The Polonsky Foundation Greek Manuscripts Project: The conservators’ challenge – Part 5

Welcome to the last instalment of the conservator’s challenge. In this post we will see CUL MS Dd.4.39 and CUL MS Add.1840 in their finished state, after treatment, and their bespoke housing. It has been almost a year since our last conservators’ challenge so in an upcoming blogpost we will also be able to share with you some other finished projects, where the conservators have been able to further develop the knowledge and techniques used in the treatment of CUL MS Dd.4.39 and CUL MS Add.1840.

Both CUL MS Dd.4.39 and CUL MS Add.1840 were initially selected for treatment based on their condition, using the data from the initial conservation survey, and knowledge of the books’ contents with help from our wonderful cataloguers. Since that point the manuscripts have received hundreds of hours of treatment each to improve their condition and return them to usable objects. Below we can see a comparison of before and after treatment.

CUL MS Dd.4.39

Left: Spine and right board of CUL MS Dd.4.30 – Before treatment. Centre: Spine of CUL MS Dd.4.30 – Before treatment. Right: f.274v -Before treatment.
Left: Spine and right board of CUL MS Dd.4.30 – After treatment. Centre: Spine of CUL MS Dd.4.30 – After treatment. Right: f.274v – After treatment.

CUL MS Add.1840

Left: Spine and right board of CUL MS Add.1840 – Before treatment. Centre: Detached boards and spine of Add.1840. Right: Left endleaf and first folio of Add.1840 – Before treatment.
Left: Spine and right board of CUL MS Add.1840 – After treatment. Centre: Endband of CUL MS Add.1840 – After treatment. Right: Left endleaf and first folio of Add.1840 – After treatment.


To house the manuscripts bespoke linen covered drop-back boxes were made. The boxes were designed to house the manuscript as well as any parts of the original binding not reused, for instance the boards. Boxes not only help protect books from physical damage but also the damaging effects of light and unsuitable environmental conditions, acting as a buffer to changing temperature and relative humidity.

Left: Bespoke clamshell box created for CUL MS Add.1840 Centre and Right: Inside of bespoke clamshell box created for CUL MS Add.1840.
Left: Drawers inside of clamshell box made for CUL MS Dd.4.39, housing previous boards and folder containing elements of the previous binding structure. Centre: Folder containing elements of the binding structure not reinstated into CUL MS Dd.4.39. Right: Inside the folder – old paper repairs removed from the parchment during treatment.

What happened to CUL MS Add.3048?

If you can cast your mind back to the very first Conservators’ Challenge blogpost you may remember that there was a third manuscript selected for in-depth treatment – CUL MS Add.3048, a lay office book from the 17th century. When conducting further condition assessment of this book it was realised that the sewing was stronger and more intact than was previously thought, unlike the other two manuscripts which had no intact sewing, additionally CUL MS Add.3048 still had its original boards. This led to different treatment decisions. First, many hours of meticulous paper repair was conducted by Project Conservator Marina. New endleaves were made from paper and aerolinen. These new endleaves and all loose gatherings were attached with new linen thread, leaving the old sewing intact. A non-adhesive cover was made from flax cover paper, folded around the outer two leaves of each endleaf, to protect the manuscript. This non-adhesive cover can be easily removed and replaced, allowing for researchers to view the sewing structure. The books original boards were not reinstated as they had become very fragile due to extensive insect damage. Once again, a bespoke box was made for CUL MS Add.3048, housing the manuscript and all elements of the binding structure that were not reinstated.

Left: CUL MS Add.3048 view of lose spine leather and damaged board. Centre: Damage to the first folio. Right: Replacing the missing sewing in progress.
Left: CUL MS Add.3048 after treatment. Centre: Left endleaves and repaired first folio. Right: CUL MS Add.3048 in its paper cover and in its bespoke clamshell box, the original boards housed in the drawer underneath the book.

At the beginning of this project these manuscripts were in pieces, were too fragile to consult in the reading room and were in damaged or unsuitable bindings. Now, after hundreds of hours of conservation treatment, they are not only safe to be digitised but also be consulted in the reading room.

Thank you for reading our blogpost. Please watch out for a new blogpost on some more in-depth treatments in the near future!

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