Conserving an early-modern manuscript

Z3.5.21 is a 16th-century commonplace book. Commonplace books are effectively notebooks in which past owners copied extracts from other works and Z3.5.21 is no exception including several poems and political works.

Like many of our manuscripts, it needed conservation. Its limp vellum cover was detached from the text block, the spine was fragmented and the joints were split. As well as this many of the pages were surface soiled and torn and very much at risk from future tears.

Pages being washed in a warm deionised water bath


How do you conserve a book like this? The conservator started by removing the sewing from the text block. She then dry cleaned each individual page and, after checking that the inks were stable, washed, deacidified and resized them. Resizing is necessary to return strength to the paper fibers.




Then she dried them in our conservation lab.



Once they had dried she was able to start the paper repairs. After this she sewed the text block using linen cords and linen thread. And lastly she repaired the cover using alum tawed skin on the spine and attached it to the text block by lacing in the sewing supports.

Now scholars can read it happy in the knowledge that they are not doing any more damage to the vellum cover or the 16th-century paper. And best of all all the repairs conservators make are fully reversible.