Mirror of the World: Disbinding an early printed copy of Katib Çelebi’s Cihan-numa

In current conservation practice, where minimal intervention is favoured, it is unusual to decide to disbind a book entirely. However, in the case of the Chester Beatty Library’s rare complete copy of Katib Çelebi’s Cihan-numa (Mirror of the World, CBL AA 306) it was decided that this was the best option in order to carry out a comprehensive conservation treatment of the damaged text block. The Cihan-numa was printed by Ibrahim Müteferrika in Constantinople in 1732, and summarised Ottoman geographical knowledge of the time. It was one of the first texts to be published by Müteferrika, founder of the first official Ottoman printing house in Turkey.

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CBL AA 306 before conservation: the spine, upper board, and opening characteristics of the bound volume.

The book first came to the attention of the conservation department in 2016 when an image of a double folio map was requested for inclusion in the Director’s Choice publication. Due to the restrictive 19th century binding and modern European sewing structure, the opening of the text block was extremely restricted. The text block was already detached from the case binding, and digitisation of the printed map was not possible in situ. In order to facilitate digitisation, the map was removed from the damaged text block so that it could be fully repaired by previous Heritage Council Intern Cécilia Duminuco before digitisation.

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Removing f.196 in 2016, and the conserved map of present-day Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan after repair.

It was at this point that I was given the project to work on. One of the most significant factors contributing to the decision to take the text block apart into quires was to allow for complete repair. In particular, the green colour used to paint the frame lines around many of the printed maps had gradually burnt through the paper causing most of the folios to split along this line. Resewing the folios in a more sympathetic style would release the strain on the heavily burnished paper of the text block and reduce the risk of any additional breakage in the areas that were decorated with this copper-containing pigment. Using a traditional Islamic sewing style would also be less restrictive than the heavily glued-up 19th century structure, increasing the opening of the text block and allowing the folios to be viewed right into the gutter edge.

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The recto (left) and verso (right) of f.86 showing the extent of breaks caused by copper corrosion.

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Detail of f. 297 before conservation.

While taking apart the text block every detail that could provide information about the original sewing structure was recorded. In the middle of most quires remnants of a pink or red sewing thread and previous sewing stations could be recorded.

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Evidence of original sewing stations on f.126r- 125v (left); and a detail of the preserved pink sewing threads in the gutter of f.125v (right).

It was also apparent that the text block had not been completely resewn, as previously thought. Instead the back of the text block was sawn into at nine stations and cords were embedded inside these recesses over the previous sewing structure. After which a generous amount of glue was applied before gauze and paper linings were added by the 19th century binder. This treatment ensured the quires would stay together, but also restricted the movement of either the sewing threads, or the heavily burnished paper.

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Removing the paper and gauze spine linings from the paper text block (left); manually removing the heavy glue accretions (top and middle right); and the spine after glue removal (bottom right).

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Detail of the nine sawn-in stations and cords.

The gauze and paper backings and the proteinaceous glue were removed manually with a scalpel in order to avoid distorting the highly water sensitive paper with moisture from a poultice. After removing the glue, the quires were separated from each other. Although there was no glue holding the quires together anymore, they did not separate very easily- especially where the paper was sawn into. Great care was necessary to avoid further damage to the paper in those areas. While separating the quires a collation map was prepared in order to chronicle the sewing structure, but which was also used to record any common traits or unusual details found during the process of disbinding. The collation map includes notes of the folios with hand coloured maps, the location of annotations made by someone studying the text in the past, as well as specific damages such as old repairs, damage by insects and copper corrosion.

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Separating the text block into quires (gatherings of folios).

After separating the folios they were put into tissue folders and placed in temporary storage boxes to await their paper repairs. The paper repairs are now well underway and will be the focus of a future blog post towards the end of the year.

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Dorothea separating the text block into quires (gatherings of folios).

Dorothea Müller, Heritage Council Intern in Conservation

Dorothea will give a talk about this project as part of Heritage Week in August 2017. Her presentation will take place in the Lecture Room at the Chester Beatty Library, at 1.10pm on Thursday 24th August.

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Paper, Pigments & Pearls: Conserving a Collection of Indian Miniature Paintings

The collection of Indian miniature paintings at the Chester Beatty Library (CBL) that forms CBL In 11A, contains 99 single folios from the Mughal era, dated from the late 16th to the mid-19th century. The folios include portraits of Mughal emperors, courtly scenes, natural history subjects and daily life. They are striking in their appearance due to the brilliance of the pigments used and the detailed nature of the paintings. The folios are often double-sided with both images and calligraphy, usually inset into highly decorative and pigmented borders. They were probably originally housed in bound albums, however, when sold at auction, they were often detached from their original bindings and sold as individual items.

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Seed pearls and (perhaps precious) stones adhered to In 11A.69, Women on a Rock Slide, c.1760.

Following a request for access to a number of folios from this collection from a reader, I carried out an initial condition assessment. The decision was taken to conserve the entire collection, most of which had not yet been treated. Approximately half of the folios in the collection were adhered to acidic mounts with a full hinge along the left-hand edge, whilst others were mounted between glass plates, and a number were found loose without any form of mount.

The folios were carefully removed from their unsuitable historic mounts and examined visually. The sheer quality of the pigments is one of the first observations I made when examining these paintings. This has led me to become interested in the chemical make-up of pigments, which I will further study at the Montefiascone Summer School later this month. Examination of the folios was carried out using an Inspex High Definition digital microscope from Ash Technologies Limited. This microscope provides magnification of the object directly onto a large screen for detailed image analysis. This allowed me to determine which conservation treatments were needed.

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Consolidating In 11A.67, A Dejected Mistress, 1755-1760, with localised brush application of Bermocoll.

The first step in conserving these paintings was the consolidaton of flaking pigments, which prevents further losses of the pigment layer. This is carried out using Bermocoll, which is a cellulose-based adhesive. A 1% solution was applied using a brush and a 0.5% solution was used in the nebuliser, which disperses the consolidant as a fine mist. Other additional, but infrequent treatments on these folios have included infilling areas of loss, and tape and/or adhesive removal.

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Pink pigment loss revealing under-drawing in In 11A.73, Ganesa and his Vehicle, 1800-1810.

Tears and other areas of damage have been repaired where necessary using a dry concentration of wheat starch paste and Japanese paper. The preservation of the In 11A folios is still underway, and the folios are currently in the process of being hinged into their new conservation standard mounts. This project is generously being supported by the Library’s members.

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Delamination of the paper support from In 11A.73, before, during, and after treatment.

During Heritage Week in August 2015, I will give a talk about this project. I will present a number of case studies and give more detail about the specific conservation challenges of these beautiful objects.

Puneeta Sharma, Heritage Council Intern in Paper Conservation

Puneeta’s presentation will take place in the Lecture Room at the Chester Beatty Library, at 1.10pm on Thursday 27th August.