Repairing the Richardson letters

In our Franklin collection is an album containing about a hundred letters, mainly written by Sir John Franklin (1786-1847) to his good friend and fellow arctic explorer, Sir John Richardson (1787-1865). The letters had been stuck into the album with a shiny, translucent tape, which had also been used to carry out repairs. In order to ensure the long-term survival of these letters we decided to remove them from the album: many were loose already and at risk of falling out, and the tape was causing further damage to the paper.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

We carried out a few tests on the repair tape and found that the adhesive was water soluble. The inks used were stable in water, so we were able to wash the letters and remove all remnants of the tape this way. An additional benefit to having washed the letters is that it has flushed out all kinds of dirt and degradation that had become ingrained in the paper, and it has re-invigorated the paper fibres, making the letters feel stronger again.

All the letters have now been repaired with handmade conservation repair paper and wheat starch paste. Here are some examples of letters before, during and after the process:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

In case you were wondering, if in a few hundred years’ time one of our successors wants to remove these repairs in order to treat the letters with whatever amazing technique that may be available then, all they will need to do is wash them again and all our repairs will simply float off.

We have of course saved the original album as part of the collection – if you would like to see it and the letters, just pop in and ask for D8760/F/FJR/1/1/1-92. Or have a look on our catalogue for a description of their contents, as they are full of fascinating information about Franklin’s expeditions, his time in Tasmania, and his home life. But as we are in Matlock, my favourite snippet has to be this from 13 June 1823:

D8760 F FJR 1 1 5 Matlock

‘I went up today to Matlock, and was much delighted with the scenery. I think it equals in richness and the picturesque anything I have seen – though it is not so grand as some we have beheld in America. Mrs Richardson will be gratified to learn that its prettiest parts reminded me of different spots in Scotland.’ (D8760/F/FJR/1/1/5)

Looking out of my window as I type this, with the tops of the hills shrouded in mist, I can only agree!

 

Packaging the packaging

When I carry out preservation training sessions, I always emphasize the importance of archival packaging: it protects our (and your) records from over-handling, keeps them out of light, provides a barrier for rodents, insects, mould and water, and stops them getting covered in layers of dust. The ‘archival’ bit matters, as that means the quality of the packaging is such that it won’t in itself cause damage to the documents through any chemicals that may have been used in the production process. Invariably this means that when we take in new records we discard the old, often damaging, packaging – I’m sure you’ll agree there’s no reason to keep these:

 

Of course, there are always exceptions to every rule, and sometimes the packaging is such an integral part of the history of the document, that we keep it as well. A prime example of this is D22/1, a large rolled document from 1764, which is still in its original leather-covered, wooden box:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Beautiful, isn’t it? Both the parchment document and wax seal have survived in perfect condition in that box for the past 255 years, so I see no need to remove them.  However, the box itself is also made of organic material and therefore needs protection from light, insects, etc. This time it’s the original packaging that needs the archival kind.

We make our own archival packaging from various types of archival card and board; the first step in the process is measuring the length, width and height of the item as this determines the size of card we need. We then transfer our measurements on to the board and check whether the item will fit. The checking before cutting away the flaps is essential, as it’s very easy to end up with a box that’s just that little bit too tight or too loose. 

In order to make our new box a bit sturdier, I stuck a sheet of archival fluted board on the base – fluted (corrugated) board is very strong while also being lightweight, making it ideal to use if you want a stronger box that isn’t too heavy.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Now we just need to fold over all the flaps and tie it all together with some unbleached cotton tape and our original box with contents is safe for the next 255 years!

D22 1 finished closed

 

Two tales of self-adhesive tape

Next time you meet a paper conservator, just mention the words ‘self-adhesive tape’ and watch their struggle to retain some self-control.  It is the bane of our profession, the tapes used by very well-meaning people, who were trying to look after or even save important, precious documents and ended up destroying them in the process.  Two unrelated items came into the Conservation Studio yesterday, which show different ways in which self-adhesive tape has been used.

The first is a minute ‘book’ from the National Union of Mineworkers, dating from the mid nineteen eighties (D1920/1/1/39):

D1920 1 1 39 whole - Copy

Each page consists of a backing sheet with a typed up page of minutes sellotaped to both sides of it. That’s two hundred backing sheets with four hundred pages of minutes:

D1920 1 1 39 open tape - Copy

In some cases the adhesive is no longer sticking to the backing sheet, leaving the minutes lying loose; in all cases it has migrated into the paper, causing significant discolouration and weakening of the paper. Removing each piece of sellotape will require a combination of heat, a sticky-stuff removing erasure and quite probably solvents, such as acetone and toluene. The problem is, you see, that in most cases the tape doesn’t come off cleanly, but leaves a little bit of sticky residue which also needs to be removed.  So that’s one thousand six hundred pieces of sellotape to remove, at a very optimistic average of five minutes each: eight thousand minutes – or about 134 hours – of work.  Obviously we can’t justify that amount of time spent on an item that can be studied in its current condition, so all we’ll be doing for now is give it some extra packaging so at least there’s no risk of pages tearing, and adding it to a list of jobs to consider in the future.

The second item is a sale catalogue from 1912 (D7108), which is in a far worse condition:D7108 UL before whole - CopyIn this case the kind person trying to mend the pages has used a combination of different self-adhesive tapes, even ordinary white labels:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

Clearly this item isn’t safe to be handled or looked at, so we will be conserving it in 2019 and we’ll let you know how we get on…

 

Sir John Franklin’s signature

After the disappearance of Sir John Franklin in 1845 his wife, Lady Jane Franklin, was inundated with requests for copies of his signature. She responded by cutting out his signatures from letters he’d sent and posting these to the grateful collectors.  The damage this did is immediately obvious in this example, a letter Sir John wrote to his sister, Hannah Booth, in 1833:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The severity of the damage however only becomes apparent when you view the letter on a light box:

D3311_36_5_(i)_on_lightbox_02[1]

All the sharp cuts show where a knife went through the paper – we can’t be sure these slashes were made when the signature was removed, but as they don’t occur on any of the other letters it’s reasonable to assume the two are linked.

The letter has now been repaired and is ready for one of our volunteers to read.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

An unusual incunable

An incunable is a book that was printed before the year 1500, when the printing press was still a new invention.  Most surviving ones are now in specialist libraries or private collections, but we’re fortunate to have one example here at the Record Office: Lives of the Saints volume II, by Plutarch (D5424/1).  It was printed by Nicolas Jenson in Venice on the second of January 1478 and still looks fantastic. As you can see on the photographs, early printed books tried to look like illuminated manuscripts, with the printers leaving room for hand-drawn capital letters and other illustrations.

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

What makes this particular copy unique, is that it was rebound in 1902 by Douglas Cockerell, a well-known bookbinder from the arts and crafts era.  He used wooden boards, just as they would have used in the fifteenth century, with a beautifully decorated piece of leather along the spine. The boards themselves he left bare – it was generally assumed at that time that that is how a medieval binding would have looked.

whole book

Unfortunately though, this has caused a problem: chemicals within the wood have migrated into the new endleaves (first and last pages of a book), causing severe discolouration and weakening of the paper.

Fortunately no damage has been done to the original pages. Removing the binding would destroy part of the book’s history and cause a lot of stress to the fifteenth century paper, so we protect the text with sheets of inert archival quality polyester, loosely placed in between the binding and the pages. We now know that they usually covered the boards completely  with parchment in the Middle Ages, perhaps at least partly to avoid this problem.

D5424 1 polyester in situ

Shiny archival polyester sheet in place

This book is a great example of how conservators and bookbinders can cause damage, despite following the procedures and using the techniques that are accepted as ‘best practice’ in their time.  Knowledge about materials such as wood, leather, paper and inks constantly increases, bringing new ideas and new techniques for every new generation of conservators.  All we can do is try and keep up to date with the latest developments, regularly think about the materials and techniques we’re using and whether they are still appropriate, and hope that our future colleagues will understand that they too will make ‘mistakes’.

If any bibliophiles out there would like to help us continue to look after this marvellous book, you can adopt it via our Adopt a Piece of History scheme.

 

 

Cricket in Derbyshire – have you got a story to tell?

Lien and I visited the County Cricket Ground in Derby on Friday the 19th, to meet heritage enthusiasts from a range of cricket clubs across the county.  We were there to offer some practical advice to clubs that look after their own archives, covering the best ways of managing and caring for old records.  If your heritage group would appreciate a training session on archive management or conservation (very reasonable rates), do get in touch and we will do our best to help.

The photograph above was taken during a moment of gravely studious concentration.  For balance, the picture on the right is rather more animated, being Thomas Rowlandson’s 1811 depiction of what is reckoned to be the first recorded women’s county cricket match, between Surrey and Hampshire (the subject of one of Helen’s posts back in 2013).  This match must have been the subject of many a treasured tale, and we are fortunate to have Rowlandson’s illustration to remember it by.  Memories of other events and experiences, by contrast, slip by without being documented in this way – how much heritage is lost when the stories stop being told?  David Griffin of the Cricket Derbyshire Foundation, organiser of Friday’s event, told us a little of the Foundation’s current oral history project, which is all about capturing those memories for future generations.  I bet they would like to hear from you if you have a tale or two to tell about the game and your own experience of it.  For more on the project, see the Cricket Derbyshire Foundation website.

 

Arch I’ve Conserved

Join us here at the Record Office on Thursday 23 November from 10.30 to 12.00 to celebrate Explore Your Archives week with a talk and demonstration on how we repair paper and parchment documents.  It’s a free event, but with limited places, so booking is essential. The easiest way to book a place is via our Eventbrite page, or call us on 01629 538347.

Please be aware that although the talk will be delivered in a room accessible via a lift,  the conservation studio – where the practical demonstration will be held – is on the second floor and can only be reached via stairs.

Arch poster

 

A week of work experience at Derbyshire Record Office

This post comes from Richard and Cara, who have been at Derbyshire Record Office all week on a work experience placement.  We are all agreed they have done really, really well.

Work experience this week has been fantastic. We’ve done multiple activities such as conservation; Picture the Past and the NUM Project work. We’ve learnt a lot here, and have also gained some experience of being in an amazing work environment such as the Derbyshire Record Office. Everyone here is extremely friendly; you can’t really see a bad side to anyone.

On the first day we both had a tour of the building lead by Paul Beattie. He walked us down into the huge archives, apparently with over five miles of shelve space. It was really interesting to see a deed of a grammar school from Queen Elizabeth I and also the earliest cook book with the recipe for a Bakewell tart. After lunch, we joined in with the NUM project work. This is a two year project where Paul, Emma and Hilary list over ten thousand miners from the county. They look into their births, deaths and any injuries they had during their work. This was really fun, as we got to go down into the archives and fetch some boxes for Paul Carlyle, the Project Manager.

The next day, we were both split up. Cara went to local studies, and Richard went to the search room. Cara looked at her family history and found that one of her ancestors was Scottish. She also learnt how to use the card catalogue. Richard, in the search room, went onto the computers and had a look at the online catalogue for all the documents in the archives. He ordered out two documents, one being a map of the area around where he lives, the other of some sales documents of his road. He found it quite interesting, as he saw that his house dates back to the mid-1700s. After lunch, we went to the computer room in Local Studies and met with Mark, who was looking after the enquiries. We answered some enquiries by using the card catalogue, which was interesting.

On Wednesday, we both swapped around. Cara went to the search room and Richard went to local studies. Cara had to look through all the reference numbers of previous documents because one had been misplaced. After that she answered some enquiries about schools in Derbyshire. Richard sorted out some order cards from previous documents, similar to what Cara was doing. He then looked on Ancestry.com and searched for his great great Grandad.   After lunch, we had a brief explanation of digitisation from Matthew. He explained how to scan a document, which is what he does in digitisation. After that we met with Nick, who explained ‘Picture the Past’. This is where he digitises historic pictures. He gave us the task to find locations of undescribed photos without a location.

On the Thursday, we had a short staff meeting with everyone at the record office. They just talked about the budgets and other important stuff we didn’t understand. We then wandered off towards Conservation where we met with Lien and Clare, who had given us the task to clean some documents from the 17th century. We both enjoyed that task. We had lunch around 12pm, and then went back to Lien and Clare and did some preservation work with ‘spider paper’ and a heat press. This was both very interesting and also fun. We repaired some mock documents which were classed as ‘ok’. Surprisingly, that was quite the compliment for what we had achieved. We tried to make some pouches for wax seals that were attached to a document. Cara did pretty well, Richard failed. (He hadn’t sewn for a long time!)

So after we left Lien and Clare, we met Paul at the search room and he given us the task to list different types of documents

Today (Friday), we did more of the project work until lunch, and managed to list 118 documents on the excel spreadsheet. We decided to go for lunch, and then went to Local Studies and met with Mark again. This is where we returned some books from the library and then sorted out cards from the card catalogue. Both of us then decided to write a blog, which is where we are now.  Later on we’re going to meet up with Paul and have a ‘review and evaluation’ of the whole week.   😀

This week has been both amazing and fun. All the staff members here are extremely friendly and they always bring in food. We would like to thank everyone for this great experience at the Derbyshire Record Office!