Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Rare book on loan for exhibition at Gainsborough's House

The Balfour Library is pleased to have loaned a book from its special collections for exhibition at Gainsborough's House, the museum and birthplace of 18th century landscape and portrait artist Thomas Gainsborough, in Sudbury, Suffolk.

It has loaned its 1st edition copy of volume 1 of Mark Catesby's Natural History of Carolina, Florida and the Bahamas, 1731, shelfmark Folio (275). Find out more about the book and its author here: http://www.nhm.ac.uk/natureplus/community/library/blog/2013/06/21/item-of-the-month-june-2013-mark-catesby-1683-1749?fromGateway=true

The exhibition 'Catesby: watercolours from the Royal Collection' celebrates the life and works of East Anglian naturalist and artist Mark Catesby, who spent his childhood in Sudbury and travelled to North America to produce the first detailed study of the flora and fauna of the 'New World'.

The watercolours from the Royal Collection are original studies for the plates in the book, and the volume will be on display alongside them, so you can compare a watercolour (I think they’ve chosen a snake) with its final plate. The watercolours on display are of a variety of animals and are stunning. The exhibition space in the museum is beautiful and the museum is fascinating in itself and very worthy of a visit.

The exhibition runs until 12th October, so please do try to visit! Please see the museum’s website for more information: http://www.gainsborough.org/

I had to act as courier to oversee the volume’s transport and delivery to the museum. I also had to clean the volume before packing it ready for transportation. I have blogged a bit more about this, with lots of interesting photos, below.

Damage and cleaning

When evaluating the condition of the book before agreeing to loan it, I sought the conservator Caroline Bendix’s advice about the damage I could see on some of the leaves. I wanted to know what it was and if I could clean it off safely before loaning. I could see that there was considerable ‘foxing’ (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Foxing) but there were also black specks of dirt, and some of the leaves seemed to have warped.

An example of the 'warped' pages and dirt present at the top of  some of the leaves and plates

Specks of black dirt



Caroline told me that the leaves have cockled through changes in humidity over time and that dust has penetrated. As it has been on the leaves for a while, it has stained them, hence the marks you get when you brush it off. There are black specks of dirt, as well as dark brown. These may be soot, which will leave streaks if brushed off.

Caroline advised that the best way of cleaning soot is with a smoke sponge. A piece about half an inch wide should be cut off the main block (which should be kept well sealed in a plastic bag to keep it in usable condition). Using a gentle stroking movement, with the direction of the strokes varying all the time, the soot and any of the dirt can be wiped off. I did this, and it worked really well.

Smoke sponge

Smoke sponge cut into a smaller piece. You can see how much dirt it removed!

Before cleaning

Before cleaning

After cleaning - if you look closely you can see that the dirt has been removed although the foxing is left behind.

After cleaning


The book had to be packed up really well for its journey to the museum. I first used acid-free tissue paper and acid-free book repair tape to wrap the book itself. I then wrapped it in bubble wrap. 

 Gainsborough’s House

The specialist art transporters turned up at the library and I supervised the book being secured in the van. I then followed the van by car to the museum and oversaw the removal of the book from the van and its installation in its museum case. I was unable to take photos of all of this, for security reasons, but I did take a few photos of the outside of the museum. 

The museum also has a beautiful garden, at the centre of which is a huge mulberry tree that dates back to the 1600s.

Digital copies

If you can’t make it to the exhibition you can see a digital copy of the entire work at Biodiversity Heritage Library (BHL) http://www.biodiversitylibrary.org/creator/971#/titles

Visit the Royal Collection website to see Catesby's watercolours: www.royalcollection.org.uk

Interesting link