Tag Archives: Conservation

Parchment

To continue the theme of Conservation for this year’s Explore Your Archive week, today’s blog is all about parchment and features some of our parchment documents.

The Guild Book of Knowle. An illuminated parchment manuscript dating from 1451 – 1541. [MS 3000]

Parchment is made from specially prepared, untanned skins of animals which are mostly sheep,  calves and goats. Vellum is a higher quality skin made from a young calf. Without scientific analysis, however, it is very difficult to determine what animal the membrane is from and how old it is.

To make parchment, the original animal pelt needs to be dehaired. The pelts are soaked in water for about a day to remove all blood and grime. It is then taken out and put into a dehairing bath to remove the hair. This usually lasts about 8 days but in winter this can last up to 2 weeks. The dehairing liquor was originally made of rotted, or fermented, vegetable matter but by the Middle Ages, this included lime. The pelt would be stirred with a wooden rod in a stone vat about 2 – 3 times a day.

Once it is removed from the dehairing solution, the skin is then soaked in clean water so the skin can be ‘worked’. The skin is then stretched on a frame, which would be as simple as a wooden frame with nails stretching the skin. This would be left open to the air so they could be scraped with a knife to remove the last bits of hair and get the skin to the right thickness. As the animal skin is made from collagen, this would form a natural glue whilst it was drying so the skin would keep its stretched form once removed from its frame.

To make the parchment more aesthetically pleasing or more suitable for the scribes, special treatments were used. One treatment included rubbing pumice powder into the flesh side of parchment while it was still wet on the frame was used to make it smooth and to modify the surface to enable inks to penetrate more deeply. Powders and pasted of calcium compounds were also used to help remove grease so the ink would not run. To make the parchment smooth and white, this pastes (starch grain) of lime, flour, egg whites and milk were rubbed into the skins. This is why parchment will have a rough and a smooth side.

Our oldest document in Archives Collections. [[DV 14d Outsize] 435324]

Unsurprisingly, the oldest document we hold in our archives is recorded on parchment. This is [DV 14d Outsize] 435324 – Agreement between Simon, Bishop of Worcester, and Waleran [de Beaumont], Earl of Worcester, settling various differences which had arisen between them. We believe the document dates from between 1139 and 1143, based on the names that appear in it, despite the date 1160 being recorded on the actual document!

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Coroner’s Court Roll

You may have seen yesterday’s post getting Explore Your Archives Week off to a great start with an account of an event we held in Archives & Collections on Saturday. One of the items out on display was one of our newest acquisitions – the Coroner’s Court Roll, which was actually conserved by Birmingham Archives staff in the 1970s.

Conservator, Lucy, showing off the Coroner’s Court Roll

Although it looks like parchment at first glance, the court roll is actually made of paper. The wooden case it is housed in is not ideal, as wood emits volatile organic compounds which can damage the document. However the casing forms part of the item and so it will be kept in it and stored in suitable environmental conditions to preserve it long-term.

The role of coroner has existed from around the 12th century. The position of Birmingham Coroner is a relatively new one, having been in existence from around 1838, when the newly created Birmingham Corporation sought to establish their own Quarter Sessions and as a result of this, the position of Coroner. Note that prior to around 1838, inquests for deaths in Birmingham would have been held in Warwickshire, as Birmingham reported to the Warwickshire Quarter Sessions. The role of the Coroner’s Court is:

  1. to investigate sudden or suspicious deaths which are reported to him/her,
  2. to deal with applications to transport a body to another country for burial or cremation
  3. to investigate cases of Treasure Trove (the discovery of buried coin or other valuables)

Archives & Collections are lucky in having an almost complete holding of the inquests held in Birmingham over the whole period there has been a Birmingham Coroner. The Coroner’s Office has recently deposited the original “roll of the inquests” covering 1838 – 1875, a microfilm copy of which is available to view in the Heritage Research Area. The roll records very little detail on the cases, giving names, address, cause of death and verdict. There are no further details relating to the death and on the whole, the entries do not tell you any more than you would find on a death certificate.

As I’m sure you will appreciate, this is not an item that will be served in the Wolfson Centre – for conservation reasons!

Explore Your Archive 2017


 

Explore Your Archive week is here!

Each year, here at Archives & Collections, we like to get involved with the Explore Your Archives campaign to raise awareness of the work that the archives does. You may remember the past couple of years, we opened up our collections to visitors through pop-up exhibitions.

This year, the theme is conservation and preservation and on Saturday, we welcomed members of the public on a tour of the archives. Starting in the Wolfson Centre, our Conservator, Lucy, talked about the items we had out on display and explained a little about the types of material they were made of. The turn out was fantastic and everyone really enjoyed having the chance to look behind the scenes in our archives storage areas.

Members of the public enjoying their visit to Archives & Collections as part of Explore Your Archives 2017

We are running the event again on Friday (which is now fully booked) and so SPOILER ALERT as throughout this week, we will be featuring some of the items that were on display. We hope you enjoy!

For other events happening around the country, please visit the Explore Your Archive website.

Explore Your Archives 2017: Behind the Scenes in Conservation

This year’s Explore Your Archives week runs from Saturday 18th November to Sunday 26th November. The mini-campaign is to highlight the vital and highly-specialised preservation and conservation work of archive conservators.

Behind the scenes at Archives & Collections

Unlike the past two years when we have opened up our archive collections through pop-up exhibitions, this year we are offering the chance to look behind the scenes…

Ever wanted to know what the Conservator gets up to in the archives? Ever wondered what is in the gold part of the Library of Birmingham building? You can find out by coming along to this workshop about how we look after Birmingham’s most treasured documents, with a behind the scenes tour of the stores and Conservation Studio.

Spaces are limited to 12 people – so book early by e-mail at archives.heritage@birmingham.gov.uk to avoid disappointment!

 

There are two workshops:

Saturday 18th November 1pm – 3pm

Friday 24th November, 2pm – 4pm.

 

Venue:

Wolfson Centre for Archival Research, Level 4, Library of Birmingham, Centenary Square B1 2ND

 

For details of how to get to the library, please see the Library of Birmingham website for details.

For more about the Explore Your Archive campaign, please visit http://www.exploreyourarchive.org/.

 

 

What are we up to during Birmingham Heritage Week?!

We’ve got a variety of things for you to do with us here in Archives & Collections during Heritage Week (which starts on Thursday), and we’d love you to join in!

 

Behind the Scenes: Conservation in the Archives

Friday 8th September, 2pm (booking essential)

Venue: Wolfson Centre for Archival Research, Level 4, Library of Birmingham, Centenary Square B1 2ND

Ever wanted to know what the Conservator gets up to in the Archives? Ever wondered what is in the gold part of the Library of Birmingham building? You can find out by coming along to this talk about how we look after Birmingham’s most treasured documents, with a behind the scenes tour of the stores and Conservation Studio!

Spaces are limited to 12 people – so book early to avoid disappointment!

 

Introduction to Archives & Cataloguing Skills Workshop

Saturday 9th September, 11-1:00 (booking essential)

Venue: Wolfson Centre for Archival Research, Level 4, Library of Birmingham, Centenary Square B1 2ND

This workshop will provide an introduction to Birmingham’s Archives, with a particular focus on how you can add to the collections through e.g. your heritage project. It covers the following: What does the Archives & Collections Service do? What are Archives? (with a chance to view and handle original archive material from the 12th to the 20th centuries!); Getting your collection into the Archives; and a practical introduction to cataloguing your Archive.

 

The Reality of Partition: Hand-over of Project Archive to Archives & Collections

Monday 12th September, 12-2pm (drop-in)

Venue: Wolfson Centre for Archival Research, Level 4, Library of Birmingham, Centenary Square B1 2ND

This project has focused on the heritage of the immigrant population that came to Great Britain in the first months and years after Partition, an event which marks its 70th anniversary in 2017.

What impact did Partition have on the Indian and Pakistani population already in Britain, and on those who decided to take up residency when independence was declared?  What do today’s British Asian population know about the history of the decision, how it took place, and the effect it had on their own families. Similarly, what does the wider British population know about this?  These are all questions the project has sought to address, especially since most of these stories are shared only amongst an intimate family group or other small number of people within a particular community.

The project archive will be deposited (handed-over) to Birmingham Archives & Collections between 12 and 2pm on the 12th of September – why not come along and observe, talk to the project managers, and watch the film –  ‘The Reality of Partition – Real stories told by Birmingham & Black Country residents’.

 

Heritage Research Area Familiarisation Session

Saturday 16th September, 11am-1pm (booking essential)

Venue: Heritage Research Area, Level 4, Library of Birmingham, Centenary Square B1 2ND

Would you like to learn how the Heritage Research Area on level 4 could benefit your genealogical research?

Meet experienced staff at this free event which will act as a general beginners’ guide to resources such as maps, electoral and parish registers as well as digital resources on Ancestry Institution and software for reading local newspapers. Spaces are limited to 12 people per session. Please email archives.heritage@birmingham.gov.uk or speak with a member of staff on level 4 to make a reservation. Please note this session is not aimed at answering specific genealogical enquiries.

 

Let’s Play Traditional Bangladeshi Games!!

Saturday 16th September, 11am-1pm (drop-in)

Venue: Heritage Learning Space, Level 4, Library of Birmingham, Centenary Square B1 2ND

 

Traditional games are part of the intangible heritage and a symbol of the cultural diversity of our societies. Played for hundreds of years by children and adults in rural and urban Bangladesh, traditional games brought here by first generation immigrants are on the verge of disappearance. These toys and games are representative of Bengali culture and psyche. They signify our people’s creativity and imagination as well as the fun-loving spirit of family bonding. Having recently deposited our documentary oral history recordings from our Stories & Games project with Archives & Collections at the Library of Birmingham, we now invite you to come along to the Archives on the 16th of September to learn about and play these games!

 

Booking: A couple of activities are drop-in, and for others booking is essential via archives.heritage@birmingham.gov.uk  – see above for details!

 

Directions and maps: http://www.libraryofbirmingham.com/article/visitorguide/visitorguide-summary

 

There is so much going in Birmingham Heritage Week this year! Find out more here: http://birminghamheritageweek.co.uk/

 

Behind the scenes at the Shakespeare pop-up exhibition: How to make your very own book cradle- An instructable!

As part of the preparation for the Shakespeare pop-up exhibition book cradles were especially made for a selection of volumes exhibited. This was done to make sure that the books that were displayed were fully supported and not to put undue strain on the open volumes and bindings. Improper display and handling of books can cause irreparable damage! To avoid causing damage to the open volumes each book has a cradle especially made to fit each individual book on the specific page it is opened on!

How to make your very own book cradle

1. Decide what page you want to display your book on.

2. Using a large sheet of paper (bigger than your book!) draw a horizontal line towards the bottom of your sheet of paper.

3. Open your book up to the appropriate page. Stand your book up on your piece of paper with the spine on the horizontal line.

4. Mark on the paper the edges of the boards and the spine.

5. Like dot to dot join up your marks!

6. Measure the lines you have drawn.

1-start-here

7. Pick up your card, mark one end of it to indicate the starting point. Starting a couple of cm along the baseline from the bottom left hand corner, mark on the strip all the points where the line changes direction.

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Preserving your family papers – a practical approach to the preservation of photographs

Conservation materials commonly used in AH&P

Conservation materials commonly used in AH&P

Last month we posted up some basic pointers for the preservation of personal papers, including a few general guidelines for the care of photographs. This post will focus specifically on photographs to allow for additional detail in the suggestions for their particular care.

Since their invention in 1839, photographs have become such a common feature of most people’s lives that it is easy to forget how vulnerable they are. When considering how to handle, care for, store, and display your photographs it may be helpful to bear in mind that a photographic image is the result of a chemical reaction which occurs when light-sensitized material is exposed to light. Most importantly, this chemical reaction does not stop once the image has been captured, it is merely temporarily interrupted. So from that point onwards the length of a print’s life depends, amongst other things, on being able to prevent this chemical reaction from continuing until the image is lost. This is done primarily through limiting exposure to heat and light. Despite a photograph’s seemingly robust appearance, it is probably the least durable and most easily damaged of all image types.

Of course, a photograph can be created by one of many processes, and images have been made on a variety of materials ranging from glass and paper to metal or plastics. While each photographic process is unique, and photographs can vary dramatically in appearance and format, there are things which can be done to help preserve them for as long as possible.

Some of the following have already been mentioned in the previous blog post, they are included again here for completeness sake.

Handling basics

  • Ensure hands and working surfaces are clean, dust-free and dry and only hold photographs, slides, and negatives at the very edges. Finger prints cannot be removed and attract dirt so, ideally, white cotton, vinyl or nitrile powder free disposable gloves should be worn.
  •  Try to keep items on a flat surface for support and, when carrying items from place to place, use a box lid or tray – particularly if you are working on large photographs, glass negatives or lantern slides. If you have a large collection of photographs and again particularly if you are working with glass negatives, it may be worth covering a stiff piece of card with several layers of white tissue and using it as a work surface. You can tear off a layer of tissue as it becomes dirty and the pad you have made will act as a cushion should you accidentally lose your grip on the glass.
  • Do not force curled/folded items open as this will cause damage. If your photographs are loose and beginning to curl, store them face down to stop this from getting worse until you can put them into sleeves or mount them.
  • Cased photographs such as daguerreotypes should not be dismantled even if only to change a damaged cover glass. The image on the support surface is not ‘fixed’ and the slightest disturbance will cause irretrievable loss. It is advisable to seek the advice of a Conservation professional regarding care and storage of these items.
  • Do not leave your photographs out in the light unnecessarily. Cover prints you are not working on or looking at – or turn them face down. Even short bursts of exposure to light will contribute to a photograph fading and colour photographs are especially vulnerable.

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