Many minds and hands

Reconstructing Nicholas Crouch project year 2

Our Wellcome Trust funded project to catalogue and conserve Nicholas Crouch’s Library has just entered its second year. Let’s look at what has been achieved so far.

Conservation

All planned conservation has been completed. Nikki Tomkins, from the Oxford Conservation Consortium, cleaned and, where appropriate, made protective boxes for just over 400 books. A further 159 received more in-depth treatments, from minor binding repair to complete re-backing. All treatments were sensitive to the integrity of the original binding. So although Nikki’s work has stabilized the bindings to the point where we can use them without fear that they will crumble apart in our hands they will never be as good as new. Nikki reflected on how best to make future readers aware of the limitations of the bindings and encourage good handling practice in order to ensure their preservation. She came up with this augmented shelf mark label with clear information about where the binding is weak and how to handle it sensitively:

One of Crouch's Sammelband (Balliol Shelf 915 g 9) with conservation slip

Nikki also gathered together detailed information about the construction and decoration of the bindings she worked on. This, together with Crouch’s notes of the binder and the cost of binding, will be a rich resource for discovering more about how the collection was used and about seventeenth-century binding in Oxford more generally. Nikki presented her work at talks for a Book History Research Network Study Day on 21 April 2017 and Balliol’s Unlocking Archives series on 24 May 2017. Nikki will also be talking at the Copenhagen Care and Conservation of Manuscripts conference next April.

Cataloguing

Our project cataloguer, Lucy Kelsall left Balliol in March 2017 to take up the post of Florence Fearrington Rare Materials Cataloger at the Rare Book School based at the University of Virginia. This was not before she had made catalogue records for a staggering 3,076 items bound in the 413 sammelbands in the collection. As she worked, Lucy brought together information about the collection in a variety of formats, taking images of interesting annotations and recording statistics about the volumes in a comprehensive spreadsheet. Some of her discoveries were presented in an Unlocking Archives talk on 9 March 2017 and others in posts for the Library’s Historic Collections blog. Lucy and Nikki discussed their work on a University of Oxford Podcast in conversation with Balliol Fellow, Adam Smyth.

Lucy’s cataloguing revealed that Nicholas Crouch wrote shelf marks in his books. So staff turned detective and identified around 106 more volumes on our shelves that bear Crouch’s probable provenance.  Finding a cataloguer to finish off the project at short notice could have been difficult but Sophie Floate, who is cataloguing collections at Brasenose, Corpus Christi and Harris Manchester, kindly made some time for to help us out. She has currently made around 300 records.  This leaves around 70 bibliographic items left to catalogue before the end of the year.

One of the most interesting finds of the project has been the identification of several lists of books in Crouch’s handwriting.  These include a list of books he lent and who borrowed them, running from 1653-1689.

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James Howarth, Assistant Librarian, made a transcription of this list and a comprehensive attempt to identify the individuals and the books that Crouch noted. Nicholas Crouch’s entry in the Donation Register has also been transcribed and many of the titles matched with books in Balliol’s collections.

Thanks to our Archivist, Anna Sander, images of all of the manuscripts in Crouch’s collection are on the Balliol Archives Flickr page and descriptions of many of them are now available through the Archives Hub.

The Future

Though the project funding has allowed us to go a long way towards making this fascinating collection accessible, there is still more to do. In terms of conservation, Nikki has identified a further 92 of the sammelbands that ideally would have some form of treatment to allow us to handle them without causing damage. The conservation of Crouch’s books will continue, feeding into our ongoing program of conservation. This has already begun with a condition survey of the 106 newly identified volumes.

With conservation and cataloguing nearing completion, we can move to the next stage in making Crouch’s Library accessible. We will actively promote it through an exhibition and related talks planned for Autumn 2018. We also hope to hold an academic conference around the project and to find ways to fund future academic research into the collection.

Coming towards the end of the project, it seems as if we have uncovered lots of fragments of a historical artefact – Crouch’s library (or libraries). Now we need to hold them out to be viewed from different angles, pieced together and made sense of. It is also likely that there are still more pieces of the puzzle to discover: books belonging to Nicholas Crouch offered in his bequest but not put into the College Library; documents relating to Crouch and his family in other archives; traces in the landscapes Crouch inhabited such as his family house at Higham Gobion.

As you can see from the number of contributors mentioned in this report, this has been a truly collaborative project. In Nicholas Crouch’s reconstructed library, there is still further work to be done by many more minds and hands.

Paper

Materials: Part 2

All of the pamphlets and tracts that Crouch collected were printed on paper. The boards of the bindings are constructed out of paper that is layered together, and twisted rolls of paper are used as the cores of the endbands. Paper plays an important role in the repair of the volumes too: from fixing tears, to reinforcing board attachments.

Paper is constructed from plant fibres that are beaten to a pulp and suspended in water before being pressed and dried. The source of fibres and technique of production are major factors in the quality and character of the final material. There was no paper making machine in the 17th century, so all of the paper in the Crouch volumes would have been made by hand, using a mould and deckle. The quality of paper between the items varies, depending on its age and source.

2. Paper made using a mould and deckle (image: Wikimedia commons)
2. Paper made using a mould and deckle (image: Wikimedia commons)

Paper is also used extensively in conservation treatments. In particular, Japanese papers and tissues are prized for their long fibres, strength, and durability. Japan has a long history of traditional paper making, a process called ‘Washi’ that is protected by UNESCO intangible world heritage status.

3. Traditional Japanese paper making (image: Wikimedia commons)
3. Traditional Japanese paper making (image: Wikimedia commons)

The Japanese papers used in the conservation of the Crouch collection are machine made using kozo fibres. These come from the inner bark for the Paper Mulberry tree, native to Asia.

4. Leaves of the Paper Mulberry tree broussonetia papyrifera and strips of the inner Kozo bark (image: Wikimedia commons)
4. Leaves of the Paper Mulberry tree broussonetia papyrifera and strips of the inner Kozo bark (image: Wikimedia commons)

The Kozo fibres are long, thin and contain a very high molecular weight of cellulose: the primary component of paper. This makes the material strong, durable, and flexible.

6. A selection of different Kozo fibre paper weights
5. A selection of different Kozo fibre paper weights

The RK15 tissue used is 10gsm (grams per square  metre) in weight, and is used primarily to repair tears in the textblock given its light weight and semi translucency.

The RK17 tissue is heavier at 19gsm, and is usually used in the Crouch collection for strengthening splits in the textblock or as a preliminary spine lining.

RK 32 and 36 are around 34 gsm in weight, and opaque in appearance. They take tone well, and are usually used as a thicker, stronger paper for joint repair.

By Nikki Tomkins
Project Conservator

Adhesives

Materials: Part 1

Most historical books will use some kind of glue somewhere in the binding to hold it all together, whether that is to adhere the covering materials down or attach the supports to the boards. Often books will break because the adhesive has failed – becoming brittle, cracking, or losing tack. Other times it is the binding materials that deteriorate, and removing them intact requires removing the old adhesive.

Traditionally, animal glue is the most common adhesive used in bookbinding. This is usually derived from the skin of animals, such as rabbits. It turns liquid upon heating, and makes a strong, flexible glue. Over time this adhesive can deteriorate: exposed to heat and fluctuating environmental conditions the molecules can crosslink and turn the glue hard and brittle.

2. Cooking wheat starch paste (Photo: Nikki Tomkins)
2. Cooking wheat starch paste (Photo: Nikki Tomkins)

When new material is used to help reattach the boards during conservation, that too needs to be adhered into place. Introducing new adhesive into a binding is a considered choice: it’s important to choose a substance that is in keeping historically, can be removed if needed, and suits the materials present both old and new. Japanese Jin-Shofu Wheat Starch Paste is used almost exclusively in the conservation of Crouch’s collection. This is a refined version of flour paste, where the starch is separated from the rest of the wheat. Here in the studio, it is made to a 25% w/v in deionized water concentration, and cooked for 40 minutes until sufficiently tacky.  For binding conservation, the paste is kept dry and viscous. This makes it stronger and reduces the risk of introducing too much moisture into old materials. Moisture can darken old deteriorated leather, or weaken parts of the structure.

In the case of the Crouch volumes, this adhesive has been used liberally on the spine and boards to adhere the covering leather. When the board attachment breaks down, it is necessary to separate the original leather from the spine or the boards. This can usually be done mechanically: using a sharp blade or very thin spatula. Sometimes the spine will need to be cleaned of old glue before applying new linings. Animal glue will soften with moisture, and so a poultice is applied that gradually works on the glue without making the paper spine folds underneath too wet. The glue can then be carefully scraped away.

Sometimes flour pastes are also used in traditional bookbinding. This is derived from wheat flour, where heating the flour in water causes the grains to swell and secrete proteins that create the tackiness. You might find it used to adhere a pastedown, or a tipped in paper page. It is generally less thick and strong as animal glue, and can be more useful for the more fragile paper components in a binding – however, both can be found interchangeably on historic bindings.

When new material is used to help reattach the boards during conservation, that too needs to be adhered into place. Introducing new adhesive into a binding is a considered choice: it’s important to choose a substance that is in keeping historically, can be removed if needed, and suits the materials present both old and new. Japanese Jin-Shofu Wheat Starch Paste is used almost exclusively in the conservation of Crouch’s collection. This is a refined version of flour paste, where the starch is separated from the rest of the wheat. Here in the studio, it is made to a 25% w/v in deionized water concentration, and cooked for 40 minutes until sufficiently tacky.  For binding conservation, the paste is kept dry and viscous. This makes it stronger and reduces the risk of introducing too much moisture into old materials. Moisture can darken old deteriorated leather, or weaken parts of the structure.

3. Wheat starch paste, sieved and ready for application (Photo: Nikki Tomkins)
3. Wheat starch paste, sieved and ready for application (Photo: Nikki Tomkins)

By Nikki Tomkins
Project Conservator

Endbands and the conservation of the Coningesby catalogues

In which a 21st century conservator uses a medieval technique to repair an 18th century book

The conservation of a four-volume set of 18th century folio library catalogues was recently completed for Balliol College Library.

The catalogues are large, heavy books bound in brown, reverse sheep leather and contain a printed Bodleian catalogue of 1738 with Balliol’s holdings underlined or noted  on interleaved manuscript pages. They form the main record of the large donation left to the College by George Coningesby in 1768. Books belonging to him are marked ‘Cy’ in the catalogue.

These working books showed signs of handling commensurate with their 300-year life in a busy library. Because of their poor condition the books could not be safely consulted without fear of causing further damage.

One of the main problems to be addressed during the project was the weak board attachments; the sewing was still intact but the leather had split along the joints and the cord supports were weak or had completely split. A key element of the treatment proposal was to reinstate the missing endbands. New endbands would not only restore the former aesthetic of the books, they would also form an important structural part of the in-situ repair. The endbands would provide extra strength to the board attachment, and support to the heavy text-blocks, without having to completely re-sew the leaves.  None of the original endbands had survived; however, fragments of thread (tie-downs) still present between the leaves were evidence that they did exist, and that they were alternating blue and natural linen colour –  typical of those commonly found on 18th century Oxford bindings.[1] 

By the 1700’s endbands had lost much of their structural function as bookbinders tried to keep up with increased demand: what was once part of the mechanics, had by this point become simply a decorative part of the binding. [2] Therefore, new endbands were devised for the Coningesby catalogues which took inspiration from earlier medieval bindings; the new endbands would match those now lost but would offer the much needed support which hadn’t been provided before.

Working the endbands: decorative secondary sewing
Working the endbands: decorative secondary sewing

New structural endbands were created using a traditional medieval two-part process: strong primary thread wound around a thick linen core to form the base of the structure, and then thinner coloured thread worked over the top to for decoration.[3] Rather than lacing the cores through new holes pierced into the boards, a less invasive approach was to splay out the ends and paste them between the layers of board which had been laminated together. This provided a strong connection between the loose boards and the text-block. It was important that the new endbands should sit harmoniously with the original binding so new threads were hand-dyed with natural indigo to match the thread that survived. Hand dyeing threads rather than using pre-dyed thread offered a better range to choose from and produced a good match to the distinctive natural indigo colour used in the early 18th century.

The new indigo endband with the cores sandwiched into the boards
The new indigo endband with the cores sandwiched into the boards

The conserved catalogues can now be safely consulted in the Library once more.  The new medieval inspired endbands have contributed to a sympathetic but robust repair which should help to extend the life of these unique books for many years.

18th century Balliol Library catalogue after conservation
After conservation

By Arthur Green 

Book Conservator greensbooks.co.uk

References

[1] David Pearson, Oxford Bookbinding 1500-1640, (Oxford Bibliographical Society, 2000), 50.

[2] Nicholas Pickwoad, Onwards and Downwards: how binders coped with the printing press before 1800, (Oak Knoll Press, 1994), 80.

[3] For more information on medieval endbands see: Arthur Green, A compensation endband: a structural endband for a book with uneven edges. (Journal of the Institution of Conservation Vol. 39(2), 2016) 158-169. 

 

Split spines and broken joints

Conservation is continually informed by principles of minimal intervention in considering a treatment’s approach: finding solutions to problems that avoid loss of material and preserve as much of the original structure as possible. In the case of Crouch’s collection, many of the volumes have splits in the spine and detached boards.

The conventional solution would be to reback the volume: removing the original spine, and providing new linings and leather over the spine and onto the boards. This forms part of the board attachment and allows access to reinforce the sewing. Often the original spine is then re-adhered, however this is not always possible when the leather is in a very degraded condition.  Additionally, the introduction of layers of new material on the spine can affect the opening characteristics of small, narrow volumes. Loss of the original spine and the impact on the opening structure are strong arguments for finding an alternative solution.

Example of a detached left board, and split in the spine (Photograph by Nikki Tomkins)
Example of a detached left board, and split in the spine

It is often easier to lift just the label when the spine covering leather is highly deteriorated. This allows access to the spine where linings of Japanese paper and linen are applied. This not only consolidates weaknesses and break points in the spine, but also forms part of the board attachment.

Replacing the label (Photograph by Nikki Tomkins)
Replacing the label

Once the label is replaced, the treatment is less visually obtrusive than a reback. Textile and Japanese paper is also used at head and tail of the spine, where the leather is easier to lift. This technique is not as strong for the textblock as rebacking, but it does preserve most of the spine while still imparting considerably more structural strength. The final object is still fragile and should be handled with care, but the boards are reattached and the breaks in the spine are held together.

  1. Removal of the label in one piece, exposing the leather below
  2. Using a poultice of wheat starch paste, the leather and animal glue are scraped away exposing the backs of the sections.
  3. A first layer of Japanese paper is applied using wheat starch paste. This provides a protective barrier between the textblock and subsequent layers, and a primary layer to hold together the sections.
  4. Layer of textile adhered to bridge splits and consolidate the textblock, with extensions either side for the board attachment.
  5. Toned paper adhered, providing an extra layer while also matching the repair to the original covering leather. Textile and toned paper are also inserted at the head and tail of the spine to support the board attachment.
  6. The original label is adhered back in place, and the lining extensions adhered underneath the covering leather on the boards.


By Nikki Tomkins
Project Conservator

Anatomy of a binding

Each aspect of a book’s binding holds information about its history:  from the materials used, to the mechanical structure. A key part of this project is documenting specific aspects of Crouch’s bindings, both to understand their damage and to trace the history of the collection.

The following diagram illustrates some of the key components of a binding:

Key components of a binding (Sketch and photograph by Nikki Tomkins)

Book bindings can vary hugely, and often certain styles and techniques will be specific to one bindery. Crouch’s collection was probably commissioned by Crouch himself, from an Oxford binder. There are clear stylistic similarities throughout the collection. The following diagrams illustrate some of the typical features of a Crouch binding:

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However, among these common stylistic features there is still a great deal of variation: from the tool of the corner fleuron used, to the material of the sewing support and the colours of the endbands.

Examples of different tools used (Sketch and photograph by Nikki Tomkins)
Examples of different tools used
A selection of Crouch bindings displayed fore edge out, as they were probably intended to be (Photograph by Nikki Tomkins)
A selection of Crouch bindings displayed fore edge out, as they were probably intended to be

Each of these details are documented when an item comes into the studio in order to build up a body of data on the bindings and begin to trace a timeline of when, where and how they were bound together. It will teach us a little more about the mind of Nicholas Crouch, a man who evidently took pride in the organisation of his collection.

By Nikki Tomkins
Project Conservator

Broken bindings: a closer look at conservation (part II)

This is part II of a two-part series on the challenges of conserving Nicholas Crouch’s library. Part I may be viewed here.

Most of the treatments will use a combination of Aerocotton, sewing threads and Japanese papers. These materials are chosen for their strength, quality, and flexibility; are toned using acrylic dyes with a good light fastness, and adhered in place using a 25% wheat starch paste. The size of the book, scale of the problem and condition of the leather are all important factors to weigh up when choosing a suitable treatment. Where the outer leather is beginning to split at the head and tail, often it is enough to lift the leather and insert bridges of toned material between the spine and the board. This pulls the boards back into place, and gives support to the unbroken board attachment.

Before (left) and after (right) treatment, showing how toned Japanese paper can be used to bridge splitting joints

Where the board is completely detached, more is required to make sure that the repair is durable. Given the condition of the leather, it is better to find solutions that interfere as little as possible with the original leather. If possible, sewing threads can be an excellent mechanical board attachment. Inserted into the middle of a section close to the joint, the sewing threads are twisted round the support, frayed out and adhered to the upper edge of the board. Toning in situ or covering with toned paper can further disguise the treatment, and consolidate the attachment.

The principal aim of conserving the collection is to make the objects accessible to readers  while preserving their original materials and structure, key components of Crouch’s collection. After treatment the books will still be fragile and should be handled with care: aspects such as restricted opening and degraded leather are inherent to the object. However, boards will be reattached and torn pages repaired making the objects far more accessible to researchers of both the content and the bindings.

By Nikki Tomkins
Project Conservator