Category Archives: Books

‘Reading between the lines..’


‘What, more books?’

Yes indeed, I had the privilege of cleaning some more of our Great Hall books and found some very interesting things therein. Being careful as much as naturally curious, I’ve been checking most of the books as I go, to keep an eye on the inventory numbers so they get returned to the shelves in the right order. This cuts down the possibility of getting muddled and is a good excuse to have a quick scan of the content. Having been, shall we say, ‘more than happy’ to kiss my printing career goodbye, I nevertheless have retained a love of old books over the years, with a particular interest in how paper was produced, the printing styles and techniques used. As I gazed over one volume in particular, my mental brakes were slammed on and I had a…’what the’… moment. What caught my eye was a fly. Or gnat or baby mosquito, what ever it was, it was squashed into the page. My first thought, naturally, as a trainee-semi-professional type was to decide if it was recent. Judging by the colouration and lack of imprint of the mini-beastie on the opposite page, it had been there for some time. ( I should mention at this point, my second thought, was ‘Oooh… Jurassic Park! Let’s clone a 17th century person from the dna!’) I would like to think that it is historic, as a 300 year old gnat flying too close while the paper was in production is a bit more of a romantic notion, than a 21st bug too daft to get out of the way the last time the book was shut…

Book worms are devastating little critters and thankfully, the only evidence I found had been there for sometime. There was no indication the holes were fresh and no ‘frass’. This is a powdery deposit left behind by munchers. But this was no ordinary pattern of devastation. This looked suspiciously like a ‘Rorschach ink blot’, and my instant mental description of the image was a turtle but from another page looked like a juggling beetle. Apologies for my overactive imagination but as they say in downtown LA, ‘that’s how I roll’…

‘Back to it…’

We had the chance to visit nearby Newark Park recently, to catch up with Jenny Rogers and Dyrham ‘man-Friday’ James Curwen, to talk some conservation shop. This was my first chance to see the inside the property, and it was an informative time, discussing conservation issues at a different property, with a different collection. House volunteer and mercenary-archaeologist for hire Mr. Tim Robey,  paid a visit for some book conservation experience so we continued work on the books in the Great Hall. This was a good chance to put my training into practice and help show Tim the ropes of do’s and don’t’s when inspecting and cleaning books. As most of the volumes are not in English, Tim’s ‘rusty but unique’ translation skills, (his words not mine.) made for an interesting conservation session. A highlight of which was a copy of ‘Salmon’s English Herbal’. This a beautiful book with some exquisite illustrations and very ‘interesting recipes and uses’… For legal reasons, not to be tried at home…

‘Talking Books…’

When handling the books prior to cleaning, clean dry hands are best. If you wore white cotton gloves, any dirt would only stick to the gloves and get transferred to more books. Dusting has its own procedure too, and can take a bit of practice. (Bear with…) If the book has a card cover, hold the spine, taking the weight of the book, and slide the cover up and off. Starting with the book spine in your right hand, turn over and hold the long edge in you left hand with the spine nice and snug on your forearm. This gives you a free edge to dust with one sweep of a soft brush, from the spine outwards. Rotate the book and hold the top, to clean the long edge, then with a quick motion you can have the last edge spine-up to complete the process. Simple! Trust me it does make more sense when you try it… on to the pages.

As I noted in my blog post from the house keeping training course at Tyntesfield, To inspect a book, you have to ‘listen’ to it. (So maybe play that German Industrial Techno-Heavy Metal cd another time.) The principle is to be aware of any noises the book might make, and to open it at the smallest angle you can get away with, to check the pages. Unless being treated by a conservator or being repaired, you would never open it more than 45 degrees, as this puts a strain on the spine. If the book is under stress, it can make small creaking noises as you open it, (hence the ‘listen’) so you get a sense of what is appropriate. If in doubt, leave shut. (If a book actually does ‘speak’ to you and you’re not Harry Potter, I would suggest a consultation with a doctor or priest is in order…)