Rediscovering the fountain pen (and other favourites)

I recently hit a big landmark birthday (sigh… the wrinkles are coming), and, being blessed with the love of The Man, who knows me so well, I got one of the best presents ever – a brand new Montblanc fountain pen! A thing of pure exquisite beauty. So whilst enjoying the delights of my newest pen, I started to reminiss about the other pens I have loved in the past, and had a rummage in my stationery cupboard to find said pens! And, after a thorough clean, I have got most of them working, with the exception of one – so here they are!

Black Parker pen with 14K nib and black ink

Red Parker pen with blue ink

Montblanc Meisterstuck with with 14K nib and green ink

Blue Sheaffer pen with turquoise ink

Silver Waterman pen with blue ink

Waterman nib in pieces – how sad!
fILOFAX pen for Mini and Pocket organisers

Yard-O-Lead pencil in rolled gold

Sheaffer biro in electroplated gold

Pencil, made in Japan

Very thick pencil, made in Japan

uni POSCA thick pen with light blue ink

Despite all these wonderful pens, my handwriting and spelling is still embarrassingly horrendous – so apologies if you can’t read any of it!

What’s your favourite type of pen?

Scrapbook from the Museum of Childhood

Some time back in a post earlier in the year, I mentioned that I would potentially be working on a scrapbook from the Museum of Childhood. Well I was lucky enough to be allowed that project to work on as part of my MA final project, along with a recipe scrapbook that I am working on at college.

So I thought I would write an update of the work I have been doing on this second scrapbook, whilst at the V&A. This past week, I have been working on substantial paper repairs for the material that is sticking out of the scrapbook. These are items that, due to their oversize, have been bashed and damaged – so I am repairing them.

Marking up for a new infill to fill in the gaps of the paper
Lining up the infill, freshly cut using a needle from toned tissue
The new infill stuck down with wheat starch paste
Trimmed and done!
Local humidification of a particularly bent bit
Freshly flattened after humidification

It’s quite short and picture heavy, this one, but I will try and post some more soon!

Two weeks at the National Library of Scotland

As promised in my last post, this is a little more detail on my placement at the National Library of Scotland. I was hugely grateful to be accepted on this placement, as two weeks is never very long to get into a project and placements always require people to take out time to show you around the building and instruct you in various matters, so I am extremely grateful for the whole conservation team at the library for taking time out of their days to help and advise me.

The National Library of Scotland

Initially I was taken around the building itself and shown how the library works on a daily basis, as I mentioned before, it is a massive building – a bit like a tardis and much bigger on the inside than can be seen on the outside. The studio itself was on the 4th floor, with three additional disaster rooms throughout the library for use in emergencies. The Library’s disaster plan was far more organized than any other I have come across, even down to having work clothes and boots sized correctly for the disaster team members – I was quickly informed that the Library has suffered not one but three major floods, so their disaster plan is not only well planned, but has been accurately carried out as well, which is a great success.

The Studio

The studio was a great space and sensibly laid out with desks for each conservator as well as larger communal work areas and a sectioned area for tooling and finishing and for board cutting.

Sit Hill box machines
The box die cutter at Site Hill
The dies for the die cutter

I also spent a day at the second site for the library which is located at Site Hill on the outskirts of Edinburgh, where half the conservation team are based and carry out work using some of the more heavyweight and visibly dangerous looking equipment!! Like many of the bigger institutions, the NLS found that some years back they were spending huge amounts of funding on storage boxes, and decided to invest in a box cutter, becoming the first institution to have an onsite box cutter – this has made a massive difference to their work load and reduced the amount of work hours per box, therefore increasing the number of boxes it is possible to make per year – so much so that they now make boxes for some of the local institutions that don’t have the same equipment, similarly to the Metropolitan Archives, therefore making the whole process much more economically efficient.

Whilst in the studio I was given the opportunity to work on two projects, the first was the conservation of some maps from the St Bartholomew’s collection and the second was a box for a sculpture.

The Bartholomew collection is a donation to the library of the archives of an early 19th Century Map cartography company who produced and printed maps. The collection itself includes records held in bound volumes many maps. It was some of these maps that I was working on alongside the Bartholomew conservator.

One of the maps prior to repair
Map after repair - spot the difference!!

The second project was the sculpture and was one of a series of anonymous sculptures left at various book associated institutions around Scotland. They are fascinating sculptures and often associated with the Scottish author Ian Rankin. They essentially adapt a book into some of the most intricate paper sculptures – really fascinating work in amazing detail. My job was to make this very fragile sculpture a box in which it could be safely stored. And I am quietly confident that none of the other sculptures will have such a lovingly and bespoke made box! – I will go into more detail on instructions in another post. It was made with board, plastizote and buckram book cloth.

The anonymous sculpture
The complete beautiful box
What's inside the box!

In addition to the maps and this box, which did take me a while, I was also lucky enough to have a go at tooling and finishing. Unfortunately this is not something we cover at Camberwell, which I hope is something that will change in the future as I (and the NLS) feel that it is a necessary skill to cover. Having not done any before, I was understandably not let loose on an actual book, but I did have some instructions from three skilled finishers, who set me on the straight and narrow path to start and practice. As many will know, these skills have to be practiced to great extents as it is not something that can be perfected overnight. I will also go into more detail on this in a later post.

So all in all, a fabulous two weeks that I was thrilled to be able to do. A very big thank you to the National Library of Scotland and the conservation team there.

The Beauty of Edinburgh

Just before Easter, I spent two glorious weeks in Edinburgh in Scotland. Despite being only a train journey away, this was the first time I have ever been to Edinburgh, and indeed Scotland mainland (I have been to the Isle of Arran – also beautiful!), and glorious is a good word to describe the city, it was absolutely amazing. I didn’t even manage to see all of the attractions and was still blown away by the pure beauty of the city itself.

I have always been keen on architecture and interesting old buildings – the ones that peek my interest the most are the ones that look like they could be riddled with secret passages that might have been used in days past for romantic interludes or unsolved murders! Well Edinburgh may be the epicentre of these types of buildings, especially as it seems every other building was the site of the murder of one of Mary Queen of Scots secret lovers! It reminded me of something from The Gormenghast Trilogy, which if you have managed to read (it is a task), you might also see the similarities.

Being a city manly built on a hill, it appeared that everywhere was built on top of each other – full five storey buildings were built on top of other five storey buildings, making what looked a bit like medieval skyscrapers with tiny passageways and stairs between them. As I say it was amazing!

I was there for two weeks on a placement with the National Library of Scotland, who had very kindly agreed to take me on in their conservation department. The library itself is accessed on the George IV bridge, at which point you appear to be entering a fairly normal five storey institute style building, only to find that you are on floor 11 and the whole building has 15 storeys – it was a bit mind boggling to say the least!

Anyway, aside from the two week placement and the fascinating architecture, I did manage to visit a few of the sites with The Man (he came up for the weekend in the middle) and some of the pubs. The main street in the old part of town is called the Royal Mile, joining both Edinburgh Castle and Holyrood Palace, which is the official residence of The Queen when visiting the city.

We managed to visit the castle at the top of the hill and had a tour in the sun – they do an excellent cream tea – and also a walk up the giant hill in Holyrood Park. Anyway, enough of gabbling, I cannot suggest visiting enough it was truly beautiful and here and here are some pictures and I will follow up shortly with some more subject specific information on the placement itself!

Islamic bindings – a background

Last week, we were lucky enough to be visited by Kristine Rose from the Fitzwilliam Library in Cambridge, who is spending time teaching us Islamic bindings, their history, their structure and their necessary conservation. So here I will record what I have been learning as I go – it may be staggered.

Kristine Rose Islamic Binding
A binding made by Kristine Rose

History

Kufic bindings are the earliest script known, dating back to the 7th-10th century. They were commonly in landscape format, made with wooden boards and parchment text blocks. They were sewn using a link stitch.

The Mamluk manuscripts followed dating back to 1250-1517 in Sultanate-Egypt and Syria. These had paper text blocks with pasteboards and were elaborately tooled with individual hand tools. The Battle of Talas in 741is meant to be the start of paper in Islamic territories, as Chinese soldiers were kidnapped and forced to give up the secret of paper making to save their lives. It was a more refined structure due to paper and pasteboards though it remained a link stitch with a finer thread, and almost always using two sewing stations with single stitch – there were very few exceptions to this.

The Maghrebi style was dated from 922-1492 is small and square in format, looking like a standard Islamic style with heavy gold tooling and an envelope flap, however the board attachments at very different.

The Persian style of islamic binding dates back to the Safavid dynasties and Mongol ancestry (1501-1732). The bindings had decorative paper and leather inlays with extremely fine filigree. All the tooling was done by cold tooling as the leather was so thin and the paste boards, very receptive to the tooling.

The style of bindings made during the Ottoman period (1453-1924) were extremely refined bindings – both quality workmanship and made with the finest of materials and techniques. They were everything that the Persians were doing, but better and more refined in every way. At this time books were in abundance – everyone was expected to read or at least recite and understand the Koran.

The artists who designed the books used numerous techniques to decorate the smallest areas including burnishing, piercing. Filigree was used to decorate deblures, very intricately designed, cut and applied. There is some indication that the envelope flaps were used as page markers though not in every case. Binders in the Islamic world were very mobile, light materials and few tools, they would move about all over the place, working for different people.

Collections

The  Chester Beatty Library Dublin is the greatest collection of Islamic bindings outside of the east. There is evidence from Chester Beatty that the Islamic structures are often not case bindings as previously thought, though the inner join still remains quite sensitive. The  structure is not inherently weak as so many will suggest – if it used in the correct way – pulling it flat will damage the book, as it is not meant to be used like this and should be read with a rull for support.

Islamic Binding Rull
A Rull

Damage

Damage has often been caused by natural aging of materials.

Commonly the boards will delaminate due to the way they are made.

Often the books are rebound in a western style which will damage the book further, the paper is not as limp as western paper, they are sized and are very stiff, so the sewing has to do all the work, which is why putting the text block in a western binding, where the flexibility of the paper is relied upon.

Binding styles

Type II – claimed to be the most common, though not necessarily – most important difference to others that it is a case binding with the boards prepared separately to the book.

Turkish two piece – very similar to the above, though boards are prepared separately to the book though leather flanges extend over the spine.

Andalucian style – same silk thread and two sewing stations, spine lining is extended and non adhesives and secured with long stitches. End bands are adhered with a Chevron sewing pattern. The board attachments use the extended spin lining to attach the boards.

Boards

The majority of boards were paste boards, which were made using many different sheets of paper.

When tooling, they would have cut out the tooling shape in one of the boards prior to laminating, then when pasting up for leather, they would have added additional paste to the tooling bit. Once pasted down, a tooling shape would have gone straight into the recess and pressed cold.

In some cases there is evidence of sewing onto fabric which has already been pasted onto part of the boards so that it would have already been in the correct place, then additional paste boards were added on the back of the initial one.

A visit to the Museum of Childhood

I’ve just spent a fabulous morning at the Museum of Childhood having a look for books for my MA project, thanks to Catherine at the museum and Jane at the V&A, I am hopefully going to be taking a book from this museum and working on it under Jane’s supervision at the V&A – very exciting!! Pictures of the chosen book will hopefully come soon!

In the meantime, I did have a peruse of the shelves in the museum itself and felt like I had stepped back in time and onto the playground at my primary school! So here are some pics if you remember any of them!