Conservation collective Copenhagen

The seventeenth seminar on the Care and Conservation of Manuscripts, was held at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark from 11th to 13th April 2018. This well-established seminar provides an international forum for discussion and exchange between conservators and specialists from related disciplines.

In November last year, both Julia Poirier and I were delighted to hear that our abstracts had been successful and that we had been invited to speak at this event.

My paper, ‘Exploring the materiality of the early Islamic book: preparing to conserve an early Qur’an manuscript in the collections of Sir Alfred Chester Beatty,’ presented the initial findings from my work to conserve CBL Is 1404. Comprised of 201 folios and measuring around 47 x 38 cm, current scholarship suggests that this large Qur’an manuscript is Umayyad—that is it was made before 750 AD under the courtly patronage of the Umayyad Dynasty. It was most likely written on the Arabian Peninsula, possibly in Sana’a, in Yemen.

Is 1404_Opening.jpg

CBL Is 1404

The manuscript has suffered extensive water damage and subsequent corrosion of the iron containing ink it was written with. It has in turn been subject to numerous layers of previous repairs, many of which are now failing, ineffective, and incurring damage to the manuscript. The weight and extent of the repairs was severely restricting the movement of the parchment folios, causing them to buckle and distort unevenly. This in turn was further aggravating the embrittled and ink-damaged parchment, causing it to fragment when flexed. Although the scale of the task was rather daunting, it was clear that these old repairs would need to be released if the manuscript was to be stabilised sufficiently to allow scholarly access or perhaps even display.

Stages

CBL Is 1404 f.13 before, during, and after conservation.

My presentation included details of my treatment methodologies as well as the first results of EQuIP (Early Qur’an Illumination on Parchment) material analysis undertaken in collaboration with the EU-funded MOLAB, and the Books and Beasts BioArCh project at the University of York.

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Presenting my paper. Thank you Sam Foley for capturing the moment!

As well as presenting my own work and receiving feedback from fellow conservators, attending this well-respected conference in Copenhagen gave me the chance to develop relationships with colleagues internationally,  allowing me to expand my research on the materiality of early Qur’anic manuscripts. The chance to hear presentations from conservators working with diverse manuscript collections around the world was invaluable to my understanding of the latest developments in the conservation profession.

Jasdip

Jasdip Singh Dhillon’s paper on Sikh codices.

I was particularly interested to hear Jasdip Singh Dhillon’s paper, ‘Sikh codices with Islamicate bindings: The development of a conservation approach.’ Jasdip works at the Oxford Conservation Consortium and Pothi Seva, and presented his ground-breaking research on the multiple influences on the Sikh binding structure.

Another fascinating paper was presented by Andrew Honey from the Bodleian Library’s conservation team. Andrew’s reflections on working alongside the late Christopher Clarkson to conserve the Winchester Bible, and subsequently continuing with this treatment after Chris’ death, provided a nuanced and personal account of both the great man, and a great manuscript.

JjoZxv9M_400x400‘The biology of the book: Future prospects for biology as a handmaiden to conservation,’ introduced the Beasts to Craft Advanced ERC project team, and announced their recent award of €2.5 million from the European Research Council. The team members include Matthew Collins, Jiři Vnouček, Élodie Lévêque and Sarah Fiddyment, all of whom are working on the latest developments in parchment production, manuscript materiality and conservation. Their ERC funding ensures that this fascinating project can explore new areas of research relating to animal husbandry, parchment manufacture, and the microbiome of individual skins. The opportunity to discuss my own work on CBL Is 1404 with them was invaluable.

Julia’s paper on the history of Samaritan manuscript production was utterly fascinating, and there were audible gasps from the audience in the lecture theatre as she explained and illustrated the unique wooden spine stiffener binding type she has observed. Other excellent papers were given by Georgios Boudalis, Nikki Tomkins, and Nil Baydar amongst others. The standard of presentations was exceedingly high, and all of the speakers provided fascinating insights into their work.

JUlia

Julia Poirier presenting her research on Samaritan bindings.

As a practicing conservator, continuing professional development is an essential part of my duty to maintain professional standards at work. As such, I remain exceedingly grateful for the support of the Chester Beatty, ICRI  and the Heritage Council of Ireland , who facilitated my attendance at this event.

Care and Conservation 17 was directly relevant to my work on the conservation of illuminated manuscripts at the Chester Beatty. It was also particularly valuable to have the opportunity to renew relationships with colleagues working across Europe and the USA, and to share our enthusiasm about continuing projects.

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Nyhavn, Copenhagen.

After the conference, I took the opportunity to explore Copenhagen and visit the David Collection. This beautiful collection of Islamic art, contemporary Danish paintings, and decorative objects is often compared with the Chester Beatty, and provided a very pleasant venue for a morning of exploration. Their current exhibition offered an incredibly informative insight to an often misunderstood subject, The Human Figure in Islamic Art – Holy Men, Princes, and Commoners (November 24th 2017 to May 13th 2018).

 

Kristine Rose-Beers ACR, Senior Conservator

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Miniature Masterpiece: Repair Work Revealed

Earlier this year 144 fifteenth-century medieval miniatures from one of the Chester Beatty’s most treasured works, The Coëtivy Hours (CBL W 082), were re-mounted by the conservation team in preparation for the temporary exhibition, Miniature Masterpiece: The Coëtivy Hours (9th March – 2nd September 2018).

In general, the miniatures were in good condition and did not require any treatment prior to re-mounting, but one particular miniature, CBL W 082 f.295, required rather more care and attention.

An unsympathetic historic repair along the spine edge of the folio had caused the parchment to deteriorate and it was decided that conservation treatment would be beneficial, in order to improve the physical and chemical stability of the folio before it was mounted. For more information on the mounting process do take a look at our previous blog post here.

Fig 1

CBL W 082 f.295 before conservation.

Fig 2

CBL W 082 f.295 in transmitted light.

Four distinct areas of damage were visible along the spine edge of folio 295. It is likely that the losses may have occurred when the folio was removed from its binding, and could possibly correspond with the sewing stations of this previous structure.  Unfortunately, when the damaged areas were repaired, the infill paper that was used was thicker, more yellow and several shades lighter than the original parchment, immediately detracting from the delicate illumination. When viewing the folio in transmitted light, it could be seen that the repair paper overlapped the parchment on both the recto and verso by 1-5mm. This overlap was not only visually displeasing, but also increased the risk of tensions occurring if the folio were to expand and contract in response to changes in relative humidity. In addition, the parchment along the repair edge had darkened and become embrittled, possibly due to aging of the adhesive with which the repair was applied.

For these reasons, it was decided that the historic repair and any residual adhesive should be removed, in order to prevent any further deterioration of the parchment support. Since parchment is very sensitive to moisture, mechanical removal of the repair was attempted in the first instance, but this was not successful. Instead, a small damp brush was used to introduce just enough moisture to swell the adhesive so that the repairs and adhesive could be carefully removed with a small dental tool.

Fig 3

Removing the historic repairs from CBL W 082 f.295.

Fig 4

CBL W 082 f.259 after the historic repairs had been removed.

As often occurs during conservation treatments, there was a stage where the object looked a lot worse than before the treatment began! As well as revealing the true extent of loss to the spine edge, removing the old repair revealed two small tears in the parchment. These were repaired on the verso of the folio using RK2 remoistenable tissue, prepared using isinglass (a proteinaceous adhesive derived from the swim bladder of sturgeon fish). Isinglass was chosen for its excellent ageing properties as well as its strong adhesion at low concentrations. It is also a collagen-based material, just like parchment. The prepared remoistenable tissue was cut to the desired shape and peeled off its Melinex backing. Then the repair paper was carefully positioned over the tear, activated with a damp brush and left to dry under a small weight. When dry, the two tear repairs were trimmed down and the folio was ready to be infilled.

Fig 5

Details showing the torn areas on CBL W 082 f.295 before (left) and after (right) repairing with remoistenable tissue.

The paper chosen for the infills was a Japanese sekishu paper (20 gsm), dyed with yasha (click here for more information on how this was prepared). The paper was thinner and lighter than the parchment, to ensure that it would work in harmony with the folio and avoid incurring any tensions between the two materials.

Fig 6

Tools used for infilling.

Fig 7

Infilling losses using sekishu paper.

The folio was placed over a light box and a layer of Melinex was used as a barrier between the folio and the repair paper above. This allowed the shape of the first damaged area to be traced onto the repair paper with a water pen. A bamboo spatula was used to score along the same line and to tease away the remaining paper, revealing a feathered edge. Next, the edge of each infill was trimmed down with scissors and pasted with wheat starch paste. Over the light box, each infill was carefully positioned (with a 1mm overlap between the repair and the folio) and left to dry under light pressure. After treatment, the folio was mounted in the same way as the other miniatures and is currently on display in the Miniature Masterpiece: The Coëtivy Hours exhibition.

Fig 8

CBL W 082 f.295 after treatment.

As an intern, this small project was a fantastic opportunity to learn more about parchment conservation. Discussing treatment options with the conservation team here at the Chester Beatty Library was an invaluable experience and I look forward to applying what I have learnt to new parchment projects in the future.

Alice Derham, Conservation Intern

A lavishly illustrated catalogue by exhibition curator Dr Jill Unkel (Curator of the Western Collection), with contributions from Dr Laura Cleaver (Ussher Lecturer in Medieval Art at Trinity College Dublin), and our own Kristine Rose-Beers (Senior Book Conservator), is available from the Library’s gift shop for anyone who wants to have an even closer look at the brilliance of this miniature masterpiece.

 

 

Miniature Masterpiece: The Coëtivy Hours

The conservation team have been busy preparing 144 exquisite illuminated miniatures from a manuscript dating to c. 1443, for our next temporary exhibition ‘Miniature Masterpiece: The Coëtivy Hours’.

The Coëtivy Hours (CBL W 082) was made for the renowned book collector, Prigent de Coëtivy (1400-1450), who was Admiral of France at the time. The book was specifically commissioned to commemorate his marriage to Marie de Rais in Paris in 1444. Nearly 500 years later, the book was given to Chester Beatty by his wife, Edith, on the occasion of their wedding anniversary in 1919.

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Fig. 1. The Coëtivy Book of Hours (left) and miniatures housed between glass (right), before conservation.

The tiny manuscript (14.2 x 11.3 x 4.2 cm) is bound in an intricately tooled early nineteenth-century binding. The 364 folios are skilfully painted, with highly decorative borders throughout the manuscript.  However, 144 of the 148 three-quarter page miniatures were removed from the book by Beatty soon after it came into his collection, as he wanted people to be able to ‘look at them as closely as they want and study them properly’. They were therefore stored between glass to aid their preservation and display.

Although the book itself did not require conservation treatment, it was decided that the miniatures should be removed from the glass in order to facilitate their digitisation and enable safe handling by researchers in the future. When the glass sandwiches were opened, it became clear that each folio had been attached to the glass at the top and bottom of the spine edge with pressure-sensitive tape. Thankfully, the carrier of the tape was easily removed with a metal spatula. The rubber-based adhesive left dark residual staining, but it was decided that this would not be removed as in some cases the staining was in contact with the original media and solvent treatment would be too risky.

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Fig. 2. Removing folio 291 from glass.

The parchment folios of the manuscript are very thin and have very few visible flaws, indicating that they were made from carefully selected and evenly prepared skins. Scientific analysis by the BioArCh team at the University of York revealed that both calf and goatskin were used in the Coëtivy Hours. Overall, the media was in excellent condition, and did not require consolidation. In some areas there were losses to the blue pigment and gold leaf, but the areas around these losses appeared to be stable and, when examined closely, there was no active flaking of the media.

After the folios were condition checked, the new Digital Department at the Chester Beatty Library took high quality images of every folio using a Phase One XF camera with an IQ380 attachment, capable of producing images with a resolution of 80 megapixels (look out for the new digitisation blog that is coming soon!). The opening of the nineteenth-century binding was somewhat restricted, allowing it to open to little more than 90 degrees, so the conservation team provided advice on handling and helped to ensure the manuscript was supported on a cradle throughout digitisation, whilst the pages were held in place with polyethylene straps from Benchmark.

Fig. 3
Fig. 3. Digitisation of the Coëtivy Book of Hours.

When devising a mounting system for the individual parchment folios, it was important to choose a system that would be strong enough to hold the folios safely in place during display and handling, but allow the parchment to move with natural fluctuations in relative humidity and temperature. The mounting system also needed to take into account the unique contours of each folio. For this reason, a bespoke system of Japanese paper tabs was used to mount the folios within window mounts.

The majority of the folios were mounted in pairs, in a standard size mount made from acid-free, buffered Conservation Board (1650 micron), with a standardised aperture. Each folio was over mounted on the spine edge only, with the other three edges floated just a couple of millimetres inside the aperture. This partial float mounting system ensured that each folio was held in place securely, but also offered room for the parchment to expand and contract. Aesthetically, the mounting also reflects the character of the object and reminds the viewer that the miniatures are not only artworks in their own right, but are folios from a bound manuscript volume.

Two sizes of tabs were used on each folio – two 25mm tabs of Japanese sekishu paper were adhered to the spine edge and 3-5 smaller 15mm tabs of a lighter weight Japanese usumino paper were attached along the other three edges. For each tab, the edge in contact with the object was water-cut and then trimmed down with scissors.

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Fig. 4. Tabs of Japanese paper, with trimmed water-cut edges, for hinging the folios to the mounts.

The tabs were attached to the folios, with an overlap of less than 2mm, using wheat starch paste and left to dry underneath Bondina, blotting paper and small bag weights.

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Fig. 5. Attaching the Japanese paper tabs to the verso of each folio using wheat starch paste.

In terms of positioning, the two spine tabs were placed about 7mm from the bottom and top edges, to reduce the risk of the corners catching when the verso of each folio is viewed. In some cases, the position of these tabs needed to be shifted in order to avoid the red ruling lines.

The level of planar distortion varied from folio to folio, as the parchment not only had a memory of being in a bound volume but also the memory of being part of an animal skin! To account for this variation, the smaller tabs were positioned on a case-by-case basis, allowing each folio to lie as flat as possible whilst also allowing some movement. No more than 5 staggered paper tabs per folio were added, to reduce the risk of tensions arising and cockling.

2018_Composite_ImagesFig. 6. Folios 241 and 270 during treatment, showing the positions of the Japanese paper tabs.

Next, each pair of folios was positioned in their mount and the tabs on the spine edge were pasted to the back board of the mount. A Teflon folder was used to ensure a strong attachment.

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Fig. 7. Attaching the tabbed folios to the mounts using wheat starch paste.

Fig. 8

Fig. 8. Folios 294 and 295 after mounting.

The final stage in preparing these folios for exhibition involved framing the mounted miniatures in bespoke gold frames and then hanging them in the midnight blue temporary gallery, so the beautiful illuminations sparkled.

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Fig. 9. Framing the folios in the lab (left) and installing the exhibition (right).

Alice Derham, Conservation Intern

The Miniature Masterpiece: The Coëtivy Hours exhibition is on display from 9 March until 2 September 2018. We do hope you’ll come along to see it!

A lavishly illustrated catalogue by exhibition curator Dr Jill Unkel (Curator of the Western Collection), with contributions from Dr Laura Cleaver (Ussher Lecturer in Medieval Art at Trinity College Dublin), and our own Kristine Rose Beers (Senior Book Conservator), is available from the Library’s gift shop for anyone who wants to have an even closer look at the brilliance of this miniature masterpiece.

A short review of Samaritan binding practices

In this post I will look at some of the many questions raised during the conservation and re-binding of the large 14th century Samaritan Pentateuch I worked on as part of the recent project to conserve the Hebrew manuscript collection.

As I began work on this Pentateuch, it became apparent that the current scholarly understanding of Samaritan manuscript and binding production consists of just a few texts. This is probably due to the limited amount of Samaritan manuscript material that survives, and the lack of original binding evidence this material preserves. Even so, the existing literature gives the conservator a valuable starting point in understanding medieval Samaritan book production.

Heb 752 before conservation

CBL Heb 752 before conservation

When working on a manuscript the conservator attempts to understand its production characteristics, the circumstances of its production, and the binding of the manuscript in relation to a time and location. The presence or lack of a binding, as well as sewing evidence and other structural traces, inform our understanding of regional book production, and the object’s provenance.

Though European book production is well documented and Islamic book production is becoming better understood thanks to recent collaborations between conservators and scholars, Samaritan book production remains less researched. As mentioned, this is probably due to the small surviving corpus, the type of material, and the region in which these manuscripts were produced, all of which has led to a rather complicated history.

The Samaritans are a small community from around modern day Palestine and Syria. They are the descendants of Israelites who were not exiled by the Babylonians during the 6th century. Their scriptures consist only of the Pentateuch, i.e. the Five Books of Moses.

The Samaritans appear to have adopted the codex format in the 3rd of 4th century, allowing researchers to hypothesis that early Samaritan bindings had a strong link with the structure of other early bindings such as the Nag Hammadi bindings. The Samaritan codex is part of the Mediterranean binding tradition, and the remnants of later bindings that survive feature both Coptic and Byzantine elements. Nonetheless no Samaritan binding structures earlier than the 12th century have survived intact, so it is difficult to ascertain a binding style unique to the Samaritans.

The idea that the Samaritan scribe was also the binder seems to have been readily accepted amongst Samaritan codicologists. This means that there was no group of people whose craft was to bind books only[1]. It appears that the Samaritan people used bindings for the sole function of keeping their Holy word safe.

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Left: Drawings of Byzantine sewn on board attachment by Konstantinos Houlis[2]; Right: Nag Hammadi book model by Cécilia Dumenico, CBL intern

The corpus of manuscripts from the 12th century onwards is more substantial, and allows for better interpretations. Alan D. Crown, an expert in Samaritan Studies, refers to the Pentateuch manuscripts from the 12th to the 14th century as being ‘not bound’. The Middle Eastern custom of wrapping[3] bindings was used by the Samaritans to protect the unbound codex in cloth. Extra protection from storing the manuscripts in wooden boxes appears to have also been common. This might have been an extension of the custom of wrapping books or might have developed independently.

In contradiction to Crown’s statement, it appears that the two large Pentateuch manuscripts (CBL Heb 751 and CBL Heb 752) in the Chester Beatty collection have been sewn with each quire attached to the next using a length of thread and a link-stitch at each sewing station. It would seem that they were sewn at a very early stage of production. Given the size of these manuscripts (280 folios, H: 32cm x W: 25cm), had the text block not been sewn, the manuscript would be extremely difficult to open and close without constant movement of the parchment bifolios and singletons, and risk of damage and loss. In the case of CBL Heb 752 the use of singletons hooked around quires throughout the manuscript can be seen.

What Crown likely means is that there is no evidence of protective bindings on the manuscripts i.e. no sewn on boards and no casing. The sections of the manuscripts were probably sewn together as a textblock before being protected by fabric wrapping and boxing. The spine was probably kept flat, i.e. square to the textblock. The common lack of protective boards explains the condition of the first and last quires of these manuscripts: the quires themselves acted as covers and were damaged as a result. Parchment repairs were often needed on these manuscripts, and over the years some of them were rebound to protect them from further damage.

Heb 751

CBL Heb 751 – First four quires before conservation

The Samaritans, like the Jewish people, safely disposed of their sacred texts in genizah; the Samaritan term is matmarah. These depositories of old sacred texts are fantastic sources of information. A number of discarded fragments from these matmarah have already found their way into international collections and been rebound, which has sadly resulted in the loss of valuable information on previous structures which could have helped the book conservator.

James Fraser[4] links a large number of fragmentary and composite 12th to 14th century Pentateuch manuscripts to the Damascus matmarah. He gathers that a certain amount of items from the repository were removed to be sold to Western collectors in 1628. The documents from the matmarah were probably sold both as individual fragments and as bound volumes. Some are in Islamic style bindings, whilst others have been re-bound as composite volumes in Western bindings by the buyers. As interest grew in the West for Samaritan material, from the later 16th century, the repositories were opened and items were either repaired, rebound locally by Muslim craftsmen or Samaritan scribes, and finally sold on to the West, sometimes to be rebound once again on entering these collections.Slide2

Left: Example of a Pentateuch bound in an Islamic style binding – Rylands Sam Ms.28; Right: Example of a 12th century Samaritan manuscript rebound in a Western style binding – Cambridge MS Add.1846.

 

The history of Samaritan bindings has never been firmly established, and appears to have been very flexible. The constant changes these manuscripts went through during their lifetimes makes studying their original bindings and looking for precious evidence very difficult. Nonetheless it is a fascinating story, which has allowed me to undertake the conservation of the Library’s beautiful 14th century Samaritan Pentateuch (CBL Heb 752) with a better understanding of Samaritan binding history.

Julia Poirier, Book and Paper Conservator

[1] A. Crown, Samaritan Scribes and Manuscript, p.328-329

[2] Konstantinos Houlis (1993), “A Research on Structural Elements of Byzantine Bookbindings”, in Ancient and Medieval Book Materials and Techniques: Erice, 18-25 September 1992, edited by Marilena Maniaci and Paola F Munafò, vol. II, Città del Vaticano, Biblioteca apostolica vaticana, pp. 239–268.

[3] A. Crown, Studies in Samaritan Scribal Practices and Manuscript History: V, p.451

[4] J. Fraser, 1971, ‘Documents from a Samaritan Genizah in Damascus’, Palestine Exploration Quarterly, p.85-92.

 

Conserving the past, whilst training for the future

The Conservation team were delighted to start the New Year by offering a student placement (4th– 22nd January 2016) to Laura O’Farrell. Laura is originally from Dublin, and currently a student at West Dean College, University of Sussex. She has spent the past three weeks with us as part of her post-graduate diploma work placement, and we’re happy to share this post from her.

CBL Archive:

The Sacred Traditions gallery (c) The Trustees of the Chester Beatty Library, Dublin

When at university in Dublin, between too many cups of coffee and too few hours spent in the library, a number of us would bail out on actual work and come up the road to the Chester Beatty Library instead. One of our first year courses was an Introduction to Early Christianity which explored many of the textual sources of the New Testament, but no amount of reading through any textbook compared with standing in front of the cases in the Sacred Traditions gallery and looking at the papyri there.

That fragments of anything so delicate could survive that long seemed magical to me. Even now, despite understanding more about cellulose and how it deteriorates, it still does. I’m not even sure I knew much about what conservation was then, but it seized my imagination, and in the years that followed, when I thought about potential careers, it was the thing I returned to again and again.

Nonetheless, it did take me thirteen years to get back to the Chester Beatty Library, (although some of those years were spent in Glasnevin Cemetery, where Chester Beatty himself is now one of the beloved permanent residents). I am currently studying for an MA in the Conservation of Books & Library Materials at West Dean College, in the UK. As part of our studies, all students are required to undertake a work placement. Jessica and the conservation department at the Chester Beatty Library very kindly offered to have me for three weeks, and so, unlike my peers who had to scatter across the UK or further afield, I got to stay at home, immensely privileged to be working with the very precious objects that lived right where I did.

Most of my time here has been spent working on two objects from the Hebrew manuscript collection which are part of an ongoing project to conserve the entire collection.

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Heb 779, before and after conservation.

The first was a single folio fragment that was in a rather poor condition and in definite need of some tlc. The paper itself was extremely fragile, with a number of tears and losses, and a significant amount of surface dirt and discoloration. The manuscript appears to have been written in iron gall ink, an ink which, when fresh, can be an intense blue-black in colour but as it ages, turns to a brown and can be notoriously corrosive.

The first step was to support each of the tears and weaknesses with some very thin Japanese tissue, adhering it to the repair site with wheat starch paste. It was important to limit the amount of moisture used, so as not to risk the appearance of tidelines on the object or any general darkening or colour change on the areas of repair, and also to avoid accelerating the corrosion of this ink. Larger losses were then in-filled with a heavier Japanese tissue in a sympathetic colour to provide additional support. After the repairs had been trimmed, the object was then inlaid into some beautiful handmade paper from Griffin Mill, and a mount cut for it. The inlay provides extra support for the object when it’s handled, and the mount means it can be exhibited easily when required.

Although I had done repairs such as this before, the process of inlaying and mounting was completely new to me but I was patiently guided by Kristine at each step, and am now hopeful that this object should have a longer and happier life ahead of it.

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Tear repair and infills on Heb 776.

The other object I had the opportunity of working on was a 19th century parchment Torah scroll. Because of the way it is manufactured and dried under tension, parchment can become quite hard and unwieldy as it ages. Working with parchment account scrolls has been described by some conservators as akin to ‘wrestling an octopus’ and can require a rather fantastical construction of weights to keep everything in the correct position. Thankfully, this scroll had none of those problems. The parchment was of a very good quality and in very good condition, and might not have required any treatment but for some sort of rodent having feasted on its edges at some point in its life.

Heb 776 (9)

The Torah scroll after conservation.

The tears and losses were in danger of creating more damage and so had to be stabilized. The repairs were done in the same manner as for the first object, with two weights of Japanese paper, but this time adhering them with isinglass. Isinglass is obtained from dried sturgeon swim bladders, and is particularly suited for repairing parchment as both materials are collagen-based. As isinglass can be used at a low temperature, it also helps when keeping additional moisture and heat to a minimum is essential. The paper chosen was a nice match in colour to the parchment, allowing the repairs to obtrude as little as possible on the appearance of the object.

Working on this scroll was a really nice introduction to treating parchment objects, as well as to the structure of the scroll, which is obviously very different to that of the codex but fascinating to look at and use.

Icon wall Installation 18 Jan 2016 (25)

Cécilia, Laura, and Julia with the new icon display in the Sacred Traditions Gallery.

During my time here I’ve also had the opportunity to see some of the many ways the Conservation department is involved in different aspects of the Library. I was able to assist in the installation of icons in the Sacred Traditions gallery, and had an up close and personal view of some extraordinary objects as they came through the studio.

As my placement here comes to an end, I will be both loath to leave and re-enter the real world, but also hugely appreciative of the opportunity I’ve been given. Everyone here has been so kind, encouraging and supportive and, despite the intervening years, this place has remained as magical to me as it always was.

Understanding skin – Examining the parchment of a 14th century Samaritan manuscript

As part of our current project to conserve the CBL Hebrew collection, I have been working on a large 14th century Samaritan Pentateuch. In the first post about this manuscript I will concentrate on the context in which it was written, and the materials from which it is made.

Heb 752 - Mss

The disbound textblock before conservation.

The Samaritan people are a religious and ethnic group preserving the tradition of copying the Pentateuch in the Samaritan alphabet. The Pentateuch comprises of the first five books of the Hebrew bible/Old Testament, also known as the Five Books of Moses because they are believed to have been dictated by God directly to Moses. The Chester Beatty manuscript codex was written in 1339 AD in Samaritan majuscule Hebrew characters. The primary scribe of this manuscript is believed to have been Abisha ibn Pinhas ibn Joseph.

This manuscript is composed of 28 parchment quires, each made of five bifolios (H: 32cm x W: 51cm). Given its overall size, a very large number of animals have been used to produce the textblock. Earlier this year we provided samples from some of our parchment manuscripts to be tested by the BioArch project at the University of York.

Taking samples

This fascinating project uses minute rubbings from the surface of the parchment to gather collagen which can be analysed with mass spectrometry. The protein within the collagen can be extracted and provide valuable information about the parchment species and its condition.

Analyses from three bifolios and a singleton from this manuscript all confirmed that the parchment is made from sheep skin. This confirmed features seen in my visual examination of the skin characteristics such as size and colour. Follicle patterns, although sometimes visible, can be misleading due to distortion during the production process. The cost of buying the  raw skins, the time spent preparing the parchment, as well as writing the text meant that the cost of production for this manuscript was likely very high and it was probably commissioned by a wealthy devote.

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A natural stretched edge (left) and imperfect keratinised areas (right).

As I worked on this manuscript, I found considerable evidence that the parchment skins were being used economically. Scholars in the field believe that Samaritan scribes were responsible for preparing their own skins and kept even the flawed skins for use, supporting the evidence that the material was a valuable commodity. I found that they had used all areas of the skin that were available, even the hard keratinised extremities of the stretched skins and imperfect or transparent areas.

Single folios were created from any remaining areas of the skin, which were not large enough for full bifolios. In some of the quires a full bifolio is substituted for two single guarded folios. The single folios are always inserted in the middle of the quire between bifolios- this is consistent throughout the manuscript. The quires with guarded folios are usually located in the second half of the codex but no more specific pattern was identified.

Heb 752 - scrapping marks and holes in skin (3)

Holes and cut marks, possibly made during flaying.

I was able to observe a number of large holes throughout the manuscript. These may have been small cuts or imperfections already present in the skin or holes accidentally made during preparation of the skin that have become larger after stretching during preparation of the parchment. Other elements of the parchment manufacturing process are also apparent; the de-hairing of the manuscript appears to have been poorly executed on some of the skins, leaving patches of animal hair in the manuscript, and the scraping of the skins has created both some harsh flay cuts and shaving marks on the parchment, and also unevenness in the thickness of the skins. However there are no sewing repairs in this manuscript, a rather common feature in Samaritan manuscripts.

Heb 752 ff231-240 (11)

Delamination of the skin.

Heb 752 - Assessment (6)

Marks left by the parchment maker’s knife during thinning of the skin.

Although the parchment used in this manuscript is not of the best quality, the collation follows Gregory’s rule, a common medieval practice of collating parchment skins so that when folded and arranged in quires the hair side of the skin faces hair side and the flesh side faces flesh side.

By looking in detail at the parchment, I have tried to understand the scribe’s preparation process. The text appears to be very carefully centred on the page. Most often the skins were prepared for calligraphy by folding the bifolio in half and piercing both layers of parchment with a metal point along the fore-edge. The perforations were made on the folded bifolio. On most bifolios the pricking marks line up but in some cases the parchment has moved, throwing off the alignment while others simply do not align. A metal point was used to score between the marks at each fore-edge, creating blind lines to write on, while leaving a margin at the fore-edge and centre of the bifolio. On single guarded folios, I observed a similar approach with the pricking of the parchment on both the folio and the guard.

Heb 752 - Blind lines

Ruling across a bifolio (left) and pricking marks along the fore-edge of the folio

To create the vertical lines, a pair of marks about one centimetre apart was made at each corner of the folded bifolio by perforating the parchment with a sharp knife. When joined these create vertical blind lines which were used to centre the text in the page.

Heb 752 - different hands and inks used

Heb 752 Scrapping of ink and parchement (2)The decoration in the manuscript is rather sober, in compliance with the Samaritan’s interested solely in the text. Aside from some simple black ink markers throughout the manuscript, there are only a few dividers that separate the text. Those decorated dividers often indicate a change in hand and inks. Most commonly, the ink appears to be a black carbon ink, with possibly some gall inks mixtures. I could observe very little evidence of damage or loss, with the exception of some scraping of entire words, possibly as a way of correcting a mistake.

One folio (120) showed three blind compass circles along the fore-edge. I think they are an unfinished feature on this particular folio as there are no other examples in the manuscript.

Heb 752 f.120 drawn circle (2)

Heb 752 - Trimming lines (1)The uneven trimming of this codex is also worth noting. The scored lines at the edges of the bifolios appear to have been drawn with a metal point being dragged along the parchment, creating small ridges on the surface. The lines were then used as a guide for trimming by the binder.

Another interesting feature of this manuscript is found along the tailedge of folio 144v. A strip of parchment is sewn with a medium thickness red thread and protrudes over the fore-edge of the manuscript where it has been used as a bookmark. The text on this page (Lev. 9:22-10:1) is heavily worn, supposedly from kissing. This is a common occurrence in Samaritan manuscripts, again demonstrating the importance of the written word for the Samaritans.

CBL Heb 752, f.144v

I look forward to posting more about the conservation of this manuscript in the New Year.

Julia Poirier, Book & Paper Conservator

Conserving parchment from the Hebrew manuscript collection

One of the main projects at the CBL this year has been the conservation of the Hebrew manuscript collection, which contains an array of items including pamphlet bindings, Torah scrolls, single codex folios, and bound manuscripts. The majority of this collection is on parchment, with a small percentage on paper. I was allocated a number of items to conserve from the collection, which allowed me develop my knowledge on parchment repair techniques and gain a more informed understanding of this material, which differs from paper immensely.

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Single codex folio, Heb 753.5 (c.14th-16th century) was previously stored between glass.

An interesting part of this collection for me was the conservation of three single folios on parchment, which were previously housed in glass enclosures. The first step was to remove the folios from the enclosures by removing the tape sealing the two sheets of glass together. A scalpel was used to score across the edges of the tape to begin dismounting.

Once the folios were removed from the glass treatment began, which involved tape and adhesive removal and repairs to weaknesses and areas of loss using Japanese tissue and isinglass (5% solution applied with a brush). Isinglass is a pure gelatine made from the swim bladder of the sturgeon fish and it was selected as the adhesive due to its strength and its sympathetic nature with another protein-based material.

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Due to the reactive nature of parchment, it was vital to keep the folio gently weighted during treatments.

The final step was to rehouse the folios, which for me was the most challenging yet fascinating part of treating these folios. Tutored by Kristine, I was taught how to mount parchment, whilst keeping specific considerations in mind such as the reactive nature of the material.

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Marking the inlay aperture by drawing around the folio with a soft pencil.

To begin with, the folios were inlaid into a 100% acid-free, cotton card. Inlaying has several purposes; to create a false margin for handling and to help control the movement of the parchment. Parchment tends to bow and cockle due to fluctuations in temperature and relative humidity, which can be problematic during handling; the inlay also removes the need to overmount the folios with a window.

The inlay was produced by placing the folio on the card and then carefully drawing around it, approximately 3mm larger than the object. This space will allow for the parchment to expand and contract if need be. The outline was then carefully cut out using a scalpel.

Once the inlay card was prepared, paper tabs were made from Sekishu Japanese paper, which were cut to various thicknesses but of the same length (approximately 15mm) to accommodate the uneven nature of the folio. The tabs were adhered to the edges of the folios but distributed unevenly, to avoid creating any points of weakness along any specific side. The tabs were feathered and adhered with isinglass to the parchment.

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Small tabs of Sekishu paper were adhered to the edges of the folio using isinglass, in preparation for inlaying.

Once the tabs were secure on the folio it was time to adhere them to the inlay card, which was achieved by applying wheat starch paste to the other ends of the tabs and applying them to the card. A mount was then created to house the folio in its inlay card. The card was adhered to the left-hand side to allow readers to easily access the verso of the folio.

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The folio was inlaid into 100% cotton card by adhering the tabs with wheat starch paste.

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The inlay card with the folio was hinged into a window-mount.

Other types of work undertaken on this collection have included the rehousing of a collection of small parchment scrolls and the conservation treatment of a large Sefer Torah scroll on traditional gevil, which is an animal skin processed in a specific way to result in a finished product somewhere between parchment and leather.

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Left: A collection of scrolls were previously housed in an unsuitable box without adequate protection. Right: A new housing system was devised, which included layers of foam cut at different depths to accommodate each scroll and provide suitable storage and protection. Each scroll was wrapped in acid-free tissue and secured with cotton tape.

Learning about sewing techniques was another new skill I developed whilst working on this project. This allowed me to see dramatic change in Heb 773, which had many lose and detached skins. Using linen thread, I reinforced the joins between the skins, allowing the scroll to eventually sit comfortably when rolled.

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Heb 773, Sefar Torah scroll on gevil (c.17th century), before and after conservation treatments.

Coming from a flat paper conservation background, this was a challenging object for me to work on due to the large size of the scroll, totalling 45 skins and a length of 2179.5cm (over 21 metres!) and the types of treatments required, such as sewing. However, I feel I have learnt a great deal from working on this object and many other scrolls, which has opened up a new interest and understanding of parchment and inks for me.

Having the chance to work on this collection has allowed me to consider the challenges of working with parchment whilst gradually allowing me to make decisions independently on the best choice of treatments for the objects at hand.

Puneeta Sharma, Heritage Council Intern in Paper Conservation

This will be Puneeta’s last post as she has reached the end of her year-long internship. We would like to wish Puneeta every success with her career in conservation!