Penrhyn Archive Jamaican Estate Slave Accounts, Bangor University Archives
Single section pamphlets of handmade paper, stab-sewn through a plain or marble-paper cover Project for National Conservation Service Report written by Mary Garner
DECONTAMINATION, CONSERVATION & DIGITISATION
The items treated in this project come from the Penrhyn Estate archive, deposited at the Bangor University Archives in North Wales. The project included a series of 32 paper account pamphlets from Jamaican estates. The accounts include names, roles and other details of slaves working on the estates and as such are of considerable significance historically and for their descendants researching their family histories. They are striking and disturbing documents, with slaves ‘accounted’ for as resources; for example death is referred to as a ‘decrease in slaves’ and birth as an ‘increase in slaves’.
Mould and water damage
Stab bound in marble bindings
Areas of loss
Damage to the folios due to damp and mould
The items have suffered from extensive water damage and damp, causing excessive mould growth, fading, weakness and discolouration. The project aim was to decontaminate and stabilise the collection and to digitise the account papers. The programme of digitisation was carried out after cleaning but prior to conservation treatments. This enabled capture of the documents in their found state and so that any repairs did not interfere with legibility of the text. Digitisation would also minimise unnecessary handling of items in the future, which while strengthened would remain vulnerable.
The main issues within this project were the presence of fugitive iron gall inks and mould damage. Iron gall ink is prone to fading and deterioration due to instability inherent in the ink composition and the varying recipes it has been historically made with. Since 2004 Mould has been classed as a Category 1 risk to health as assessed under the Health and Safety Hazards Rating System (HHSRS) – the same class as asbestos for example. The HHSRS risk assessment has been legislation in England & Wales since 2006, under the Health & Safety Act. The material in this collection had considerable mould infection and presented a definable risk to staff and users. For this reason it was vitally important to remove mould growth and endeavour to denature the spores remaining in the paper. Mould damage and bacteria cause heavy darkening and discolouration which renders documents illegible over time, in some cases causing a problem with digitisation.
The items comprised single section pamphlets of handmade paper, stab-sewn through a plain or marble-paper cover. The paper had become very fibrous and fragile and easily prone to further damage from handling. Many had large areas of loss and some pages had become stuck together. The sewing structures had disintegrated and in some cases no longer held folios into signatures.
New sections created by repairing the folios using archival tissue
Repair to damaged folios
Cleaning was carried out with soft brushes and a museum vacuum where applicable, on a Bassaire extraction unit with an ultra fine ULPA filter. Due to the weakened state of so many of the paper documents and their covers, strengthening and stabilisation was achieved by consolidation of fibres and support and repair to areas of loss and damage. Consolidation using 1% hydroxpropycellulose (‘Klucel G’) in isopropanol had the added advantage of safely denaturing the mould spores in the fibres in the treated areas. Klucel G 3% in isopropanol was also used as an adhesive for lens and Japanese tissue repairs to tears and areas of loss.
The old paper covers were in severely degraded condition and while some could be repaired, nonetheless they would continue to be weak and not provide suitable protection. On this occasion it was decided to commission new hand-made marble papers for new covers. The marble-papers were lined with an archival quality paper to make them slightly stiffer and the cleaned, digitised and repaired pamphlets were re-sewn into them. Archival sleeves were also made for each account to be housed in.
Today I was back at the V&A for the first time in the New Year – it’s always nice to return after a break and find familiar faces, so it was a happy return!
The day was also boosted by seeing On Eagle’s Wings exhibition at the museum. This is an exhibition on comic books that myself and a collegue have been working on for the last month or so, each of us doing paper repairs on the covers and display spreads of the comics. Having been involved since the start of the conservation work, it was really nice to see the exhibition come to fruition.
Due to copyright issues, I was not able to get any close-ups of the comics themselves, but in the images below you can see the general layout. It is located outside the Twentieth Century gallery and takes up four of the cabinets there. One of the cabinets is specifically dedicated to the girls comics, which I worked a lot on. Girl is the counterpart to Eagle, which is the key comic book for the exhibitions. The latter was an extremely popular boys comic whereas Girl was one of the leading girl’s comic books, including such items as Wendy & Jinx (a detective duo) and how to do flower arrangements.
I was pleased to see that of those comics that I had worked on, I was not able to see the paper repairs, which is a good sign!
Sorry I have not been around recently, Kelly from May Day Studio, kindly nudged me for an update on starting at college, and as I have now completed my first week, it seemed like a good moment to let you know what has been happening!
This is my college, Camberwell College of Arts, where I am studying Book Conservation. The building itself used to be a boy’s grammar school, but it’s now all part of the London Arts College.
The first week included a lot of introductions to what lies ahead. We also launched straight into the basics of the chemistry we will need, including the structure of an atom! A little daunting to begin with, but also exciting. Thursday included a trip to the Horniman Museum in Forest Hill, for an introduction to their ‘Handling Collection’, which was very interesting. The museum itself is beautiful and on fantastic grounds – apparently they have some great Christmas events, including carols by candlelight, which has always been a favorite of mine!
We spent all of Friday in the studio, which you can see above, its a fantastic space, and kitted out especially for the book conservators. We all have our own desk space and have been over the do’s and don’ts of the studio – such as no pens, nail varnish or perfume! The former may damage the book you’re working on, and the latter will prevent you from smelling any rotting pages!!
We then got straight down to making some small pamphlet bindings, which you can see below. The greener one is made with two sections, using a very nifty technique of folding the cover in the middle to allow you to sew the two sections to the cover without any glue!
Anyway – tomorrow sees the beginning of a series of lectures on European Hand Made Papers, which should be really interesting, so I will report back on them next week!
Yesterday I finished my second practice disappearing spine practice, and managed to do the same thing wrong as I did on the last one, AND additional things wrong! I didn’t trim the end papers, so they were much too long when I stuck them down, meaning I had to trim them afterwards. Luckily, the paper on the boards was coated which meant the paper came off without ripping it. However I still managed to get the spine wider at the bottom than it is at the top so, yet again, it is a bit skew-whiff, its not as bad as the last one, and I managed to neaten up the end papers. But it’s not great – obviously a technique that needs a bit more practice at my end.
So, eight weeks in and I’ve been a bit more productive. You’ll see that I now have the corners on my 1/2 bound flat back book – very neat and tidy if I do say so myself, and have finished my disappearing spine pamphlet (called as such because you can’t see the spine). The latter is covered in more National Geographic collages and the 1/2 bound will be covered in some drawings I’ve done.
Unfortunately, when I was ‘casing in’ (sticking all together) my pamphlet (with owl), our teacher was also talking about the corners of the 1/2 bound (pink). She said if we were doing what I was doing to ignore her and she’d tell us again later, but considering I was the only one doing what I was doing, I got a bit distracted by listening to her as well, and now my beautiful owl pamphlet is wonky and I’m going to have to start from scratch. Hmph. Apparently this is a good thing (???), as the marking people like to see mistakes that are practiced and then rectified, still, I like the owl and I’m not sure I’ll find such a nice cover, so I am a little disappointed. Nevermind – practice makes perfect!
My last pamphlet is bowing a little, but apparently this is absolutely fine and is very acceptable in bookbinding, so that one is alright (that was the one with the trees on the front).
Not sure if you’ll be interested, but I’m pretty excited – I have finished my first sewn book! This is a pamphlet binding, which means (I think) that it only has one section. This particular one has end papers that are wrapped around the text block and are then fixed to the boards, it’s also a 1/4 bound book meaning that the spine is covered in cloth. I’m due to finish my other pamphlet binding in two weeks (after half term) as well as my first really proper book, which has multiple sections that are sewn together – VERY exciting, and so far looking not too bad, though the spine is a little big for comfort on the proper one.
Its quite tricky getting the covers on the boards, as you spend lots of time getting everything right and carefully doing things, then the moment you start pasting, its a race against time! – tricky!
The cover is a collage I have made from an article from the National Geographic on Redwood trees.