Through the Conservation Keyhole: Conservation of the Adam Smith Collection

In my last post, I talked about the planning work that was completed at the outset of the Adam Smith conservation project with regards to surveying the collection and identifying conservation efforts that needed to be undertaken.

By the end of this project, which was supported by the National Manuscript Conservation Trust (NMCT), additional conservation or preservation measures had been undertaken for over 130 items! This ranged from replacing damaged enclosures through to complex book conservation treatments. Today, I’ll share some details of two conservation treatments that give a flavour of the project as it progressed, and you’ll find a gallery of some more treatment photos from other items at the bottom of this post.

18th Century Lending List

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Prior to this project, the volumes containing the 18th century Glasgow University Library lending lists would have been at extreme risk of further damage with even minimal handling. As well as many tears to the pages, the sewing for all of the six volumes was broken in one or more places, meaning that even minimal handling could cause additional breaks in the structure of the book. This volume, like the other five volumes in the group, was therefore categorised as ‘unusable’ during the survey.

Lending List During Treatment (25)

The conservation treatment aimed to preserve as much of the original binding as possible, and to bring the material back to a condition where it could be viewed and also digitised in the future.  The sewing for this volume was too damaged to be saved, so the first task was to remove all the remaining fragments of sewing and leather along the spine so that the damaged sheets could be separated, cleaned and repaired. As the book was taken apart, care was taken to number and record the exact order of all the sheets. This record helps a conservator to be sure that everything is replaced in the right location, and can also act as a sort of map that can be used to identify where any pages that may have come loose in the past belong.

Repairs to the text block were made using Japanese paper, and the book was resewn using linen thread around raised hemp cords that were extended either side to reattach the original boards. Paper linings were then adhered to the spine between the cords to further support the structure of the book as it opens and closes in the future. A new covering piece for the spine was then made from a laminate of archival cotton and Japanese tissue, toned to match the colour of the book with acrylic. The volume now has a durable sewing structure that opens well, and can be made available for research and digitisation.

Letter from Adam Smith to Joshua Sharpe of Lincoln’s Inn, 1762
(Ref: GUA 15625)

This letter was torn, extremely brittle and tightly folded, and could not be opened easily or without immediate risk of causing more tears and cracks in the process. At some point the letter had been lined with a fine silk in an effort to support the delicate letter, but this was also now breaking down and even contributing, through acidity, to the processes that were degrading the paper. The letter was washed which allowed for the silk lining to be removed, it having originally been adhered to the letter with a water-soluble adhesive, and also for a deacidification treatment to be applied.

Some areas of loss were filled with Japanese tissue and then the letter was lined on both sides with a 5gsm Japanese tissue, adhered with a Tybe B gelatin solution which can help inhibit corrosion of the paper caused by the iron gall ink the letter is written in.

Storing the letter flat, with just a single fold along the central margin, also now means that fragile areas of text will not be flexed and damaged every time the letter is unfolded and refolded to be viewed.

Project Image Gallery

This has been an exciting and interesting project to be involved with, and I’d like to offer my thanks to both the University and to the NMCT. The following gallery shows a few more of the conservation and preservation measures that were taken to enable continued access to this important collection:

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Categories: Archives and Special Collections, Library

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