Conservation Diary — Day 8

Nicole Gilroy writes…

As we have looked closely at the edges of the book, we have noticed that there is a break in the textblock: this is usually caused by a split in the sewing or spine linings or adhesive.

A clear break in the  kettle stitch (part of the sewing) at the tail end of the book

A clear break in the kettle stitch (part of the sewing) at the tail end of the book

It is common to see this in the middle of a book, and we have been wondering when this damage occurred, and if it is getting worse, as we thought it might be after going through the book leaf by leaf.

The break in the text-block showing as a step in the edges of the book

The break in the text-block showing as a step in the edges of the book

Yet again, the photographic record of the condition of the book soon after its return to the Bodleian has come to our aid: this time the photograph taken to show the original position of the book in Duke Humfrey’s library, fore-edge out as it would have been chained, clearly shows the ridge along the fore-edge demonstrating that the text-block break had already happened at that point.

The original position of the volume

The volume (marked with an X) in its original position in Duke Humfrey’s Library, showing the text-block break as a ridge in the lower fore-edge. Photo taken soon after the book’s return to the library in the early 20th century.

The edges of the book tell us more than just the condition of the sewing. There are some distinctive ripples along the edges that have made us think a little more about how it was bound.

We know from the size of the leaves that very little was trimmed from the edges, but the edges were certainly trimmed slightly and sprinkled red, though this has now faded and worn.

The edges of a book could have been trimmed in one of two ways in the 17th century: with a draw-knife (a hand-held two-handled knife); or with the relatively new invention, the plough (which involved setting the book up in a horizontal press and running a blade in a jig along the edges creating a neater trim).

The edge of the book

The edge of the book, with possible evidence of trimming using a draw-knife

The rippled edges of the First Folio, with their slight horizontal scoops, suggest that the quicker (therefore cheaper) method of the draw-knife may have been used, perhaps hinting at a more workaday binding rather than an expensive one. This, in combination with the evidence of less-than-perfect paper selection makes us think that this book was not quite the luxury item we might have thought it was.

Conservation Diary — Day 7

Nicole Gilroy writes…

Today we had another great opportunity to share our work with visitors, including Dr Emma Smith whose research is the inspiration for the project.

We talked about the evidence of very minimal trimming on the edges of the book: ours is the second largest copy of the First Folio, with the largest being only ⅛ inch wider than ours, and the same height. This must have been at the request of the library — binders were keen to trim as much as possible from the edges of books to sell the waste for board-making and other purposes.

Nicole Gilroy, using splint repairs to support torn areas of the text

Nicole Gilroy, using splint repairs to support torn areas of the text

Here are some details of the splint repairs we are using to support the damages areas of the leaves. We use paste cooked from wheat-starch. This is a purified version of the flour paste Turbutt would have used for his repairs, but ours has the gluten removed.

Applying a splint repair to a torn area

Applying a splint repair to a torn area

Gluten is the component of flour-and-water paste that creates stiffness and possible discolouration in the resulting adhesive. We want our repairs to be as flexible and invisible as possible, which is why we remove the gluten from our paste. These gluten-free repairs are also easily reversible, should it become necessary to reverse them in the future.

Pasting out a repair splint

Pasting out a repair splint

Conservation Diary — Day 6

Nicole Gilroy writes…

Today we have continued our work repairing and supporting the most vulnerable areas of the book.

Corner of leaf requiring unfolding to reveal obscured text

Corner of leaf requiring unfolding to reveal obscured text

Historically, it was common to patch damage in books and to paper documents by pasting neat squares of good quality writing paper over the damage.  Unfortunately, if the repair is heavier and stronger than the paper it supports, then it often causes further tearing or even loss to the original.

Tear requiring support to avoid further damage when turned

Tear requiring support to avoid further damage when turned

When we repair paper we now use a very fine, long-fibred Japanese paper and avoid hard-cut edges, instead feathering or shaping the edge of the repair to avoid creating further stress lines in the delicate original material.

Heavy paper repair applied by Richard Turbutt, which has caused further tearing

Heavy paper repair applied by Richard Turbutt, which has caused further tearing

This third image demonstrates an important principle that we follow in paper conservation: that the repair should not be stronger than the material to which it is applied.

Images of our repairs to the leaves of the First Folio to come tomorrow!

Conservation Diary — Day 5

Nicole Gilroy writes…

Romeo and Juliet, page 69, in 1905

Page 69 of Romeo and Juliet as it was when the volume came back to the Bodleian in 1905.

The first week is over, and we have now worked through the entire volume  turning over obscured text, and noting all the splint repairs that we feel need to be done in order to turn the pages without causing further damage. We are confident that we have enough time next week to complete these repairs, so that we can move to the digitization phase of the project on schedule.

We have been amazed at the physical observations that we have made as we go through the volume. The paper is in places extremely thin and often of second grade quality, with creases, pleats and papermaker’s flaws visible throughout. This has made the leaves particularly vulnerable to heavy use, and in many places the whole lower corner of the leaf has torn or broken away, one can almost imagine, in someone’s fingers.

Romeo and Juliet, page 69, in 2012

The same page today. Despite the extreme fragility of this leaf, the condition has not deteriorated.

We have an excellent image of the condition of page 69 of Romeo and Juliet in The Original Bodleian Copy of the First Folio of Shakespeare (The Turbott Shakespeare). Incredibly, it appears that the leaf is now, after 107 years, in identical condition, including the crumpled edge and extent of the tears.

It is fascinating to us, as conservators tasked with protecting the Libraries’ collections that although extreme damage was caused to the paper of the textblock during the first 40 years of its existence, the most serious damage caused in the more recent years (since 1905) has been to the attachment of the upper board, while the state of the paper seems to have remained constant. A strong reminder to us all of the importance of careful book handling and the use of suitable book supports when working with our Special Collections!

Conservation Diary — Day 4

Nicole Gilroy writes…

Today we finished straightening turned-over areas of text in the Histories, and will start on the Tragedies tomorrow. As we work through the volume we have been noting the areas that need splint repairs, and once we have been through the entire volume tomorrow we will review the repairs needed and make sure there is time to complete them all. We have also noted several features of interest that will not be clearly recorded by the digitization, such as tears that appear to have occurred during the papermaking process and which we will photograph if time allows.

Nicole and Arthur examine a tear

Nicole Gilroy and Arthur Green examine a tear, which turns out to be a flaw that occurred during the making of the paper rather than damage that has happened during handling of the book. This kind of information will be hard to examine on the flat, digitized images, and so we are recording it as much as possible during our treatment.

We had more visitors today, and the fascinating conversations continue – we discussed the separation of the plays into Comedies, Tragedies and Histories and when this distinction would have come about, and also discussed the other copies of the First Folio, particularly those in Oxford (at Queen’s and Wadham Colleges) and what level of use, repair and rebinding they display.

Conservation Diary — Day 3

Nicole Gilroy writes…

Today we examined the joint support patch, now that it is completely dry, and we are happy that it is doing its job. This means that we can open the volume more confidently and start to go through and reveal obscured text by unfolding areas of damaged paper, and also to make a note of leaves that will require splint repair.

Nicole Gilroy showing the volume to visitors

Nicole Gilroy showing the volume to visitors

It is a real treat to be able to go through this book leaf by leaf, and we are spotting all sorts of interesting features such as the bright red colour of the original edge sprinkling that has crept in between some of the leaves, and the variation in style of Turbutt’s old paper repairs – sometimes big rough patches and sometimes smaller more delicate repairs.

Andrew Honey explaining the paper treatment of the final three detached leaves

Andrew Honey explaining the paper treatment of the final three detached leaves

We had a group of visitors to see our work today, and we explained what we had done so far. We have another group of visitors tomorrow, and we are enjoying meeting the variety of people with an interest in this book and the project, from within the University but also from the Globe, the Shakespeare Institute and elsewhere.

Man-eating Money Maniacs

Sprint for Shakespeare has taken a life of its own, if a quick Google search is anything to go by. We’re delighted that it has caught so many people’s imaginations.

The generosity of the public enabled the Bodleian to buy back its original copy of the book in 1906. The Library Records (shelfmarks c. 1259, c. 1260, c. 1261, and c.1262) contain many touching letters from donors, large and small, some of which we have already quoted from. We’ll publish more of these letters throughout the campaign.

But pleas for philanthropy, or (to use today’s terminology) crowd-funding, were not met with universal sympathy. The headmaster of a Surrey school liked neither the approach nor the subject matter: “why all this fuss about Shakespeare?” Our champions — actors, directors, teachers, and academics — argue more eloquently against accusations of “literary provincialism” than I could.

Read the letter and make your own mind up about the debate!

SURREY   7 2 [19]06

Dear Mr Librarian,

I have to thank you for the circular which I received from you this morning about the repurchase for the Bodleian of the fist folio Shakespeare. My finances do not permit of my offering any contribution, but it may amuse your eminence to read why I should not offer anything if I could.

Supposing the book to be worth three thousand pounds, or three millions, the present possessor ought to present it to the Bodleian, if it is a question of the honour of the Library. And he ought to do that even if he was very hard up himself. That is the way my sentiment looks at the matter.

Secondly, having due regard to the cost of existing in this present wicked world, it is quite absurd that any copy of any book should command such a price. Only the man-eating money-maniacs of America could have started such an inept fashion. Look at the cou[n]terfeit presentments of their physiognomies in this week’s “Sketch” – if you ever come in contact with so vulgar a production) – and say whether such soulless animals deserve to be dignified with the title of Man. By all means let them have EVERYTHING that can be bought for money – the Pope’s tiara and the King’s crown and a majority in the House of Commons – and a free passage across the Styx. And let them have the Shakespeare, if the present possessor’s sentiment and conscience allows him to let them have it. The only cure for covetousness is satiety – and the Styx.

Thirdly, I have myself the same passionate love for good books that you yourself have – you, the embodied Bodleian. But if I want a Shakespeare, the University Press gives me a far better copy than Mr Turbutt’s for the sum of six shillings. And when I do not want it any longer, I can safely give that copy to any intelligent boy who wants to know something about English; and when I want Shakespeare again, the University Press will provide me with a second one (it is really now the seventh) at the same modest figure. Books of historic interest should of course be in your charge; but they should be always presented – the donor does himself an honour by giving to the Bodleian, and he ought to feel insulted by the mere suggestion for of his taking money for his gift, as though he were dealing in cattle or dirty South African shares. If I were starving and possessed the Medicean Vergil, I would give it into your charge and scorn to say anything about the starvation. I will send you by return of post the most valuable book I possess, if you want it, and have not got it; it is a Vulgate printed by Froben of Basle, November 1st, 1495.

Fourthly, why all this fuss about Shakespeare? If you were offered genuine manuscripts of the lost plays of Sophocles, I can imagine that heaven and earth ought to be moved to put them where they could be seen by competent persons and properly edited. The University Press would then provide us, who love Sophocles and decent literature, with copies, much better for practical purposes than the originals, at a reasonable sum. But why all this fuss about Shakespeare? Isn’t it an artificially induced furore? Does it not remind you of the intense enthusiasm for printing millions of copies of the English Bible – an enthusiasm which is the special characteristic of a class of people who are as ignorant as sin of the real meaning and history of that collection of books? Why should the great, the dignified, Bodleian Library lend itself to the encouragement of such literary provincialism?

With genuine respect, and half-genuine sorrow (to fool with words after the Elizabethan style) I subscribe myself

Yours sincerely

Champions Visit

Today we were delighted to welcome great friends of Sprint for Shakespeare to the Bodleian’s Conservation Workshop. Vanessa Redgrave

Nicole Gilroy, Margo Annett, Thelma Holt and Vanessa Redgrave explore the First FolioVanessa Redgrave, Thelma Holt and Margo Annett visited the First Folio in its temporary home, accompanied by Richard Ovenden, Associate Director of the Bodleian. Nicole Gilroy and the team of conservators, Arthur Green, Andrew Honey, and Julie Sommerfeldt, explained details of the book’s history, and the work they are carrying out.

Maximilian Gill, Jessica Norman, Vanessa Redgrave, Jeremy Neumark Jones, Jordan Waller, and Ruby Thomas with the First FolioWe were lucky enough to be joined by the cast and creatives of Oxford University Dramatic Society‘s Much Ado About Nothing (produced by Thelma Holt). Aidan Grounds (Producer), Maximilian Gill (Director), Jordan Waller (Benedick), Ruby Thomas (Beatrice), Jeremy Neumark Jones (Claudio), and Jessica Norman (Hero) chatted to Vanessa Redgrave before filming part of Act 1, Scene 1 with the BBC Oxford television crew:

What, my dear Lady Disdain! are you yet living?

Vanessa Redgrave and Jeremy SternJeremy Stern conducted interviews with Richard Ovenden and Vanessa Redgrave: if you are local to the Oxford area, watch the 6.30 news on BBC1 tonight to see more!

We’re enormously grateful to Vanessa Redgrave and Thelma Holt for all the support they are lending our campaign. It was a joy to be able to show them and our other guests our work underway.

Much Ado About Nothing opens at the Bodleian on 7 August 2012, before going on tour to Stratford-upon-Avon (The Dell), London (Southwark Playhouse), Guildford (Mill Studio, Yvonne Arnaud Theatre), and Tokyo (Saitama Arts Theatre). Tickets for the Oxford run are available from the Oxford Playhouse.

Your voices

We asked for your thoughts on Shakespeare, and you have been kind enough to send them. We’re grateful to you all, and look forward to sharing them on this blog over the coming months.

Today, as the Sprint for Shakespeare campaign is launched, we’re delighted to publish our first guest post, from Dr Will Sharpe.

Come and join the conversation! Email us your posts for our blog,, or add your comments to the blog.

Launch day

Thanks to the hard work of many colleagues, and the vocal support of our champions, including Vanessa Redgrave, Stephen Fry, Professor Jonathan Bate, Sir Peter Hall and Thelma Holt, we have arrived at the day of our campaign launch.

Maev Kennedy visited us yesterday, and writes about Conservation and Collection Care‘s work in The Guardian.

Fiona Wilson writes about the first funding campaign for the Bodleian’s First Folio in The Times [paywall], the newspaper that spear-headed the 1905/06 campaign.

The Telegraph takes up the story of our champions, as do MSN News and ITV news.

BBC News tells the story of the First Folio, as do the New York Times Arts Beat blog and Huffington Post.