With funding provided by the Art Fund (with a contribution from The Wolfson Foundation), and The Pilgrim Trust, through the National Manuscripts Conservation Trust, we have recently begun a one-year conservation project for The Minton Archive. We are delighted to welcome our new conservator, Jessica Hyslop, to The Minton Archive blog.
As the new conservator for The Minton Archive project, I was really excited to begin work on some of the stunning items in this unique collection. At present, fourteen items—including both bound volumes and gatherings of loose paper artworks—have been selected for me to work on during my one-year term. If you are not familiar with book and paper conservation, that may not sound very much to work on in a year, but I can assure you that I will have my work cut out for me, as most of the chosen items require in-depth treatments that take many hours, days, and weeks to complete.
The work of conservation can take many forms, but its aim is to stabilise and preserve physical items so that they can continue to be accessed, used, and enjoyed in the long-term. Rather than restoring an item to a ‘like new’ condition (we can never truly turn back the clock), conservators instead aim to intervene as little as possible with the item while still making it usable again. Depending on the condition of the item and its intended/expected use, this might mean that the item is simply placed into more suitable storage—a bespoke box, for instance—or given very minor treatment for surface dirt and, say, a few tears in the paper. But sometimes ‘as little as possible’ can actually end up being quite a lot, for example if a book is in a really bad state and is expected to be read frequently. In that case, a conservator will need to do more to the item to make sure that it can be used safely without further damage occurring.
This was the case with the first book I have been working on from the Minton Archive. SD 1705/MS2071 is one of the later pattern books, circa 1904, and when it arrived on my bench it was completely missing its binding—only the text block was left!
In order to make MS2071 usable again, I therefore needed to give it an entirely new binding to protect the text block from dirt, damage, and becoming separated—and not to mention make it easier to read! In doing so, I also reinstated the spring-back binding structure that the book originally had. This structure allows the book to open nice and flat, and as a result was extremely popular for books that were created blank to be written in (also known as ‘stationery bindings’). Most of the Minton pattern books are spring-backs for this reason. More about this important binding structure to come in a later post, as well as some more detailed descriptions of conservation treatments. Stay tuned…
The treatments described in this blog post and others in the Conservation series are carried out by a qualified conservator. If you have an item in need of conservation, it is always best to ask a conservator for advice. In the UK and Ireland, you can find a conservator through the Institute of Conservation’s Conservation Register.
The Minton Archive one-year conservation project is funded by: