A large part of the project is the conservation of the collection, to enable researchers access to the books while preserving the original materials and format of the volumes. The binding structures are an integral part of how the collection has been used historically, giving us an insight into the workings of a seventeenth century academic. A large proportion of the collection’s bindings were commissioned directly by Nicholas Crouch. They collate together the pamphlets and tracts in tightback volumes covered with thinly pared calf or sheepskin leather, blind tooled fillets and corner fleurons on the cover, and primary endbands in blue and plain colours. Usually although not always the edges are heavily trimmed to make the miscellaneous tracts a uniform size, and Crouch would frequently stain the textblock edges to demarcate the individual pamphlets. Often he would add a handwritten contents page, including notes on the cost of both the binding and its contents.
The structural damage to the volumes is typical of bindings that have to cope with a variety of tightly packed variable material. Splitting spines, broken joints and abraded paper edges are all indicative of the kind of use the volumes received; often illustrating how the collection was a functioning resource rather than a mere depository. The damage is itself a mirror of its use. For a conservator, it is therefore important to bear in mind how to preserve this aspect of the object’s history while simultaneously restoring functionality to the book.
As part of the funding application, a condition survey and work schedule was carried out assessing the scale of damage across the collection and the quantity of work required to treat the books. This survey highlighted priority items and demarcated items for particular levels of treatment. Over the course of the year I will work through the collection, applying a range of treatments from small tear repairs to major board reattachment and rebacking spines.
The project began by lightly surface cleaning every item in the 406 strong collection. This was primarily done using a conservac: equipped with a HEPA filter and a range of specialist nozzles this machine allows you a fine degree of control over dust removal. It ensures that every book in the collection is at least superficially cleaned, a factor that greatly improves handling of the collection. The numerous coloured paper slips that had been inserted by previous researchers were removed: they were cumbersome to handle, would imprint their colour if they got wet and were made of poor quality paper. They were replaced by archival paper flags denoting their shelfmark. Working through the collection over 5 days gave me a chance to handle every book, assess its criteria for treatment, and carry out some minimal repairs such as stabilising detached endbands and readhering lifting labels.
With every book checked off and cleaned the next stage of the project is underway: bringing batches back to the studio here at the Oxford Conservation Consortium and starting to reattach boards, repair textblocks and fix broken sewing!
By Nikki Tomkins