Tag Archives: Conservation

Preserving and conserving illustrations from the Printed Collections

In this week’s blog post Archives Assistant Emily Rawlings details her recent work rehousing illustrations from the Printed Collections.

As well as several hundred manuscript collections, and over 10,000 rare books, the Archives at Southampton is home to numerous prints of engravings, lithographs, etchings and woodcut illustrations from the 18th and 19th centuries. There are two collections of these: the Cope illustrations were part of the original bequest from William Cope (http://library.soton.ac.uk/cope) and provide an important visual record of the history of Hampshire and the Isle of Wight. The Main Library sequence of illustrations was acquired by the Library of the Hartley Institution in the late 19th century, and covers a wide range of subjects, including portraits, landmarks, wildlife and interpretations of Biblical scenes.

The illustrations were originally housed as loose sheets in plan chests, for anyone to consult in the Special Collections Open Access reading room. This arrangement resulted in mechanical damage from poor handling as drawers were rifled through, so the decision was made to move them to the environmentally-controlled archives strongroom in the early 1990s.

Original folders stored on archives shelving

Original folders stored on archives shelving

Once moved into the secure accommodation the illustrations were assessed for preservation needs. The resulting treatment involved surface cleaning and rehousing in inert polyester wallets to protect them from further damage during handling. The original long-term proposal was to mount all the illustrations and store them in bespoke boxes. In the short-term, watercolour collections which had previously been separated by subject were reunited as collections, conserved, mounted and boxed; photographs were also removed and the prints and drawings were stored in their original folders flat on archive shelving. As an interim measure this was not successful as the folders were not rigid enough to adequately hold the slippery polyester sleeves, items that were larger than the folders were vulnerable to damage, and the folders were too large and unwieldy to move securely.

The folders provided inadequate protection for larger items

The folders provided inadequate protection for larger items

Over time individual illustrations were conserved and mounted, often for exhibition, but the plan to mount all the illustrations proved too costly in both time and materials. It was decided instead to re-house the collections in acid-free archival print boxes. These provide rigid enclosures for the prints and are lightweight to enable easy handling, as well as being easier to label and identify than the large, flat folders. Two sizes were chosen to represent the variety of supports, meaning that each collection of illustrations could be divided into two sequences according to the size of the individual prints and therefore held more securely, with less risk of damage to the smaller prints from slipping about in boxes that were too big.

Just like library books, the illustrations are classified according to subject, and they are stored in classmark order with a corresponding manual index. Re-housing the illustrations involved creating a running print-number sequence of illustrations in order of classmark, dividing up the prints into two sequences according to size, placing the prints into boxes in classmark order, and giving each box a number. As the project progressed, I maintained lists of which print numbers are in which box and made labels for each box detailing the class mark range held within.

The illustrations are now housed in the boxes, and are much easier to locate and handle safely.

Acid-free print boxes on archives shelving

Acid-free print boxes on archives shelving

The re-housing project was also an opportunity to carry out a simple condition survey of the collection to identify items requiring conservation treatment. This survey allowed a thorough inventory of the collection, which enabled cross-referencing with the manual index to check that the correct information for each print was recorded. It also gave a simple description of the condition of the collection so that a conservation plan for the illustrations could be formulated. Common examples of damage found in the collection include insect damage, surface and ingrained dirt, surface abrasion, staining and discolouration often due to acidic degradation of the paper, foxing caused by mould or bacteria, tears and lacunae to the object and damage caused by adhesion to poor quality paper supports and mounts.

Tears, dirt and discolouration to an interpretation of Passio Domini Nostri Jesu, engraved by K. Oertel [cq N 8026, print no. 440].

Tears, dirt and discolouration to an interpretation of Passio Domini Nostri Jesu, engraved by K. Oertel [cq N 8026, print no. 440].

Stains and discolouration to a lithograph of Miss Fanny Kemble, drawn on stone by R. J. Lane [cq PN 2598.K28, print no. 525]

Stains and discolouration to a lithograph of Miss Fanny Kemble, drawn on stone by R. J. Lane [cq PN 2598.K28, print no. 525]

There are many ways to treat damaged artefacts, and all treatment decisions are made after careful examination and analysis of each item. A stained and discoloured print can be washed in water and/or solvents to both reduce and remove the cause of the staining. Tears and losses can be repaired using suitable tissues and papers and conservation-grade adhesives, most commonly wheat starch paste. Conservation treatments are both time consuming and expensive: the re-housing project and the basic conservation condition survey have allowed us to plan for this as well as ensuring the preservation needs of the illustrations are met.

The alphabetical subject/author index to the illustrations can be found in the Open Access area of Special Collections, accessible whenever the Library is open. The illustrations are available for researchers to consult in the Archives and Rare Books reading room.


Maps and Cartography Exhibitions and Events

Beyond Cartography poster

Beyond Cartography: safeguarding our historic maps and plans
Special Collections Gallery

This exhibition showcases maps from the University of Southampton Library’s Special Collections, illustrating the challenges that these objects bring to conservators before conservation or long-term preservation takes place.

Conservation of maps and plans is affected by various factors. They come in differing formats and sizes, ranging from large rolled maps, with or without rollers, to small sketches, or folded into books. They may be printed or hand drawn, with inks, pencils and watercolours as main media or as annotations, on supports of paper, parchment, tracing papers and tracing linens. All these factors present individual challenges to the conservator, whether this be the physical size of a large-scale map, fugitive pigments and inks, or the loss of dimensional stability of the support, which is of particular significance to maps made up of many sections joined together and can affect the accuracy of measurement in those drawn to scale.

The maps and plans displayed in this exhibition were chosen not for their content but for their materiality and the challenges they pose to conservators.

The exhibition runs from 20 February – 28 April during which time the gallery is open weekdays, 10am to 4pm.

Cartographic Operations poster

Cartographic Operations
Level 4 Gallery

In Bernhard Siegert’s ‘The map is the territory’, he refers to the idea of ‘cartographic operations’. The suggestion is that our way of seeing the world is not simply represented in maps, but that map-making is itself a play of competing signs and discourses producing our subjecthood. These are the coordinates we come to live by, which in turn influence the marks and signs at our disposal when we seek to make and share representations of the world.

This exhibition brings together three alternative cartographic operations:

Jane Birkin’s 1:1 is a direct mapping of infrastructure behind the white space of display. Electric current and metal are plotted using a DIY store metal/voltage detector and the information transferred simply to print. Although 1:1 is an impassive engagement with the rule-based activity of cartography, it simultaneously performs an affective act of display.

Sunil Manghani and Ian Dawson’s Not on the Map is an image-text installation built into the gallery space. It draws upon maps held in the University’s Special Collections, picking out details from a volume of Spanish maps from the Ward Collection and military maps of Portugal taken from the Bremner Collection. These details are placed in dialogue with tracings from early and recent figurative works by Jenny Saville.

Abelardo Gil-Fournier’s Marching Ants draws upon historical photographic sources of landscape transformations driven by the building of large water irrigation infrastructures as part of 20th century Spanish land reforms. The work is a reminder of the use of forced labor to transform the lines of maps and diagrams into tunnels and channels in the earth.


Private view – all are welcome to attend!

A private view for the exhibitions will take place in the Level 4 Gallery on Tuesday, 28 February, 5 – 8pm.

Please note that during the private view the Special Collections Gallery will open from 5.30 – 7pm. Visitors may be asked for proof of identity at the Library reception.

Exploring maps event poster

Exploring Maps in the University of Southampton Special Collections
Archives and Manuscripts reading room

On Tuesday, 28 February 2017, Special Collections will be hosting an open afternoon highlighting a range of map material from the collections.

The afternoon will include a talk by Chris Woolgar, Professor of History and Archival Studies at the University of Southampton.

The event will take place alongside the private view for the new exhibitions. All visitors to the open afternoon are invited to attend.


1615-1700: Opportunity to view resources from the Special Collections: Archives and Manuscripts reading room, Level 4, Hartley Library

1715-1800: Talk by Professor Christ Woolgar: Library Conference Room, Level 4, Hartley Library

Tickets for this event are now sold out.

Conserving the Wellington Papers

With a special Explore the Wellington Archive event and the 27th Wellington Lecture taking place at the end of the month, we take the opportunity to look at the ongoing work being done to conserve the Wellington Papers.

The Wellington Papers came to Southampton with a major challenge of conservation: some ten percent of the collection was so badly damaged it was unfit to handle and 10,000 documents were in a parlous condition. The University has made good progress: about seventy percent has been conserved and is now available for research, including papers for 1822 (for the Congress of Verona), for Wellington as Prime Minister in 1829 (the year of Catholic emancipation), and for some of the Peninsular War.

A campaign to raise funds for the conservation of the Wellington Papers was launched in October 2010. Grants from the National Manuscripts Conservation Trust, the J.Paul Getty Jr Charitable Trust and the Rothschild Foundation as well as modest funding from alumni supported the conservation of the badly degraded and mould-damaged papers from 1832, which is described in this article. A current project, jointly funded by the Foyle Foundation and the University and appropriate for the bicentenary of Waterloo, is focussed on the military papers for 1815.

Conservation process

The conservators began by working with the less severely damaged materials for 1832 to enable them to develop expertise in conserving this type of exceedingly fragile material before tackling the most fragmentary bundles.

Documents were fully documented before separation. Tests carried out before treatment included fibre analysis, chemical spot tests, pH tests to determine acidity, mechanical rub tests for surface cleaning, examination under optical microscopes and UV light and tests to determine ink solubility and the extent of iron gall ink corrosion.

Papers were separated manually and collated. Separation, particularly of the most severely damaged bundles, is a painstaking and time-consuming task. In some instances papers have fused together due to compression whilst damp and great care is necessary to prevent disintegration of the paper.

Surface cleaning was undertaken where possible and where necessary individual items were given aqueous treatments, including washing supported on non-woven polyester on silk screens in cold and warm water to remove discolouration and soluble degradation products, calcium phytate treatment to stabilise iron gall ink corrosion and deacidification with calcium hydrogen carbonate. Fragments were washed alongside documents either loose or within non-woven polyester pockets. These were then realigned with the original which was lined to hold all fragments in place during the repair procedure.

The documents were repaired by leafcasting similarly toned paper pulp consisting of a blend of cotton and hemp fibres. The conservators have created a reference tool of differently toned papers that match the papers within the collection. Griffin Mill Papermakers produced a special making of handmade paper to our specification.

After humidification, pressing and resizing where necessary, documents were refolded and stored in custom made four flap folders and acid free boxes. Any fragments that could not be identified were noted, housed in melinex pockets and stored alongside the documents. Photographic documentation was made of all the processes.

To date most of the bundles of documents have been conserved using leaf casting and paper pulp repair. The expertise gained by the conservators has enabled them to concentrate on the most fragile items with work underway on the separation and stabilisation of the final 6 bundles. These present some of the most severe conservation challenges as the separation of fragmented material can take several months to complete before any treatment is possible.

Many of the fragmented bundles for 1832 are now accessible for the first time since the 1940s. This is historically very significant material as it includes the first Duke of Wellington’s papers relating to the first Reform Act. As Wellington was the leader of the Tories in the House of Lords during the progress of the Act, by enabling archivists to access and catalogue the material, the whole picture of the debate now will be available.

As noted above, on Wednesday 28 October 2015 the Special Collections will be hosting a free open afternoon in conjunction with the 27th Wellington Lecture.  It will provide an opportunity for visitors to view some of the Wellington Archive and to meet the curators. For further information and to register please go to: http://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/exploring-the-wellington-archive-university-of-southampton-tickets-18286477346