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Conserving controversial literature: access and safe handling

ErikaDelbecque20 May 2019

This blog post was written by Marina Pelissari, MA Book Conservation student at Camberwell College of Arts

For the Final Project of my MA in Book Conservation at Camberwell College of Arts I was given a semi-limp vellum binding to conserve by UCL Special Collections. This volume contains five early 17th-century controversial tracks, including texts against Islam, Catholicism, and Astrology, as well as a copy of Daemonology, written by King James I, about demons and sorcery.

The five books have a parchment cover with boards made of recycled blind tooled leather, which is an unusual re-use of materials for this kind of binding. The main problem concerning the use and handling of this volume is that the text block is detached from its cover. The alum-tawed sewing supports that make this attachment are completely broken.

This book is used as a teaching aid in seminars at UCL, where students can examine it closely. Being an interesting book for its content as well as its binding, it is important to ensure its accessibility and its safe handling. To ensure these, the conservation project included, along with the extension of the sewing supports to re-lace the parchment cover, surface cleaning, repairing the paper tears and losses, repairing and flattening the distortions of the parchment.

Left: Alum-tawed leather extensions of the sewing supports. Right: Parchment cover being tension dried by using magnets.

The parchment cover has yet another interesting feature: the spine shows faded manuscript writing. Thanks to a collaboration with the UCL Special Collections Conservation Studio and PhD student Cerys Jones (UCL Medical Physics and Biomedical Engineering), a further analysis of the spine cover by using multispectral imaging revealed the content of the writing and shone more light on the history of the book. We all accompanied Cerys in the imaging session, where she explained the process.

Multispectral imaging has been used to recover lost features in heritage materials, such as text and drawings. This process involved illuminating the object with ultraviolet, visible and infrared light, while pictures of the different steps were taken. The multispectral images enhanced the contrast between parchment and ink, so as to making the writing legible, since parchment is fluorescent under ultraviolet light, whereas ink is not.

The images obtained showed six sentences separated by horizontal lines. The last five were immediately identified as the titles of the aforementioned five books, and they appear in the same order as the books are bound. The first title, however, did not correspond to any recognizable book within the volume.

At the beginning it was thought that it could be a title given to the collection. After a closer analysis, Cerys and Erika Delbecque, the Head of Rare Books at UCL, identified the writing as “Anatomy of Abuses”. Further researches revealed that this is the title of a pamphlet written by Philip Stubbes, first published in 1583. In his book, Stubbs “condemns such vices as usury, gluttony, promiscuity and excessive expenditure on clothing as behaviour unfitting a true Christian, and further denounces both popular entertainments and traditional rural festivals as enticements down the road to hell and damnation.” (Kidnie, 1996).

This discovery has suggested the theory that the volume had a first pamphlet bound together with the other five. “Anatomy” had six editions. The last one, dated 1595, contains 144 pages printed in the quarto format, which is the same format as the other books contained in the volume. The presence of the title on the cover and the content of the tract, that matches the others in its controversial nature, make it seems plausible that “Anatomy of Abuses” was part of the volume. However, it can be argued that there is not enough space in the binding to contain it, since the cover is already somewhat short for the text block. At this point, it is only possible to speculate, without drawing any certain conclusions.

The conservation treatments are currently under way. The final result will be shown during the final exhibition of the graduates from the MA Conservation at the Camberwell College of Arts, between the 18th and the 23th of June, which is open to the public. The book will then be available as a teaching aid for UCL students and for research at the Special Collections.

UCL Special Collections Lates: The Colour of Spring

Helen FBiggs12 April 2019

Our first Late was a sold-out success, so we’re very pleased to be able to announce the next event in our evening programme.

Inspired by the seasonal burst of many-hued blossoms outside our windows, we’d like to invite you to join us for The Colour of Spring, featuring a talk on how coloured light can reveal hidden secrets in Mediaeval manuscripts, a history of the educational movement the Woodcraft Folk, and displays of original material from UCL Special Collections.

Get your ticket now!

Flyer for UCL Special Collections Late event, The Colour of Spring

The Colour of Spring

Date: Tuesday, 7th May, 6.15-8pm
Venue: UCL Haldane Room, Wilkins Building, Gower Street, WC1E 6BT

A Colourful Heritage: Multispectral Imaging Manuscripts and Rare Books from UCL Special Collections

Multispectral imaging involves capturing images of an object illuminated in ultraviolet, visible and infrared light. Capturing images in different colours, including light that is invisible to the human eye, can reveal features on the books which cannot usually be seen. This talk by Cerys Jones, final-year PhD student in Medical Physics at UCL, will present a brief introduction to multispectral imaging in heritage and show several examples of recovering lost features on manuscripts and rare books in UCL Special Collections.

Politics and Pedagogy: How I made use of the Woodcraft Folk Archive.

Rich Palser, a retired Further Education lecturer, is currently writing a book on the history of the Woodcraft Folk in the inter-war years which draws heavily on the organisation’s archives now held at UCL Institute Of Education. He will be talking about the archive’s relevance to his own interest in the relationship between politics and pedagogy, but also suggesting ways in which the archive may be relevant to the research of others.

Guests will be able to view a number of items for UCL Special Collections, including medieval manuscript fragments, material from the newly acquired Woodcraft Folk Archive, and an emblem book once belonging to Ben Jonson. There will be a brief colourful interlude, courtesy of our conservation team, and there will be plenty of time to enjoy a glass of wine (or soft drink) and nibbles, included with your £5 ticket. Click here to book your place now!

UCL Rare-Books Club launch

Helen FBiggs30 August 2017

Posted on behalf of Dr Tabitha Tuckett, Rare-Books Librarian.

What: UCL Rare-Books Club
When: 1.15-1.45pm, Tuesday 5 September
Where: Science Library Rm 417 (*meet at library entrance 1.10pm if you don’t have a UCL library card*)

You are warmly invited to a new series of half-hour talks in which researchers will introduce individual items from UCL’s rare-books collections.

These talks will give our researchers an opportunity to share ongoing discoveries and new observations about the selected item, while audiences will be able to share their expertise and find out a bit more about the larger collection to which the item belongs. Booking is not required: just turn up!

The first talk will take place on Tuesday 5 September, 1.15pm–1.45pm, in UCL Science Library Room 417. Cerys Jones, PhD Student in Medical Physics, will present a talk on Seeing Beyond the Visible: Multispectral Imaging applied to Heritage Artefacts.

Detail from a humidity-damaged letter, Karl Pearon Papers.

Detail from a humidity-damaged letter, Karl Pearson Papers.

Multispectral imaging consists of capturing images of an object illuminated under ultraviolet, visible and infrared light. This technique enables faded text and pictures on historical artefacts to be recovered and reread. Cerys will be discussing the process of multispectral imaging and image processing, and present results from multispectral imaging applied to artefacts from UCL Special Collections and other heritage institutions.

 

Our next speaker will be UCL Honorary Senior Research Associate Jacquie Glomski on Tuesday 12 September. More information on her talk, John Evelyn’s Contribution to Restoration Bibliophily, will be forthcoming.