt safe if they were called out

Responding to emergencies

By working out what the significant risks were, and combining this with the need to ensure staff safety, we could then look at how this would affect our response.

As an example, our system is based on us using a series of pool phones which contain our salvage manual in a set of small files. This structure enables the user to navigate to the content that they want rather than wading through a long document to find the relevant section. Each week, those on-call pick up their allocated salvage phone and then return it at the end of their duty week. Now the phones were with those who last used them with no mechanism to swap them between us.

A priority for me was to ensure that everyone still had this information in some form when they were on-call. Provided as long-form documents, this reinforced how well the small bite-size files works. I'm currently working with our IT department to investigate options to switch from using the pool phones to using secure collaborative tools. These can be accessed on a range of devices, ensuring easier access to all Salvage Team resources by multiple users. Changing systems also presents an opportunity to save costs on handsets and data contracts.

One thing we did maintain was our usual rota system whereby the Team members on-call that week report in by email every Monday morning. However, during the lockdown, we have been using WhatsApp (a group messaging app). Communications go to all team members at once, which means that there is less chance of missing a notification if someone can't do their duty or needs to call out the whole team. Again collaborative working tools provide more sophisticated messaging options which could simplify this further.

Some short term changes to procedures, introduced to cover the lockdown period and early stages of reoccupation, are no longer needed.  However, if the need arose, we could reinstate them. Remote working has also reinforced those temporary procedures that work well which we want to continue to use.

 Identical information is shown on a phone screen and on a piece of paper to illustrate differences in ease of use
The benefits of short electronic files were clear when compared with long form documents

Staying in touch

One of the on-going risks we identified was the challenge of keeping distributed Salvage Team members in contact. Team cohesion is critical; successful incident response depends on everyone working together as a team and supporting each other. Not all team members typically work closely together, and those that do were now physically separated. We have recently recruited three new team members to the London Salvage Team, one of whom had not begun their induction process. It was important to me that they and their colleagues felt supported in this unprecedented situation and so we started to think about how best to do this.

Over the last 18 months, I have completely revised the Salvage Team induction training. One of the new additions is a module around decision-making. This involved looking back at actual incidents to discuss what had occurred, how people were alerted, who did what and how decisions were made. New team members who have completed this fed back that they felt reassured by this and much clearer about their role in an emergency. An outstanding action was for existing Team Members to attend the same session.

We have also been offering individual training exercises, for induction training and general refresher training alongside as group exercises. Feedback from these had been positive as people could complete them at their convenience and own pace. We realised that offering similar activities, to be completed at home, would deliver a double benefit. It was a way of keeping the Salvage Team in contact while also ensuring that their skills and knowledge are maintained.

A slide from a decision-making training presentation, which outlines key principles, is displayed on laptop screen
A presentation on decision-making is a key part of the Salvage Team induction process

In the next blog, my colleague Nicole Monjeau will explain more about this training programme and how it has developed into something much more valuable than we'd envisaged.

Sarah Hamlyn

Lead Preventive Conservator

29 July 2020

A Book Conservator Without Any Books: Part 1

By Samantha Hare (Book Conservation Intern)

As I write this it’s been 134 days and 6 hours since I last stepped foot in the British Library (not that I’m counting or anything). I began a year-long internship in book conservation last November, arranged by Icon and funded by the Clare Hampson Fund. This experience has taken a drastic change over the last few months, as we as a nation have gone into lockdown. Instead, social distancing, PPE, Zoom Calls and Tiger King have all become part of our daily vocabulary. I have been reflecting upon how my internship has changed as we all continue in this uncertainty, questioning how the future of heritage is going to look over the coming months.

A black and white pencil drawing of the British Library building. The conference centre and piazza are also drawn. Her pencil is at the top of the photograph.

Image 1: My illustration of the British Library - drawn in my garden, can you tell I’m missing the building?

A bit more about me...

In 1997, at the age of four I decided I wanted to be a conservator. With my parents I visited Brighton pavilion and saw a woman restoring wallpaper, she patiently explained what she was doing and I sat and watched her. Since then I have wanted to work in heritage, but it wasn’t until my teenage years that I found out about book and paper conservation. Last summer I graduated from Camberwell College of Arts with an MA in Paper and Book Conservation (specialising in books and archives).

So conservation is a profession that not many people know about, and as an emerging professional it is always something I’m happy to explain. I was once asked at an interview how I would explain conservation to someone at a party, (remember those?!). I described conservation as the management of change, safeguarding collections and preserving items for future generations to view and receive knowledge and enjoyment from. Book conservators have an understanding of the mechanics of a book and its significance, be it culturally, visually, economically etc. They have a growing knowledge of the different binding processes, in order to conserve and care for those that are damaged, and an awareness of deterioration and how collections are altered by age. At a party I’d usually digress and say, I understand and fix old books, which really is only the tip of the iceberg.

My parents, both wonderfully patient and encouraging individuals just about have this explanation down when one of their friends asks ‘So what IS Samantha doing?’ However, lockdown has really confused my family and friends. Because how can I be a conservator if I can’t access the books?

Back to the present day...

At the British Library I was working on a variety of flat and bound works, including an Islamic manuscript, bound Civil War tracts, a 12th century parchment manuscript and a large guard book I am binding from scratch, assisted and taught by experienced conservators in the department. Currently these books are locked away safely in the Inergen room inside the library, whilst I’m at home under lockdown in Forest Hill, South East London, with my partner, two housemates and two cats.

Contrary to confused family faces over Zoom, a conservator at home still has a lot to do! When I applied for the internship at The British Library I was so excited to learn from so many incredibly talented conservators in the department that I would become a small part of. My colleagues and mentors have all trained at various times and in different places, resulting in a huge practical breadth of knowledge and experience displayed by my team and others. From November until lockdown began I received such wonderful training at my bench, and my internship was everything I thought it would be and more.

I have always been aware that there’s so much more to conservation than the practical work, despite that being my main area of interest. For example, the preventive side. Controlling the environment should be the primary and most fundamental care for any object extending to the storage and rehousing of volumes.

Entering lockdown I have seen the British Library shift to digital communication, maintaining their duty to provide mental nourishment for its online visitors. There have also been connections with the local community, such as conservation donating their PPE to frontline workers (usually used by us when dealing with chemicals or harmful substances such as mould in the quarantine room).

Upcoming exhibitions are an important consideration, from the organisation, storage, and loans; up to the installation of the objects with social distancing in place. Post-install, the rules for social distancing have changed how an exhibition can be viewed; during lockdown a large consideration has been the technical challenges that come with this, e.g. audio aids such as headphones and visual aids such as touch screens can no longer be used. As such museums and galleries are coming up with innovative alternatives. Through shadowing senior members of the conservation team in meetings I have seen just how many internal members of staff and departments come together in the curation and creation of an exhibition. I have also had a glimpse at the external teams involved, such as contractors and transportation companies responsible for the safe journey of an object to The British Library, many of whom are currently furloughed so unable to take part in strategising.

A large portion of a conservator’s time at home revolves around continuing professional development. This can take many forms, such as webinars, and online courses. Digitally I have learnt a wide range of skills and developed an understanding in areas such as historical imperfections to paper at the time of manufacture, the materiality of early Islamic bindings, pigments used around the globe to the possibilities of using x-ray scanners in conservation digitisation.

A photograph of Samantha's home desk showing an open laptop, a desk covered in notes, a mug of tea and her cat Reno yawning next to the laptop.

Image 2: A photograph of my desk, our cat Reno has also become a regular attendee of webinars and team meetings.

There has been continuation in my own research and many subgroups within the department furthering conservation methodology, as well as an opportunity for scientific tests and advancement, with scaled back tests being completed from home. I myself took part in a washing experiment, guided by textile conservation; I created samples with flaking pigments to test at home. One of my housemates was at the time baking banana bread (surely we all have by now?) so I used our bathroom. I created a washing bath in a plastic storage box, the only flat surface in the tiny bathroom being the toilet lid so I had to ask my housemates to alert me if they needed to use the facilities as I was ‘doing science’ in there.

A large portion of time has also been spent completing and updating risk assessments and health and safety procedures, an ongoing process within the department. There has also been an overview of workflows regarding conservation processes both internal and external to the library. Considering the decision making from acquisition, to the curator’s desk, to the conservator’s bench, to display in the galleries, to a reader’s request. Like most people working from home I have spent the majority of my time at a computer, but I have also been developing my practical skills at home, maintaining dexterity and my hand skills so that when I can safely return to my bench my practical skills don’t feel like a distant memory.

Some endband and binding models Samantha has made at home. The images show tools, scissors, a ruler, some pins and threads with some finished and unfinished endband work.

Image 3: Some endband and binding models I’ve made at home.

These are just some of the areas I’ve been focussing whilst in lockdown, showing the diverse skills possessed by conservators whose knowledge has to cover this wide field. As we’ve adapted to working in the great indoors, my tool roll has remained mostly untouched except for the odd brush or needle. This has allowed me to evaluate the non practical tools a conservator equips themselves with when they are away from their bench. There are too many to list so I have instead tried to capture this in an illustration of my tool roll.

Samantha's black and white pencil illustration of a conservators tools, inscribed with the tools a conservator uses away from their bench. Some pencil shavings are shown in the top right of the photograph.

Image 4: My illustration of a conservators tools, inscribed with the tools a conservator uses away from their bench.

My diary is filling up with plans for the next few months as we take the first hesitant step out of lockdown, surrounded in uncertainty for the future of heritage. Further updates about that in Part 2.

In the meantime if you wish to see more please follow my instagram @samanthahareconservation.

Thanks for reading and stay safe!

14 July 2020

Starting with A Book – A Conservator in the Lockdown

The pandemic took the conservation department in the British Library by surprise along with everybody else! Conservators working on physical objects found themselves transported to digital working overnight. For some it was an easy transition, while others adjusted with a few more hiccups on the way, but all were missing practical conservation and working on objects. Home libraries in need of attention were in luck in the pandemic - mine certainly was, and one such book sent me on a voyage of discovery. The book: Maria, Lady Callcott by Rosamund Brunel Gotch, was a modest looking cloth bound book suitably embellished with a picture of a sailing ship gold tooled on the front cover.

The picture of the front cover before conservation showing a red cover with a gold leaf ship in the lower right hand corner. Some loss is evident on the cover.. The picture of the front cover after conservation showing a red cover with a gold leaf ship in the lower right hand corner. Loss is no longer evident on the cover..
Picture 1: The picture of the front cover before and after conservation.

The book, passed down through generations, must have been tightly squeezed on the shelf at some point of its life, as paper fibers from the adjacent book transferred onto the cover. It didn’t need much work, but it was a pleasure to hold a scalpel in my hand and to take time to remove the paper fibers. A gentle saliva swab dealt with the remaining adhesive residue.

The text block inside the covers was in good condition but with time on my hands, I looked through the contents and was intrigued by the subject of the book; Maria Callcott, a Regency woman who lived and travelled extensively in the days when getting to places took months and a travelling woman was an anomaly rather than a norm!

Title page reading: Maria, Lady Callcott. The Creator of “Little Arthur” by Rosamund Brunel Gotch.

Picture 2: Title page.

My itchy hands, however, would have moved to the next project without delving too much into the contents, had it not been for the gradual release of the lockdown and a prospect of meeting a friend in an open space within easy reach. My friend suggested Kensal Green Cemetery, an unusual choice but quieter than parks in the pandemic. It was also a resting place of many well-known people including Maria and her husband, Sir Augustus Wall Callcott, a notable painter and the Surveyor of the Queen’s Paintings. There was a chance we might locate Maria Callcott’s final resting place during our meeting too.

Before the meeting we checked the coordinates for a few graves we wanted to find and discovered that a number of well-known people had none listed but there were some for Maria’s husband.

The weather throughout the lockdown had been a real tonic, and the sun shone for our meeting too. We had a nice stroll through a very atmospheric place, but finding graves was near impossible. The cemetery lost its original layout and most graves lost their inscriptions. It looked like the story of my book would have ended there had it not been for another twist. The Callcotts’ grave could only be located because of Maria, rather than her more distinguished husband. It was restored 12 years ago by the Chilean embassy with a plaque dedicated to Maria.

Plaque reading: Here lies Lady Maria Callcott formerly Graham 1785 – 1842 A friend of the nation of Chile and her husband Sir Augustus Wall Callcott R.A. 17-86 – 1844 Artist Placed here by the Embassy of Chile

Picture 3: Picture of the plaque on Maria’s grave.

The passage of time has righted a historical wrong. Maria, the wife of Sir Augustus Wall Callcott became Maria, a woman in her own right, a friend to the Chilean nation, an intrepid traveller, an author and an illustrator of her travel, art and children’s books, and a governess to a Brazilian princess. I feel I should now try to find more about her by not putting the book back on the shelf and reading Maria’s biography.

Iwona Jurkiewicz-Gotch

P.S. After the above blog had been completed I came across another blog about Maria posted on the V&A website, which might be of interest.

27 June 2020

Paper Express! A Hand-Made Tale

Heather Murphy

Recently, within the conservation studio of the British Library Qatar Foundation Partnership, watermarks have been a theme. Throughout the months leading up to lockdown, my colleague Camille and I began developing a project based around some interesting examples of watermarks we discovered in a series of IOR Ship’s Journals dating from 1605-1705 being digitised by the project.  We have since been developing various aspects of this, one of which has been to create a (very) short instructional video on how to make paper, complete with personal watermarks, and the delivery of a paper-making workshop to the BLQFP team. (Another aspect of which has been the remote collaboration with Jordi Clopes-Masjuan and Matt Lee from the BLQFP Imaging team to develop digital tools for the viewing and analysis of watermarks in the collection). 

Having begun our research into watermarks, it was decided that we should attempt to make our own in the hope of learning more about their construction, and to demonstrate to the wider team how they are made. This led to the conclusion that, logically, we would also need to make paper to trial these watermarks. Researching how to make a homemade paper-making mould and deckle, we enlisted some expert carpentry skills, sourced the finest conservation grade chicken wire B&Q had to offer, some mesh, and some metal wire which we combined into a mould and deckle.

Homemade papermaking mouldMould and deckle

Home-made paper-making mould and deckle with watermarks attached.

This was taking place in September, during which was also scheduled the annual BLQFP away day, a chance for the team to both review the progress of the project so far and discuss possible future steps. However, as is happily a common ethos within the project, this is also a time where colleagues are encouraged to contribute and collaborate to make the day more interesting, allowing different teams to share aspects of their work. The format this year involved a series of two minute lightning talks, followed in the afternoon by a series of workshops. We decided that conservation’s contribution should therefore be a two minute video on paper-making, followed by a workshop where our colleagues could make their own papers. This involved some small re-arrangements within the studio, but with the aid of a Go-pro camera and a Gorillapod, we were able to film the paper-making process in action.

Having compiled the video, the next challenge was to figure out how to successfully replicate the setup outside the studio in order to deliver the workshop. This involved a lot of forward planning and, among other things, a blender, plastic sheeting and mason jars full of paper pulp. After a loaded taxi ride we were able to arrive at the meeting room and set up a makeshift paper-making station.

Delivery of the paper-making workshop at the BLQFP away day. The group stand around a desk watching demonstrations of mould and deckle paper-making tools.

Delivery of the paper-making workshop at the BLQFP away day

Other brilliant workshops delivered during the day included a ‘write your name in Arabic’ session with the translation team, where people were introduced to some basics of the Arabic language and learned to write their names.

Arabic language workshop in progress. The participants listen to an explanation of Arabic text by the tutor who stands at the top of the room in front of Arabic script examples hanging on the wall.

Arabic language workshop in progress.

The second was a cyanotype printing workshop with the imaging team, where people were able to learn about and experiment with the process. As another possible development to this watermarks work, we are hoping to undertake a collaborative experiment involving cyanotype printing on our handmade papers, complete with bespoke watermark designs.

Cyanotype workshop in progress. The participants stand and listen to an explanation of the cyanotype method. Cyanotype workshop in progress. The participants use the materials provided to practice the cyanotype method.
Cyanotype workshop in progress.

During the away day, we were able to deliver what seemed like a well-received workshop, where our colleagues could use our two moulds (with watermarks attached) to dip into the ‘vats’ of paper pulp, forming their own handmade papers. These were then couched between sheets of Sympatex and Bondina and pressed in stacks throughout the day.

Making papers and couching the sheets. The participants dip their paper moulds into a vat of paper pulp on the desk to make their paper sheets. They are helped by the tutor Camille.

Making papers and couching the sheets.

Workshops underway. An image from the back of the room showing the workshop participants engaged in listening to explanations and watching demonstrations on various desks laid out in the room.

Workshops underway.

When the day was over, we collected the equipment, delivered it back to the studio, and provided the newly made papers with fresh interleaving. These were left in the press to dry, and when we returned we were able to unveil some fine examples of handmade papers.

Examples of the handmade papers shown on the light-box. Examples of the handmade papers shown on the light-box. Examples of the handmade papers shown on the light-box.

Examples of the handmade papers shown on the light-box.

This is a guest post by Heather Murphy, Conservator from the British Library Qatar Foundation Partnership. You can follow the British Library Qatar Foundation Partnership on Twitter @BLQatar.

10 June 2020

Rolls from the King’s Library: An Unexpected Arrival

Rebecca D’Ambrosio

What do you do when something unexpected happens? When out of the blue something quite big lands in your hands? This is something that we can all too easily relate to today.

Back in March 2019 this is the question I faced when 85 rolls arrived at the Library in need of cleaning, repair, housing, cataloguing and a new storage space. 85 items are a lot of work to fit into an already busy schedule and it had a significant impact on my work over the following 12 months.

A large bench in the conservation centre with all the rolls when they arrived at the BLCC

Picture 1: The rolls when they arrived in the BLCC (British Library Centre for Conservation)

The story concerns rolls that were previously stored in King’s Library at the British Museum, the gallery today known as the Enlightenment gallery. The British Library’s dedicated building in St Pancras opened in 1997 when the main collection was moved, which was followed by the King’s Library Collection in 1998. These rolls however only came to the British Library last year.

When the British Library’s collections were still at the British Museum, the rolled items were locked in secure cupboards underneath the display cases in the King’s Library. This included some rolls from the King’s Library’s collection but also many other rolls from the general collection which were stored with them because of their size.

See photos of King’s Tower and the Enlightenment Gallery today: https://www.bl.uk/about-us/our-story/explore-the-building/what-is-the-kings-library#

In the 1970s, the King’s Library Gallery was re-furbished with new display cases. Then, after almost 50 years, one of the old cases that had been in storage was forced open to reveal a previously forgotten compartment. Inside, they found dozens of rolled sheets formerly stored in the King’s Library, long since established as ‘historically mislaid’ by curators at the British Library. The Museum hastily handed them over.

See photo of the enlightenment gallery before renovation: https://www.britishmuseum.org/about-us/british-museum-story/history

On arrival they were brought to the Conservation Centre for an initial condition assessment. Once it was confirmed that there were no signs of pests or mould I conducted a more detailed assessment of the conservation needs of each roll, liaising closely with the Cataloguer and Curators who would update the details in the catalogue.

I started by assessing each roll individually, recording any conservation treatment required for their safe storage and handling. A spreadsheet was provided with the rolls where I had planned to record for each item whether it needed:

  1. Surface cleaning
  2. Repair
  3. The rolled dimensions, in order to make a storage box.

It quickly became apparent that it would not be so straightforward. Firstly, many rolls had other elements that would complicate their repair, boxing and storage, such as: loose or attached labels (paper or parchment), textile ties (of various colours and conditions) and wooden rods (in varying conditions) that also needed to be recorded. But more problematic were the shelfmarks; many weren’t easy to read, some rolls shared the same shelfmark, others were so similar it was hard to tell the difference, and some had shelfmarks that were not listed on the spreadsheet. This made locating each roll in the spreadsheet very difficult, I had to use any other information I could find to identify what was what.

Spreadsheet screenshot with added columns for assessment

Picture 2: Spreadsheet with added columns for assessment (shaded in green)

Spreadsheet screenshot showing similar shelfmarks

Picture 3: Example from spreadsheet of items with similar shelfmarks

As these rolls already belong to the British Library’s collection there should already have been a record of each roll in ABRS (Automated Book Requesting System). However, the Cataloguer had a difficult time locating the rolls on the catalogue because of the unclear shelfmarks. Using all the information he had – date, title, source and stamp, and any other information on the physical items – he searched the various catalogues, electronic and printed ones, and eventually found 53 of the rolls in the catalogue, all of which had been marked as ‘mislaid’. Of the remaining ones, 14 more were found in a manuscript location list drawn up in the 1970s in a notebook labelled 'Location List [Rolls] King's Library', the location being 'housed in 1st case in Gallery', referring to the British Museum’s Enlightenment gallery. Finally, the Cataloguer suggested new shelfmarks, which will be used to label the rolls’ storage boxes.

Location list for Kings Library rolls binding Location list for Kings Library rolls blue and black ink on paper

Pictures 4, 5: Location list for the King’s Library’s rolls

Location list for Kings Library rolls blue ink on paper

Pictures 6: Location list for the King’s Library’s rolls

The conservation was straightforward, but lengthy. Every roll had a thick layer of dust that needed to be cleaned, this was done with a chemical sponge, gently lifting the surface dirt. Some also needed repair as they were damaged along the edges, these were repaired from the back of the roll using Japanese tissue paper and wheat starch paste. A few in poorer condition also needed repair from the front using a thinner tissue that added the necessary strength and remained discrete. Once complete, the rolls were put into their custom-made box and sent to their new storage place where they are now accessible for any interested researcher to marvel over.

Before conservation treatment showing stained area held flat with weights After conservation repair showing a much cleaner roll

Pictures 7 & 8: Image of before and after conservation repair

Before conservation repair showing illegible text and tears After conservation repair with tears improved
Pictures 9 & 10: Image of before and after conservation repair

To finish I will share why this unexpected arrival was such an exciting one. The collection is of significant value and includes items such as:

  • The ‘Description of the Jousts held at Westminster 13th Feb 1510 to celebrate the birth of Prince Henry’, a unique printed and hand-coloured copy of the original painting on paper belonging to the College of Arms, this roll being the longest of the 85, measuring over 5m long.
  • Prints from the famous 18th century Italian printer, Piranesi, such as the Colonna Trojana, unique in this roll format. This is one of the rolls belonging to the King’s Library collection.
  • Various genealogies such as ‘Heroldt - pedigree of Germanic kings etc’, a very large roll depicting each family members with their coat of arms and with detailed images of German cities in the background.

Partially unrolled 'Description of the Jousts held at Westminster' on the conservators desk

Picture 11: ‘Description of the Jousts held at Westminster 13th Feb 1510…’

The full Colonna Trojana scroll laid out in the BLCC and held flat with weights

Picture 12: ‘Colonna Trojana’

The full Heroldt - pedigree of Germanic kings scroll laid out on a long table in the conservation centre

Picture 13: ‘Heroldt - pedigree of Germanic kings etc’

Un-expected things happen. I learnt through this project that we can (and should) plan for the future and do this well to make our work as efficient as possible, but it’s nothing new that many things remain out of our sight and we have to learn to be flexible and adapt as these come along.

I really enjoyed being part of this project of organising (and doing some of) the cleaning, repairing and housing of this amazing roll collection from the King’s Library. It was exciting to be part of this long story, have a role in making this ‘once lost but now found’ collection available for many others to enjoy.

Roll in its made to measure phase box on the conservators bench

Picture 14: Roll in its made-to-measure box

21 May 2020

Lotus Sutra Project: Conservation of a Scroll with Pre-11th Century Repairs. How Do We Avoid Disassociation?

Marya Muzart, Digitisation Conservator International Dunhuang Project

The Lotus Sutra Manuscripts Digitisation Project at The British Library, is a multi-year project aiming to conserve and digitise almost 800 copies of the Lotus Sutra scrolls in Chinese, with a view to make images and information freely accessible on the International Dunhuang Project (IDP) website. These manuscripts come from a small cave in a Buddhist Cave complex near Dunhuang, in Northwest China, where tens of thousands of documents, paintings and artefacts dating from the late 4th to the beginning of the 11th centuries were discovered in 1900. 

Out of the 800 manuscripts included in this project, a large portion of them need conservation work. This blog post covers the treatment of Or.8210/S.3455, and introduces the approach taken when we come across a scroll with historical repairs which are causing damage, but which we do not want to permanently separate from the scroll.

A scroll with historical repairs which are causing damage. Recto before treatment.

Picture 1: Recto before treatment.

A scroll with historical repairs which are causing damage. Verso before treatment.
Picture 2: Verso before treatment.

Or.8210/S.3455 is an 8-metre-long scroll with many historical repairs (we know that these repairs predate or date back to the beginning of the 11th century due to the provenance of the items in this collection). Carrying out repairs on damaged scrolls was a common practice in Buddhist monasteries, so we frequently come across historical repairs in the form of paper patches not only in the Lotus Sutra Project, but the Stein collection as a whole.[1]

These repairs are present throughout the scroll in varying sizes, however the two large historical repairs on the 1st and 2nd panel were the most challenging ones in terms of treatment. As we can see from the images above, the historical repairs in combination with the adhesive used were causing extreme distortion. As a digitisation conservator my aim is to ensure the item can be safely handled during digitisation and to ensure the text is visible and accessible so that high quality images can be taken. Not only was the scroll incredibly vulnerable to any handling, but its condition would have also made it impossible to produce suitable images during digitisation. This is why treatment on this scroll was necessary. 

Examining the scroll before treatment, it was clear that the historical patches needed to be removed in order to flatten the scroll and carry out repairs. Because the scrolls are archaeological artefacts, separating the historical repairs not only runs the risk of disassociation from the original manuscript, but it also takes away from its rich history as an object. This is why we always aim to avoid the permanent separation of any historical repairs from scrolls and I took the decision to reattach the historical repairs as a final stage of treatment.

How detrimental a historical repair can be, is dependent on the paper and the adhesive used. Thick paper and thick adhesive will cause distortions, as we can see in the images above. However, there has been evidence of some historical repairs applied very finely. So each historical repair that we see during the project presents a unique situation and treatment approach.

Verso after removal of historical repairs. Excess adhesive can be seen, which required further removal. 

Picture 3: Verso after removal of historical repairs. Excess adhesive can be seen, which required further removal. 

The first stage of treatment was to remove the historical repairs. After surface cleaning using a cosmetic sponge, gentle humidification was applied. Patience is key here, as I had to work one small area at a time using a micro spatula to slowly lift the historical repairs. It was important to get enough humidification introduced to soften and swell the adhesive for easy removal, but not so much as the paper would become extremely wet. You can see from the image above, once the historical repairs were removed, the dark crusty areas show how thick the adhesive had been applied, which further helps us to understand the distortions and tensions caused by this. The excess adhesive was further removed using the same technique; gentle humidification and a micro spatula. Any adhesive which was removed was kept in small sample bags for possible future analysis.

Once the historical repairs and the majority of excess adhesive was removed, the panels were flattened under boards and weights. When flattening was complete conservation repairs on the scroll were carried out using toned Japanese paper and wheat starch paste. When the conservation on the scroll was completed, it was time to reattach the historical repairs. 

The historical repairs were not reattached fully onto the scroll. Completely pasting down the historical repairs would simply cause the same damage as before. Instead, they were re-attached using some small Japanese paper tabs and wheat starch paste, each tab measures no more than a few millimetres and these are placed at strategic points underneath the repairs to stop any tension and subsequent distortion from occurring. These can easily be removed in the future if necessary, by simply cutting the small Japanese paper tabs, or by introducing gentle moisture to soften the wheat starch paste. It is important to note that the scroll spends the majority of its life rolled up, so the historical repairs were reattached whilst the scroll was rolled up. If they had been re-attached whilst flat there would be much tension occurring once it is rolled up. 

As you can see from the after treatment images, the historical repairs now do not create any tensions or distortions. The scroll can be safely handled and digitised by trained internal staff. By re-attaching the historical repairs, we have successfully avoided the disassociation that would occur from permanently separating the historical repairs from the scroll, therefore losing a part of its history. All in all, the treatment was successful.  

The historical repairs now do not create any tensions or distortions. Recto after treatment.

Picture 4: Recto after treatment.

The historical repairs now do not create any tensions or distortions. Verso after treatment.

Picture 5: Verso after treatment.

[1]  Rong, X. (2013). Eighteen Lectures On Dunhuang. Translated by Galambos, I. Boston: Brill, p.123.

14 May 2020

The Mahārnava, Conservation of a 19th Century Birch Bark Manuscript

Elisabeth Randell, Conservator (Books)

IO San 3251 before treatment.

Figure 1: IO San 3251 before treatment.

The British Library has a large collection of birch bark manuscripts. This particular manuscript was flagged for conservation because it was requested for digitisation. Unfortunately, due to its condition it was unable to be safely handled.

This manuscript known as The Mahārnava, from Kashmir, was written in Śārada on birch bark and dates from the 19th Century. The text discusses Hindu religious law (Dharmaśāstra) dealing with practices for removing and healing diseases and bad influences resulting from the deeds in a former life (Karmavipāka).

IO San 3251 front cover.

Figure 2: IO San 3251 front cover.

IO San 3251 back cover.
Figure  3: IO San 3251 back cover.

The text was compiled probably in the 14th century, and so the text isn’t so uncommon, however this manuscript still has its original limp vellum cover, which makes this example quite unique. The treatment plan for this object needed to fit for purpose, dealing with it more as an object rather than a manuscript that would be requested and used as a book.

IO San 3251 fore edge before treatment.

Figure 4: IO San 3251 fore edge before treatment.

Made from the bark of birch trees, each page is made of a laminate of birch bark - in this manuscript laminate of pages vary from 3 to 7 layers of birchbark. Layers of birch bark are held together from the natural resins and gum found in the birch bark, however overtime they naturally dry up and lose their adhesive properties, leaving many pages delaminated.

Detail of IO San 3251 delamination and tearing.

Figure 5: IO San 3251 delamination and tearing.

Almost all pages suffered from large tears and cracks, predominantly following the horizontal grain of the bark. The general fragility from inherent acidic characteristics of birch bark are made worse by the horizontal brown nodes which are more brittle than the surrounding bark due to a higher concentration of lignin, a material that gives off acids as it ages.  

IO San 3251 delamination and tears along nodes

Figure 6: IO San 3251 delamination and tears along nodes.

IO San 3251 old repairs.

Figure 7: IO San 3251 old repairs.

The nature of this material and method of production required a much different repair technique than would be employed for paper-based objects. For paper repairs stabilising a tear with a Japanese tissue on the recto or verso is a common technique. However, with this manuscript being made up of a laminate of organic material, it required a more considered approach.  Keeping in mind a balance of tension, and the many layers making up each sheet, a weaving technique was used to weave the repair tissue between the delaminated and cracked areas, where possible.

Example of repair options: inserting repair tissue between delaminated layers or weaving repair tissue between tears.

Figure 8: example of repair options: inserting repair tissue between delaminated layers or weaving repair tissue between tears.

IO San 3251 tear and delamination before treatment.

Figure 9: IO San 3251 tear and delamination before treatment.

IO San 3251 inserting toned kozo tissue on top of tear and between delaminated layers.

Figure 10: IO San 3251 inserting toned kozo tissue on top of tear and between delaminated layers.

IO San 3251 tear and delamination after treatment.

Figure 11: IO San 3251 tear and delamination after treatment.

Methyl cellulose 4% was chosen as the adhesive for its elastic nature, allowing the repairs and original material to flex naturally, and not become stiff as the old repairs.

Pages that had become loose were reattached to each other, weaving the tissue around original sewing to secure them in place.

IO San 3251 Japanese tissue hinges attached to both pages. Adhesive is applied to the Japanese hinges and attached to one another, repairing the broken spine fold.

Figure 12: IO San 3251 Japanese tissue hinges attached to both pages. Adhesive is applied to the Japanese hinges and attached to one another, repairing the broken spine fold. 

All repairs have been carried out and now the manuscript is able to be safely handled, pages can be turned without risk of further catching and tearing. Digitisation will be the next step for this manuscript so it will be available to a much wider audience, with minimal disruption to the physical object.

IO San 3251 fore edge after treatment

Figure 13: IO San 3251 fore edge after treatment.

IO San 3251 fore edge before treatment.

Figure 14: IO San 3251 fore edge before treatment.

IO San 3251 post treatment.

Figure 15: IO San 3251 after treatment.

08 May 2020

Conservation of 19th century ivory miniature portraits of the two young sons of Wajid Ali Shah

Patricia Tena, Conservator

In the late 18th century, British and European artists such as John Smart and Ozias Humphrey introduced the concept of painting portrait miniatures on ivory to local artists in northern India. By the mid-19th century, Indian artists also used relatively small ivory discs or sheets to paint topographical views and genre scenes as well. In 2018, the Visual Arts section added to its existing collection of works on ivory, two portrait miniatures reputed to be the infant sons of Wajid Ali Shah (1822-87), the last King of Awadh and date based on stylistic grounds to c. 1840-42.

Portraits of the two young sons of Wajid Ali Shah, the King of Awadh by an unknown Lucknow artist, c. 1840-42. British Library, Add Or 5710-5711

Portraits of the two young sons of Wajid Ali Shah, the King of Awadh by an unknown Lucknow artist, c. 1840-42. British Library, Add Or 5710-5711.

One of the two portraits show a young child of about 12 months old based on the fact he is pictured being supported by a bolster on the ground and cannot sit up properly. The second portrait displays a slightly older child of no more than 2 years old pictured seated in a European style chair. J.P. Losty (formerly the Head of Visual Arts) suggests that these two sitters were most likely to be the second and third sons of Wajid Ali Shah, as the first-born was deaf and mute and hence passed over. The second son being Falak Qadar ‘a fine-looking boy’ who would die prematurely of smallpox at the age of 11[1] and the third son being Hamid Ali (1838-74) would become the prince-apparent. Hamid Ali would later visit Britain in 1857, photographed by Leonida Caldesi at an exhibition In Manchester in July 1857[2].

On acquiring these ivories, the Visual Arts section arranged to have these portraits assessed and obtain proposals for the long-term preservation and storage. The miniatures came to conservation in late 2019 as part of the annual conservation programme.

The objects were both very vulnerable in the present storage box as the ivory substrates were effectively loose in the box and did not come with any ‘accessories’ such as backboards, glass or frame.  Both the watercolour media and the ivory substrate were in a stable condition. However, over time, there was considerable media loss mainly on the edges, probably caused by a change in frame/enclosure and being in close contact with a frame or glass that rubbed against the paint layer. Unsuitable materials such as adhesives and poor quality paper or card used for the framing will have contributed to the discolouration, accretions and staining on the edges.

Close up of one of the miniatures showing loss of media, accretions and discolouration on edges.

Close up of one of the miniatures showing loss of media, accretions and discolouration on edges.

As part of the treatment proposal, the pair of portraits did not require conservation treatment apart from cleaning prior to their rehousing. New enclosures were built in order to accommodate a very hygroscopic material such as ivory. One of the most common damage to ivory miniatures are cracks caused by a combination of restriction of movement to the ivory support and changes is the relative humidity. Ivory needs room to move within its enclosure; if it warps and the frame or support prevents it from doing so, it will inevitably crack.

One of the miniatures prior to being sealed in enclosure.

One of the miniatures prior to being sealed in enclosure.

The miniatures were hinged on top and bottom edges, then the hinges were threaded through a museum quality cream backboard and a Plastazote base. The hinges were secured onto the back of the Plastazote. The rest of the enclosures were built around the base, allowing space around the edges and between the miniature and the Vibac glazing. Mount backboards with Japanese paper flaps were provided to each miniature, these flaps were used to seal the Plastazote enclosures. The Vibac had to be slotted in place with a flush surround made out of mount-board. This allowed for a window mount to be adhered on the top to finish off the miniatures.

A buckram covered tray was made to measure taking care not to exceed the depth of the prints and drawings reading room drawers.  A Plastozote cut out was fitted in the tray to offer extra protection and prevent movement while being accessed by readers. The board with original inscriptions was mounted and rehoused in a Melinex enclosure, all made to fit the tray and to act as a protective ‘lid’ to the miniatures.

Finished miniatures and their tray.

Finished miniatures and their tray.

With the pair of ivories in their new housing, it is now possible to make the works available for consultation to registered readers by appointment.

For more on the historical background of these pieces head over to the Asian and African studies blog!

[1] R. Llewelyn-Jones 2014, p. 77

[2] Ibid, illustration no. 3.