Category Archives: Conservation

Repairing Parchment

Parchment is a very durable material and even if it is quite sensitive to humidity (see previous post) it can withstand a lot of wear and tear. This characteristic has made it a favoured writing material for several thousand years. It replaced papyrus when the first multi-quire codices came into use because its flexibility and resilience allowed the centrefold of the several gatherings to be sewn together into text blocks without tearing1; and when paper became the most widespread writing and printing support, parchment still continued to play an important role in bookbinding as a covering material.

Nevertheless parchment can be damaged when documents are heavily used or misused. Tears, splitting and losses can result (figs. 1 and 2).

Figures 1 and 2 – The Book of Mulling with repaired damaged areas, TCD MS 60, ff. 1r, 6r © The Board of Trinity College Dublin, the University of Dublin. 2015.
Figures 1 and 2 – The Book of Mulling with repaired damaged areas, TCD MS 60, ff. 1r (left), 6r (right) © The Board of Trinity College Dublin, the University of Dublin. 2015.

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The Wandering Word Conference

Last week, scholars and enthusiasts of Insular art and manuscripts gathered at the Trinity Long Room Hub for many stimulating papers and lively discussion at our conference – The Wandering Word: the travels of Insular manuscripts.

The event was off to an exciting start with papers from the Trinity College Dublin conservation team.  Susie Bioletti, Allyson Smith (see previous post) and Marco Di Bella (see previous post) presented the work they have been doing on our project manuscripts.  The application of scientific analysis to manuscripts continued in Bill Enders’ paper where he demonstrated the value of imaging manuscripts over time.  Bernard Meehan discussed the bindings of the Book of Mulling (see previous post), and how recent technologies have brought greater clarity to the more damaged pages of the manuscript.

Susie Bioletti and Alysson Smith speaking at The Wandering Word Conference on 5 May 2016.
Susie Bioletti and Allyson Smith speaking at The Wandering Word Conference on 5 May 2016.

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Preparing the Book of Dimma for Imaging

The small format ‘pocket gospel’ book of Dimma (TCD MS 59) was the penultimate manuscript scheduled to be imaged as part of the Early Irish Manuscript Project. The Book of Dimma, like the two manuscripts already imaged; the Garland of Howth (TCD MS 56) and the Book of Mulling (TCD MS 60) was contained in a modern conservation binding. In the case of Dimma the binding was worked by Roger Powell in 1957.

Oak boarded binding by Roger Powell. Book of Dimma, TCD MS 59 © The Board of Trinity College Dublin, the University of Dublin. 2015.
Oak boarded binding by Roger Powell. Book of Dimma, TCD MS 59 © The Board of Trinity College Dublin, the University of Dublin. 2015.

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Vellum and its Reaction to Environmental Changes

Parchment is one of the oldest writing supports in history, and was already in use some centuries before the birth of Christ. Parchment generally refers to mammal skin, treated with lime, de-haired, scraped and dried under tension.

 

Fig. 1 The parchment maker is scraping a hide stretched in a wooden frame. From J. Amman, The book of trades, 1568. [Membranarius. Der Bermenter. (The Parchment Maker) / Panoplia omnium illiberalium mechanicarum ... (Book of Trades)]. Source
Fig. 1 The parchment maker is scraping a hide stretched in a wooden frame. From J. Amman, The book of trades, 1568. [Membranarius. Der Bermenter. (The Parchment Maker) / Panoplia omnium illiberalium mechanicarum … (Book of Trades)]. Source

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Unorthodox Treatment of Manuscripts

There is no doubt that 19th-century antiquarians played an essential role in the appreciation and preservation of medieval artefacts which, in some cases, would not have come down to us if it were not for them. Their enthusiasm however sometimes proved to be quite destructive…

 

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Fig. 1 Shrine of the Cathach, late 11th century, late 14th century and later additions © National Museum of Ireland, Dublin.

Sir William Betham (b. 1779, d. 1853), as we saw previously, was an important actor in the rediscovery of early Irish medieval manuscripts. When he came across the shrine of the Cathach (fig. 1), it was still sealed and the psalter it contained had not yet been exposed. The ornate box, according to an inscription on the reverse, had originally been commissioned sometime between 1062 and 1094 by Cathbarr Ua Domnaill, king of the Cenél Lugdach, and Domnall mac Robartaig, coarb of Kells.1 It was henceforth Continue reading Unorthodox Treatment of Manuscripts

Conservation on the Book of Mulling

When the Book of Mulling (TCD MS 60) was received in the Conservation Department of Trinity College back in 1977, it was sporting a binding that had been carried out by the British Museum in the late 19th century. The style of binding was similar to that employed for Codex Usserianus Primus (TCD MS 55) (see previous post) and involved the now individual vellum folios being glued around their edges and set into paper panels, before being gathered together and sewn into a leather binding.

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Fig. 1 Example of extensive rebuilding of the back margin of f. 2r carried out as part of the 1977 conservation campaign in Trinity College Dublin © The Board of Trinity College Dublin, the University of Dublin. 2015.

After removal of this unsuitable structure, the Conservation Department carried out rebinding following extensive repairs to the leaves of the manuscript. Continue reading Conservation on the Book of Mulling

Behind the Lens

The Garland of Howth (TCD MS 56) has not yet received all the attention it deserves, partly owing to the fact that hardly any images exist of it.  This is about to change dramatically, as we recently began full digitisation of this manuscript.

Fig. 1 The Garland of Howth, 8th-9th century, TCD MS 56, f. 10r © The Board of Trinity College Dublin, the University of Dublin. 2015.

For this project we are utilising a piece of book cradle technology (Grazer KT5242) which simultaneously cradles the binding, isolates and applies a gentle vacuum suction to the fore edge of the open page (fig. 2). Photographing a manuscript is a methodical process Continue reading Behind the Lens

Re-mounting Codex Usserianus Primus

As we stressed in our  previous post, the binding and mounting system adopted in the late 19th or early 20th century to accommodate the folio fragments of Codex Usserianus Primus (TCD MS 55) proved  unsuitable over time. The main problem was that the card in which the fragments had been pasted resisted the natural curling movement of the vellum, causing strain on the already fragile leaves.

025_1
Fig. 1 Codex Usserianus Primus, TCD MS 55, f. 25r © The Board of Trinity College Dublin, the University of Dublin. 2015.

The binding was thus removed and it was decided that each fragment should be released from its buckling card mount in order to be re-mounted in a manner which would improve its preservation. The following method was adopted. Continue reading Re-mounting Codex Usserianus Primus

Usserianus Primus and its Modern Binding

The fragments of Codex Usserianus Primus (see previous post for background) were, until a few years ago, kept in a late 19th- or early 20th-century binding (fig. 1). Unfortunately, we have no recorded description of how the manuscript was kept prior to this.

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Fig. 1 Former binding of TCD MS 55, late 19th or early 20th century © The Board of Trinity College Dublin, the University of Dublin. 2015.

The binding, quite elaborate, was covered in a greenish -brown  Morocco goatskin, Continue reading Usserianus Primus and its Modern Binding