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
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