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.
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:
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:
‘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!