Re-binding stories of voyages bound to Australia

Re-binding stories of voyages bound to Australia
Conservation After Digitisation: The Shipboard Journal Project
3 June 2014

The National Library of Australia is home to many wonderful books. They lend themselves perfectly as objects to hold and study but not easy to capture using the digitisation process. Therefore, I felt extremely lucky to be selected to work on items for digitisation from the unique Shipboard Journal Collection held in the Manuscript section of the Library. This blog will focus on the conservation of some of these journals with a brief discussion of the Edith Gedge Journal, 1808-1987. 

The Shipboard Journals are tangible treasures which are individually hand written diaries from different voyages around the world. The journals contain a pleasurable myraid of simple illustrations and hand written entries such as the imges below.

Flicking through a book

Looking inside Robert Bradly's Journal, MS9010

page of the book showing a ship

 A beautiful illustration from Harry Woolley's Journal, MS955

Each journal posed different conservation problems and required specific conservation treatment. To begin each journal was disassembles or ‘disbound’ for digitisation. This is a delicate and time consuming job to record the sewing structure, page order and board attachment, disbind and then return the binding to its original construction. All this is done with the intention of returning the binding to a more stable condition and aesthetically pleasing appearance for the enjoyment of people now and in the future.

Disbinding allowed for the use of a specific set of repair techniques that could not be used if the journals were still intact. Many of the repairs were simple, such as cleaning the covers and the endpapers to reduce soiling deposits, resewing using a strong sewing style and undertaking repairs to the leather spine and corners using archival quality materials, to improve consultation by readers.

The key principle of book and paper conservation states that we are expected to retain as much as possible the structure and materials of the book, so at the National Library of Australia Bindery we seek to stabilise the book without changing its integrity. For example, when deciding how much cleaning to do to the front endpaper in each book I only reduced simple surface soiling and retained any ingrain handprints which was evidence of the historical use of the journal – how another human has interacted with the book.

When undertaking full conservation work on the journals we keep all the original material right from the start - from disbinding to completed conservation work. This included retaining the original endpapers, especially any with inscriptions written on them, which could indicate previous ownership. Intriguingly I sometimes found extra information inside the text block or attached to the covers. This included notes tacked inside a cover or placed between two leaves.

With conservation repair work it is crucial to be precise in craftsmanship, as everything needs to line up for the binding structure to work correctly. Such as ensuring the correct realignment of the endpapers to the sections of the text block as well as realigning creative and not so creative marks left by previous owners, such as old sticky tape staining (image below).

book held open with string

'Casing in', or adhering Edith Gedge's text block back into it's cover after repairs and sewingcloseup of tape attaching two leaves together

Carefully positioning the original 'end papers' into Robert Bradley's Journal, MS9010. The alignment was extremely important due to the tape stains

During this project we were fortunate to have a Senior Book & Paper Conservator, Karen Vidler, working in the Bindery - see Proeschel Conservation Project. Karen brought with her a wealth of knowledge from 20 years training and work in conservation in the UK, her expertise helped to guide the treatment of this wonderful object.

MS 9054: Edith Gedge Journal, September 2013

The first image below shows how the journal was received after digitation. By slightly fanning out the individual sections of the book we can see the repairs that were required to the gutters of each section. This damage resulted from the heavy layer of glue that was adhered to all the layers of the spine lining materials. The centre image shows details of the original sewing configuration. The last image shows the fully conserved journal returned to its protective binding structure as it originally was.

Treatment I carried out on this journal started with Japanese paper repairs and removal of old guards that were attached to a few of the sections. Their removal was necessary as the paper was acidic making them beyond repair, also causing staining to the text pages. When I re-sewed the journal I used loose Japanese paper guards was added to the end papers, a fly sheet only, using a Barcham Green handmade paper. The journal had already been repaired at an earlier stage of it's life using Barcham Green for its end papers, so it was the most non-invasive way to tip on the missing flyleaf that is used to protect the text pages.

The main challenge I faced with this book was its cloth spine. This had stretched remarkably over time, so when ‘casing in’ the text to its cover the large gap on either side become very apparent. Neatly added to either side of the positioned text and end papers I used Japanese tissue guard, which closed the gap at where the text block joined the cover as well as added support to the flyleaf page.

Loose leaves featuring flag illustrations

Miss Gedge's Journal after disbinding the original sewing, ready to clean and repair

The spine of loose sheaves

A close up of above deteriorated gutters of the individual sections

The book standing up with cover open and pages spread out

The finished beauty! Miss Edith Gedge's Journal fully restored

I would like to acknowledge the support of both Karen Vidler and Robin Tait (Acting Head of Preservation Services) for their advice during this project.

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What wonderful treasures you have been able to handle and preserve for future generations to see. Great work Nellie. love & best wishes Mary
A vital and truly professional project, yet expressed by Nellie in simple preservation terms, coupled with the simple joy of bringing these journals back to life with care and collaborative concern. Congratulations to all those participants, who are preserving our written history.
Is there any activities that could be handled by a dexterous volunteer?
Hi Noel, it would be best if you contact Lauren Brown from our volunteers department on the link below. As we have lots of wonderful opportunities here for volunteering.
Thank you Nellie for an insight into the conservation work that goes on at the National Library. Great photography that shows us the extent of deterioration and the outcome and processes used to preserve our heritage.