Just as I was settling in at RCC I was sent off to the Cadbury Research Library, home of the University’s Special Collections. Here I got to see everything from ancient Egyptian papyrus to the original plans for the university to illuminated Islamic manuscripts to first editions of Vesalius as well as Dickens. The archives also hold the entirety of playwright Noël Cowards documents: manuscripts, letters, as well as a collection of Soviet posters, old theatre playbills and much, much more.

Here I got to learn about a conservator’s work and about storing different kinds of objects. Apart from the temperature and humidity of the room, the pH value of the storage boxes is crucial to adapt to the different kinds of objects. Paper should ideally be kept at a neutral pH value or somewhat above, while photographic plates, in themselves slightly acidic, are better kept in boxes with a lower pH value. I also learnt a lot about the preventative measures against fire and water damage to the collections.

Cadbury RL2
A Small Biblia Pauperum.

I worked on cleaning this vellum facsimile of a William Morris designed and printed book, using (would you believe it) an eraser, a brush and a vulcanised smoke sponge. It was a strangely satisfying job, as you could see the original white and gold of the cover emerge by the minute. I also got to try my hand at cleaning some old prints, discoloured with age and wear. Here you can see them having a bath in regular water (you do test that the ink is waterproof before immersing them).

Cadbury RL1
The prints having a swim in regular tap water. They go with a book of plays and depict characters and settings, creating a more immersive experience for the reader.

I enjoyed my day at the Cadbury Research Library. It raised interesting and important questions about what we choose to preserve, why we do it and in what condition. Who gets to choose what is worth preserving, and on what grounds?

 

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