Sharing a Sister's story of survival

Sharing a Sister's story of survival
Preparing the Sister B.M. Williams autograph albums for exhibition
24 November 2014

I recently received two autograph albums requiring some particularly tender love and care before going on display as a part of the Library's new exhibition Keepsakes: Australians and the Great War. These autograph albums, now held as part of the National Library of Australia's Manuscripts Collection at MS 9461, were the property of Sister B. M. Williams. Sister Williams worked at Beaufort War Hospital, Bristol, England during the First World War, nursing wounded allied forces soldiers. The albums are a snapshot of a time and place represented in a personal collection of wartime humour, military insignia, country scenes, still life and buildings as well as a sketch of Beaufort Hospital.

Within the bound albums are snippets of original poetry, quotations and humour including To my masseuse, a poem dedicated to Sister B.M. Williams by wounded soldiers she nursed and cared for. The albums are a precious addition to the Library's collection, as they reflect and record a tragic era in such a human way. Many of the album entries express appreciation and a genuine affection for Sister Williams.

Both albums were suffering from disrepair and were tearing away from their covers, with torn gutters of sections due to loose sewing and having no original spine linings to hold them into the cover. I disbound both albums, repaired the torn folios, re-sewed them, and cased the text blocks back into their covers.

The photographs below show the text blocks after sewing, with new linings and the addition of a spine hollow. A lack of a strong spine attachment, their age, and fragile binding structures all contributed to the text blocks tearing away from their original beautiful marble end-papers. A full disbinding with multiple repairs was needed.

Text blocks after sewing

Above: the text blocks after sewing, with new spine linings and a hollow construction added. Prior to this, I made repairs to the gutters of the text block sections.

Covers fanned open with view of end papers lifted

Above: Here the covers are fanned open, with a view of where I lifted the end papers to remove the old mull linings.

Lifted end papers

Above: a close look at the lifted end papers offers a view of deteriorated and cracked leather spine piece from behind. The procedure of lifting the end papers allows the perfect place to case-in the text block with its new mull linings.

Tinted Japanese tissue used for joint repair

Above: tinted Japanese tissue is used for the joint repair. The joint repairs are added after casing in the text block, for strength, as this is a point in the book's construction that bears a lot of pressure from use.

Book left to dry

Above: when the tissue is placed into the book using wheat starch paste, the book is left to partially dry while supported open at a 90 degree angle. It is then closed for the remainder of the drying time. Getting the time right is important, as the repair can buckle along the board edge if the book is set incorrectly while drying.

 The finished book bound back into its original cover

Above: the finished book bound back into its original cover. This image shows the spine hollow added to the construction of the book. I chose to add the spine hollow to take pressure off the fragile leather. The albums are a great addition to the upcoming Keepsakes exhibition. The albums will be displayed cased back into their original covers. They look as good as new and are strong enough to be accessed and enjoyed for years to come.

Keepsakes: Australians and the Great War, National Library of Australia, Exhibition Gallery, Ground Floor, runs from open 26 November 2014-19 July 2015, 10.00am-5.00pm daily, free.



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What a lovely job. Well done!
Thank-you Vikki, very nice of you to say! I'm glad we could share this snippet into a treatment here at the NLA, and a special one at that.
Thank you for sharing your expertise Nellie, beautifully done.