Wednesday, 23 December 2015

Merry Christmas!

A joyous Christmas to you all! & Many thanks for visiting my blog this year. This lovely late 1890s Christmas card comes from a book I've been working on recently.

Wednesday, 16 December 2015

Making a Tiny Bonefolder

 Tools are so important and personal, and there's no better way to feel a connection with a tool than to have made or modified it yourself... 

  I've spent the last few weeks slowly, slowly making my own tiny bonefolder. I had an oversized bonefolder that I never seemed to use and so I took to it with a hacksaw, making three smaller sections. Then with a very coarse sandpaper (I did not have a rasp) I've been working it down into a shape that I liked (on the left in the right hand picture). I finished it off with a very fine sandpaper, and a good rub with my apron. It's working a treat!

Tuesday, 15 September 2015

Berlin to Budapest on a Bicycle!

 It was fascinating to come across this article in a scrapbook that I'm working on at the moment. Written by adventurer and keen cyclist Elizabeth Robins Pennell in 1892, it details the journey she made through Europe on her bike. This is something that I would love to do, and it is really exciting to discover more about individuals, history, (and even sometimes find inspiration!) from the books I work with. ERP sounds like one pretty cool lady!

The full extract from her travelogue can be found here:

Sunday, 23 August 2015

Friday, 7 August 2015

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Monday, 20 July 2015

Thursday, 16 July 2015

Conservation of a Maritime Memoir

I do like a good scrapbook, as anyone who is familiar with my final project at college will know. The many different components, the oddities and surprises, and the personal nature of the objects really appeal to me and I enjoy working on them greatly. Which is fortunate, as I've had a few come my way lately!

Spine covered in three types of pressure sensitive tape

 This book came from the National Maritime Museum in Falmouth, and is the memoir of a nautical chap called Edwin Pengelly, and details his fascinating and varied life at sea. The entries date from 1899 - 1950, written in graphite and ink, and contain drawings, poems, photographs, newspaper clippings and memorabilia from different ships and voyages that he had been connected to.

Edwin Pengelly and the damage to the book

 The tightback stationary binding had originally been bought from Boots, who at the time described themselves as: book sellers, stationers, picture framers and cash chemists. This is a nice thing to come across as I did not know the company had been around for this long, or had once been such a varied business!

Boots: not just a chemist!

 The book was in poor condition when it came into the studio. The leather on the spine had severely deteriorated and the binding was being held together with duct tape, double sided tape and a frosted magic tape (just for good measure!) The front board was detached, and the back board held only by the endpapers. The backs of the sections were very damaged with many single pages that had become detached. Some of the inserts were not adhered to the textblock, and some were missing. There was also minor tearing through out.

'S.S."Bristol City" leaving Bristol on her last voyage'
A sad entry of SS Bristol City which was wrecked in 1943 by a German submarine, losing 15 crew members 

 It was important to make the book handleable and accessible, while keeping the 'scrappy' nature of the scrapbook intact, and ensuring that no pages or inserts would risk further loss or damage in the future.

 First of all the pages were collated and a photograph was taken of each page with additional material adhered to it or loose, to maintain the order and position of everything throughout the conservation treatment. During the tape removal it became apparent that there was only small and thin remnants of leather remaining on the spine, and so it was decided to remove it and replace it with an entirely new and structurally sound skin.
A funny episode detailing terribly involved methods of catching rats that scamper across your bed at night

 The old machine sewing was cut and repairs made to the damaged pages, including all sections being guarded multiple times with 12 gsm Japanese paper. This reformed the sections where they had broken, added strength and also bulked out the spine to compensate for the additional material that had been inserted into the binding. The loose inserts were readhered using either wheat starch paste or Secol archival quality dry mounting for the heavier inserts that were otherwise tearing at the pages.

Secol archival quality dry mounting to readhere some inserts

 The textblock was then resewn on tapes using the original holes, and the spine was gently rounded by hand and lined with Japanese paper. The pastedowns were lifted and the tapes adhered beneath to reattach the boards. Aerocotton spine extensions were also inserted into split boards.  Additional spine linings of hahnemuhle were added and sanded down to create a smooth surface for the reback.

 The paper covers were lifted, and the book rebacked using a red goat skin leather to match the original colour of the leather. Lifting paper on the cover was readhered with paste and a protective melinex dust jacket was made for further protection. Finally a box was made to house the book in storage.

 This was a great project, and the book is now stable, strong and ready to be used, having lost none of its original charm. The real challenge was not getting too distracted by the interesting content!

Monday, 6 July 2015

Tuesday, 9 June 2015

Rocket Cats!

Image from manuscript LJS 442 
 This 16th century German military manuscript held in Penn Libraries is filled with some strange and gruesome ideas for warfare. The book, written by Franz Helm of Cologne, describes how cats and birds could be used to attack enemy cities. For some reason it never quite caught on...

 The whole manuscript has been digitised and is available here:,%20franz&id=MEDREN_4920664&rotation=0&currentpage=122

Friday, 15 May 2015

Video of Flattening Parchment

 A video made by us trainees in the PZ Conservation studio of flattening parchment deeds using neodymium magnets and weights. The full treatment lasted several hours, though the footage has been sped up and edited to reduce it to around six minutes. 

 We used a mixture of ethanol and water 3:1 on cotton swabs along the heavily set folds, and then left them to dry under the magnets. Using magnets allowed a very precise tension to be created and maintained during the drying process. This treatment was repeated several times and on both sides of the deed, with the pressure being applied to the convex side of each fold. 

 It was important to minimise the amount of moisture that the deeds were exposed to as parchment is a highly hygroscopic material and distortions can easily be created, and iron gall ink and water soluble inks were also present. 

 The treatment was successful, maintaining light folds which conveyed the document's history, whilst ensuring that the object and information was stable and fully accessible. To read a full report of the project visit the PZ Conservation blog:

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Conserving Large Architectural Plans on Tracing Paper

 These four plans were part of a larger collection of objects that came to us for treatment from the Looe Harbour Commissioners. The plans all date from or around 1846, and relate to a proposed new bridge and fish market in the town.

 Tracing papers (or transparent papers) were commonly used for architectural plans as they allowed easy reproduction. The papers were made translucent through a variety of methods, including impregnating with oils or other agents, heavily beating the pulp in the manufacturing process, or by treating the paper with chemicals. These papers do not tend to have very good ageing qualities; over time they often become acidic and brittle, which is exacerbated by use and the fact that they are often stored rolled or folded due to their size and quantity in collections.

Some of the objects as they came into the studio

 The plans themselves, and the information they held was completely inaccessible, and this was the main consideration of the project. The tracing paper plans were all very brittle and damaged, with many losses. Three of the plans were folded up tightly, and over time these creases and folds had splits and caused serious structural damage, and the fourth arrived tightly rolled, which caused similar problems. The plans were very awkward sizes, and I nicknamed each for their features: 'long', 'large', 'rolled' and 'small' (relatively!).

Two objects before treatment

 Architectural plans are often very large as they are working objects and need to convey a great deal of information to scale, and these were no exception with the longest plan measuring 145 cm in length. This meant that the plans were difficult to work on, and required a large amount of surface space in the studio.

 Besides brittleness and size, the plans also had soluble inks and some serious iron gall ink degradation, all of which made this a challenging and interesting project to work on. The treatments carried out were cleaning, flattening, lining and infilling and repairs.

Iron gall ink deterioration
Areas of losses and heavy creasing
 Once the plans were unfolded and photographed, they were left underneath light weight for a number of weeks to gently flatten them. After this time they were cleaned using a Japanese brush and, where the paper was robust enough, a chemical sponge. As the inks were mostly soluble and iron gall ink was present, overall humidification was not an option. So, just with hands and the occasional use of a carefully placed water pen, the creases were flattened and the plans tensioned and left weighted out with light boards. This process was repeated several times until the plans were flat.

Flattening a plan with light boards
 As the plans were so brittle, lining was the next process. As the plans could not be treated with water or water based adhesives, a mixture of 2% Klucel G in ethanol was used. This could be brushed through the very fine 6 gsm Kizuki Kozo Japanese tissue, which was applied in panels at a time for manageability and to avoid any distortions. The plans were then left to dry underneath weight.

 The lining was very successful and added a great deal of strength and flexibility to the plans, and allowing them to be handled far more easily. The lining tissue was very fine, which kept the verso of the plans visible and did not really affect the translucent nature of the papers. Some of the smaller creases in the plans were not possible to remove though, and so these were captured in the lining process. This is a shame, but importantly the creases do not obscure or alter any of the information available on the plans.   
Lining a plan with 6 gsm Kizuki Kozo Japanese paper

 The losses were then filled with various toned Japanese papers, which were adhered with 5% Klucel G. The infills were coated with 5% Klucel G to add the shininess characteristic of transparent papers.

The four plans after treatment:


 The Looe Harbour Commissioners did not have a lot of storage space, and so this was important to think about when designing housing for the objects. The plans had all grown substantially from the folded / rolled objects that had first come into the studio ! Two of the rolls were of a reasonably small size, and so a four flap folder was made for these, but for the two largest plans something else had to be thought of. Folding a paper object will always cause problems (as we had seen), and as so much time had been spent flattening the rolls, this was not something that was considered. As they were too large to remain flat, rolling was decided upon.

 A tube of around five inches diameter was made by rolling archival paper pasted with EVA around an existing tube wrapped in melinex. This method was chosen as the cost of purchasing a ready made archival tube was restrictive. It formed a strong and stable tube around which the two largest plans were rolled with a sheet of 36 micron melinex. The melinex provided a clean and supportive surface onto which the plans could unrolled.

 A box was then made with plastazote supports so that the tube was held above the bottom of the box and the tracing paper would have no weight or pressure upon it. The front side of the box also folds down so that the tube can be easily taken hold of. The opening side flap has a cloth attachment for added strength and so that the box is fully sealed when closed.

The housing for the objects 
 The project has also provided a great opportunity for speaking to people about the work undertaken in the studio, and is of particular interest at the moment as so many collections hold large quantities of (often very large) architectural plans on tracing paper, which are popular, difficult to house and often in poor condition.

Speaking to NADFAS volunteers about the project

Monday, 9 March 2015

A criss - cross binding

 A lovely binding that is a bit fiddly but easy enough to make. Start by making a textblock, and cutting two boards flush with the back of the textblock and slightly larger on the other three sides. The spine piece should be the same height as the boards, and the width of the the two boards and textblock.  Cover these with paper (or what you like) and with pastedowns on the inside boards. Next, with an awl, pierce holes through the boards - an odd number works well. Then using thread, 'sew' the three pieces together using the diagram below.

Above: the cover completed 
Below: the instructions 

 After this the textblock, with pre-pierced holes, can be sewn to the cover. Sew around two threads at a time, and make sure that these pairs are alternated, so that the same two threads are not pulled together each time. It is important to keep the tension here. It is a bit of an awkward book to sew, but very charming once done with a nice easy opening. Voilà !

Original design can be found here:

Friday, 6 March 2015

Medieval Moggets

MS Harley 4751 from the British Library, second quarter of the 13th century 

 All about their usual business: synchronised cats chasing rats, rats pinching holy wafers, and, of course, a lonesome cat playing the violin. Not much changes. 

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Paw Prints and Cat Pee

Meow! (image from: library_mistress)

 A very funny article about mischievous cats and medieval manuscripts. Pesky things, walking across the page while the ink is still wet. As a 1420 scribe wrote upon finding that, during the night, his cat had weed on the manuscript he was working on...

'ic non defectus est, sed cattus minxit desuper nocte quadam. Confundatur pessimus cattus qui minxit super librum istum in nocte Daventrie, et consimiliter omnes alii propter illum. Et cavendum valde ne permittantur libri aperti per noctem ubi cattie venire possunt.

Here is nothing missing, but a cat urinated on this during a certain night. Cursed be the pesty cat that urinated over this book during the night in Deventer and because of it many others [other cats] too. And beware well not to leave open books at night where cats can come.

 To see the full article:

Friday, 13 February 2015

PZ Conservation are in the papers!

 The news of the new round of funding from the Heritage Lottery Funded for the trainee programme at PZ Conservation has made it into the news this week, with a nice photo of us current trainees at work in the studio appearing in the local paper The Cornishman.

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Family Bible

 This bible came into the studio from a private client, and has sentimental value as it records in handwritten notes the births, marriages, and deaths of the family. The first notations are entered in a beautiful script in ink in the mid 1850s continuing to ballpoint pen entries from the late 1900s.  The 'Self Interpreting Family Bible' was the creation of Reverend John Brown in 1778, and was very popular due to the brief summaries at the top of each page and extended reflections on the passages of text. This bible is undated but presumed to be  early to mid C19th due to the inscriptions and the description of the late Father Brown, who died in 1787. 

 The hollow back bible has beautiful metal bosses and one clasp holding the boards (the other is missing). The goat skin leather is tooled in gold and blind, with decorative indentations on the boards and gilded edges on the textblock. Inside are fine coloured plates depicting biblical scenes. 

 Both boards were detached, along with the first and last few pages of the textblock which required repairs. The leather was damaged and very brittle, with large sections missing along the spine piece. As the book is a family heirloom it was important to ensure the bible was safe to handle and would not be vulnerable to further damage.

 As the leather was so brittle, it was consolidated with several layers of Cellugel to facilitate handling during treatment. The hollow was split and removed, and the spine linings were taken off using a poultice of 10% Sodium Carboxyl Methylcellulose. The first and last few sections were over sewn which was creating uneven tension and so this was removed, and the spine was re-lined with Japanese and hahnemühle paper.

 The textblock was cleaned using a chemical sponge, repairs were made to the textblock and the loose pages at the front and rear of the bible were readhered using Japanese paper hinges. The original cloth joints were very weak and damaged, and so were replaced with archival bookcloth. The boards were reattached with aerocotton, which was sewn along the joint to strengthen the attachment. A two-on-three-off hollow was made from hahnemühle, with thin strips of leather added to the inside edges to add thickness and strength. Replacement raised bands made from cord were adhered to the spine in the same positions as the originals.

 An archival goat skin was toned and used to re-back the bible which nicely matched the texture of the covering leather, and the original spine piece was then adhered on top using wheat starch paste. Additonal leather repairs were also made to missing sections on the boards. A lost tack was replaced to secure the metal boss in place. Finally the cloth hinges on the inside joints were pasted beneath the pastedowns with a mixture of EVA and wheat starch paste.

 A box was made to house the book from corrugated board. Due to its size and the fragile nature of the leather, it was necessary that the book could be easily be removed from the box without damage. The metal bosses were protected with plastazote inside the box, and by using the 1.5 cm think plastazote beneath the book and at the foredge, it allows space for your hands to get a hold of the book and remove it easily.