CF10: Conservation in Focus. Icon Conference, Cardiff University 24-26 March 2010

The Institute of Conservation’s (Icon) first ever conference “CF10: Conservation in Focus” was recently held in Cardiff, Wales’ vibrant capital city, to consider the broad theme of UK Conservation – past, present and future. The conference aimed to:

  • Advance and share knowledge about conservation issues in and beyond Icon’s members.
  • To have an enjoyable conference where people have time to talk and network
  • To leave Icon stronger as an organisation

The first full day of the conference consisted of a one day plenary session and focused on the two themes – ‘evidence based decision-making in conservation’ and ‘a sustainable future for UK conservation’. Highlights of the first day included an argument from Andy Calver (St. Albans Museum Service) for the use of buffering agents to control environmental conditions rather than large-scale air-conditioning systems. There was also feedback on the success of the recent ‘Conservation in Focus’ exhibition at the British Museum. I saw the exhibition in September 2008 and thought it was a brilliant concept. The display showcased the conservation of objects and allowed visitors the opportunity to meet conservators and ask them questions whilst they worked. The outcome of the exhibition seemed mostly positive allowing the conservation department to have a much greater web presence. Increased interest has led to a number of videos and pod casts of conservation work to be uploaded.

The second day provided an opportunity for the Icon groups to host specialist half day seminars. I attended the conservation science and care of collections group sessions in the morning and afternoon, highlights of which included an update on Oddy materials testing at the British Museum from Julie Phippard. The BM feels that it has a responsibility to share results of material testing and as such will publish all known results in an online database which will clearly state whether materials are safe for use within museums and archives.

The organisers of the conference had also gone to the length of creating a Facebook page for the conference (CF10: are you going? (!/group.php?gid=77317902593&ref=ts). I found this incredibly useful as it allowed me to easily ask any questions about conference organisation and provided me with regular updates or news of last-minute changes.

Overall I thoroughly enjoyed the conference. It offered a perfect opportunity to chat with colleagues and a number of interesting papers were presented. The conference organisers made a particular effort to include evening social events in the main conference attendance cost so that all delegates could attend, creating even more networking opportunities. I eagerly look forward to the next conference which will hopefully have the same friendly atmosphere and flexible theme.

The full conference programme can be found online at

– From Jennifer Varallo (

Early Manuscripts of Anselm: conservation begins

Conservation work has recently started on two manuscripts containing the works of St. Anselm dating from the twelfth century. St. Anselm is arguably the most significant theologian and author ever to hold the office of Archbishop of Canterbury. He died on 21 April 1109, and 900 years later the Bodleian Library held a colloquium on the production and early circulation of manuscripts of Anselm’s works in April 2009.

MS. Bodl. 271 is an important early copy of his collected works from Christ Church, Canterbury; it includes the Monologion, Proslogion (famous for its ‘ontological proof’ of the existence of God), Cur Deus Homo, and other texts, and was probably compiled shortly after Anselm’s death. A second part, also Anselmian, was added in the 15th century, when the manuscript gained its current blind-tooled binding. It was given to the Bodleian in 1616.

MS. Auct. D. 2. 6 is a composite volume, containing three separate 12th-century illuminated texts: a liturgical calendar from St. Albans, a Psalter from Winchester, and a copy of Anselm’s Prayers and Meditations (read today by a wide public in the Penguin Classics translation by Sister Benedicta Ward SLG), with an important series of illustrations. The three parts seem to have been combined by the time the manuscript belonged to the Benedictine nunnery of Littlemore in the later Middle Ages. It was given to the Bodleian in about 1672.

Following the colloquium the Conservation & Collection Care section were approached about two of the manuscripts whose condition and importance indicated the need for conservation. Treatment proposals were drafted and the Bodleian was able to secure funding for the work from generous private donations. Treatment began in January 2010, and is being undertaken jointly by Nicole Gilroy and Andrew Honey.

MS. Bodl. 271 survives in a fifteenth-century Canterbury blind-tooled binding using four as yet unrecorded tools and which incorporated fragments of a fourteenth-century polyphonic music manuscript used as spine linings. Some of the linings were removed in the past, and combined with other damage this has had a detrimental effect on the sewing structure and board attachment. The binding is being repaired in-situ, by consolidation of the weakened sewing and re-attachment of the boards.

MS. Auct. D. 2. 6 was rebound for the Bodleian, probably in the early eighteenth century. The earlier binding history of the three texts, and in particular the question of when they were brought together, is of significant scholarly interest. The current binding, which had previously been repaired and rebacked, is entirely broken down and the opportunity to disbind and record all evidence of previous sewing is a valuable one. What is discovered during this process will determine the eventual rebinding of the three texts.

Both manuscripts pose interesting conservation dilemmas, and as work progresses we discover evidence left by craftsmen who worked on these manuscripts in the past and are faced with questions about the production and binding history of these volumes.

See the report of Anselm Day at the Bodleian Library, April 2009, Early Manuscripts of Anselm: a discussion with five manuscripts.

Jane Austen’s Volume the First

MS. Don. e. 7: The conservation of Jane Austen’s Volume the first

MS. Don. e. 7
“Volume the First” before treatment

This manuscript takes its name from the inscription on its upper cover. It contains a compilation of Jane Austen’s early short works, written in Austen’s hand as a fair copy, and includes Henry & Eliza, The Adventures of Mr Harley, and The beautifull Cassandra. Austen wrote in a ready-made bound blank-book and completed the transcript when she was seventeen. The manuscript was bought for the Bodleian Library through the Friends of the Bodleian in 1933 and was first published in an edition by R. W. Chapman (Oxford, 1933).

The conservation of the manuscript was made possible by a grant from the National Manuscript Conservation Trust and was carried out in parallel with an Arts and Humanities Research Council award to digitize the manuscript. The original, though damaged condition of this major literary manuscript required sensitive conservation treatment; a stationer’s binding was not intended to last indefinitely and subsequent use has led to its breakdown. Unfortunately, the damage was at a stage where it threatened safe handling of the volume, and a complete breakdown of the manuscript’s structure was threatened.

The conservation treatment was focussed on the repair of the damaged and broken spine folds of the manuscript as well as the breaking sewing and collapsed spine without dis-binding the manuscript. All repairs were carried out in-situ and the original structure was disturbed as little as possible during treatment. The conservation work was carried out by Andrew Honey of the Bodleian Library’s Conservation & Collection Care department.

Temporary repairs were carried out so that the manuscript could be fully digitized before conservation. The general condition of individual leaves was very good but many of their spine-folds were breaking down and several leaves were completely detached. The original sewing had broken down in places and the text-block was loose although sewing supports were sound and were still attached to the boards. The covering leather had broken down and the boards were not protecting the text-block.

To repair the leaves, Japanese paper patches were fed around the backs of sections, around the remains of the sewing thread, and pasted in place. The manuscript’s loose structure was repaired by re-sewing the text-block through a stiffened spine wrapper made from a laminate of linen and Japanese paper. This spine wrapper was then used to reposition the boards and formed the base for the new spine. The new spine was covered with layers of toned Japanese paper with a surface finish. Finally the repaired manuscript is housed in a new cloth box.

— From Andrew Honey
See more Conservation projects at the Bodleian Library

Resting books


On a visit to Leiden University Library’s Special Collections reading room, I was happy to see these comfortable- looking bookrests.  At the Bodleian our bookrests are all angular grey foam.  Also noted, the view from the window of the Leiden reading room …

canal view
canal view

Collection care is priority

exhibition scissors
exhibition scissors

“Do no harm” is the conservator’s creed.  When books are put on display for exhibition, they are often laid open on a cardboard book cradle. The pages are strapped down, gently, with polypropylene straps. But these need to be cut to remove the book once the exhibition is over. Cut with sharp scissors, so close to the priceless pages of an early printed book or manuscript?!  Now the exhibition officers have found a solution: multi-functional round-headed scissors maintain a smooth rounded surface near to the book allowing the sharp cutting edge to sever the temporary strap without endangering the ancient written treasure.