Following a successful application to the Wellcome Trust, Special Collections is pleased to announce the beginning of a conservation project to preserve the papers of William Cullen (1710-1790), John Thomson (1765-1846) and his sons William and Allan Thomson. Dating from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, these papers are an important resource for the study of medical education and practice at this time.
Louise Robertson, an accredited paper conservator, has carried out a full condition survey of the papers which will inform treatment priorities throughout the project.
Interventive conservation techniques have now begun on the most fragile parts of the collection, involving meticulous practical processes of cleaning, deacidification, repair and housing in order to stabilise the papers and iron gall inks. Mixed collections of papers, bindings, seals and photographs, watercolours and graphite drawings will make this an exciting challenge especially in dealing with the iron gall ink material.
This is an acidic, indelible ink popular from the middle ages to the mid 20th century when it was replaced by carbon ink. It is created with four basic ingredients: galls, vitriol, gum, and water and with age turns brown. Certain tree galls were known to contain a high concentration of tannin used in ink production. Galls are created by parasites which lay eggs in various types of vegetation. Over time, due to the production of the ink and the storage conditions of the object, the ink can cause the degradation of paper or other supports. Chemical processes cause the slow deterioration of the ink and can actively “eat” its way through to the back of the paper. This “corrosion” can eventually lead to the total loss of the paper wherever the ink was applied.
This project follows on from a cataloguing project, also funded by the Wellcome Trust. Conservation treatments will further enhance access to this important material and ensure their preservation for current and future researchers.
(Blog post by Louise Robertson) Related post:
A life in medicine – The story of William Cullen and John Thomson
Categories: Special Collections