Conserving the Proeschel Atlas: maps

Part 3 in a series on the Proeschel Atlas conservation project

This post is a brief look at some of the different types of repair techniques used to stabilise the maps inside the three copies of Frederick Proeschel’s Atlas of Australasia, 1863. All conservation work was undertaken to ensure each map can be safely consulted within the map reading room of the National Library of Australia.

After the examination of the binding and their contents, each map, fold-out table and the text leaves were mechanically cleaned to reduce surface dirt deposits that can lead to permanent staining. This was done using smoke sponge and plastic eraser. The book were supported on soft book supports so that no further damaged occurred to the binding during the cleaning process. Any debris created by the cleaning was swept out of the book using a soft bristle brush, in this instance using a fluted Japanese Calligraphy brush that can be seen in the image below.

Caption: mechanical cleaning the verso (back) of the Map of Victoria.

The next process was to release some of the maps and other larger fold-outs from each binding. Maps that required repair or needed to be moved slightly forward on their guards, to make it easier to consult the map, were chosen for this work. Controlled moisture from a steam pencil was used to soften the flour-based adhesive used to attach the maps to their guards within the atlas bindings as can be seen in the image below.

Caption: using a steam pencil to release the maps from their guards.

The fibre identification had revealed that the paper used for the maps was very brittle as can be seen in the image below of the short and breaking paper fibres. This was to be taken into consideration when deciding the repair techniques for any damaged maps. Minimal disturbance to the paper was required to ensure no further damage was done to the already brittle map paper.

Caption: Broken and split fibres in map paper.

The microscope examination had confirmed the use of hand-colouring with water colour paints. This had to be taken into consideration when deciding on how to repair the splits to any of the maps. A very wet adhesive would cause movement and staining of the hand-colouring which was not desirable. What is referred to as a very ‘dry paste’ starch paste was used to attach the repairs at the hand coloured areas of the maps and pressure during the drying process was kept to a minimum.

Caption: hand colouring can react to moisture.

Typical of the damage to the calico lined maps was splitting of the lining to the maps where they were folded several times to fit in the binding.

Caption: typical split fold at back of a map.

The splits were repaired using a split-repair technique. This was done by releasing the calico around the split with minimal disturbance to the map paper. A shaped conservation standard Japanese paper repair adhered with starch paste was then placed between the printed map and calico backing layer. When dry the calico was returned to its original location along the folds of the map.

Caption: releasing the lining to insert the shaped repair.

Undertaking repairs to larger, folded paper maps can be tricky when they are not lined. Attaching and drying a repair in a flat position can cause the repair to pull and crack the map paper when dried and folded back into shape. Therefore, the unlined maps were repaired using a 90° drying technique.

Caption: 90° repair to map of Victoria.

When the repair strips of Japanese repair paper were attached with starch paste they were dried at a 90° angle to prevent the pulling and cracking the back of the maps when either opened flat or folded.

Caption: After conservation the map of Victoria returned to the binding.

Once all the repairs were completed the conserved maps were returned to their bindings. This was done by reattaching each map at its original position in the binding on strips of Japanese repair paper that extended beyond the width of the original guards. In this way any previously tightly bound maps could be more easily unfolded within the binding while retaining the integrity of the original binding structure.

For further reading on this topic you may be interested in these works:

Cannon, Alice (2010) Australian adhesives for paper, 1870-1920.

Handbook on the art of washi (1991) [translator, Kurio Fukushima] (describes Japanese paper used for conservation work)     

James, Carlo [] (1997) Old master prints and drawings : a guide to preservation and conservation.

Tomalak, A (2012) Simple paper repairs, The New Bookbinder, Vol. 32, pp-31-38

The final part of this series of blogs will describe the book conservation work undertaken to the three atlases.