Conservation in the archive world is the act of carefully maintain the life of something, whether it is the restoration of something so it looks like new, the repairing of an old book so it can be used, or the removal of metal or plastic from documents before they start to deteriorate and damage the paper around them.
While some of these can be done by your garden variety Archivist, sometimes there are jobs so large they require an expert, which is when back up is will call in a Conservator to help. We recently sent two books which were badly in need of repair off for conservation.
The first book was a photograph album of Old Edwardian sports teams from Camp Hill Boys 1892-1908. Unfortunately, it was in pretty poor condition, with the spine deteriorating so much that the pages were starting to fall out. Some had been held in with cello tape which was little more than a temporary repair. This is a completely unique book, each page holding incredible team photographs and annotations in ink below, not only naming the team members but including the place and date the photograph was taken.
The second book was much more recent – a detention register from King Edwards School 1954-1996. With records so recent we can’t display the book to the public; however, the spine was held together with some rather lurid blue duct tape and really needed an expert’s help to repair it before more damage occurred.
Both books were taken to Overbrook Halt Conservation, where Conservator, Cath, worked on restoring the documents to their former glory.
Because the binding on both books was badly damaged, the old spines had to be removed entirely, the old adhesive removed and the stitching replaced. You can see in both of the pictures above just how much thread goes into securing the pages together. Cotton tape is also sewn into place which gives the spine more support and flexibility.
End pages made from a heavy paper (often beautifully patterned like the example above) are used to cover the book. To ensure the adhesive sticks to every part of spine flat irons are used to apply pressure while it dries.
Finally the heavy-duty leather covers can be glued back onto the books securely and the whole book is then pressed in a large book press.
Cath made sure to give the covers a good clean with a special solution which protects books from ‘red rot’ – a natural process of leather deterioration. This not only protects the material from further degradation but has the added bonus of making the outer cover look almost as good as new, as you can see from these before and after pictures.
Thanks to specialists like Cath, the lifetime of a document is extended. The photographs from the Old Edwardian Camp Hill Boys Sports Teams are now structurally safe in their book to be scanned, meaning that eventually these images can be seen and enjoyed by countless thousands. This is an ongoing project and will be uploaded soon to Camp Hill Boys digital archive which can be found here: https://www.kingedwardvi-camphillforboys-archives.org/default.aspx