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Subject: Flaking ink on manuscript

Flaking ink on manuscript

From: Vicki Humphrey <artlab>
Date: Monday, August 10, 1998
Since the early 1990's Artlab Australia has been involved with the
conservation of a thirteenth century manuscript book--the
Antiphonal--owned by the State Library of South Australia. Initially
the conservation work was to be carried out by Artlab's book
conservator, Anthony Zammit, and in fact Anthony did a great deal of
work taking down the book, documenting structures, condition etc.
and then testing various materials and methods for conservation
work. For a number of reasons the job was transferred back to the
State Library, with Artlab supervising treatment.

One of the major problems that Anthony identified was the flaking of
the black ink used for the musical notation. The flaking was quite
extensive and already there had been considerable loss--flakes of
ink had collected in the spine margins of the folios and as the book
was taken down there was a sprinkling of black pigment deposited on
the work bench.

Anthony did not identify the exact cause of the problem, but
observed that problems with flaking could be caused by a fault in
the preparation of the ink (a bad batch!), the coating treatment on
the surface of the skin and of course the natural fats left in the
skin--or a combination of these factors.

It was clear that consolidation treatment was necessary to prevent
further losses. We were keen to find the best consolidant for the
job--one that would hold the flaking black ink and would not cause
noticeable colour change or leave a shiny surface. Reversibility was
also considered as a feature of the consolidant, but it was
recognised that reversing the consolidation would not be possible
without causing the type of losses we were in fact trying to

Anthony carried out extensive tests using sturgeon glue, seaweed
adhesives, rabbit skin glue, starch, starch with methyl cellulose
and sodium alginate, gelatine, parchment size, various mixtures of
acrylics and starch with acid free PVA. While there were some that
he would have preferred not to use, Anthony felt that testing a wide
range of materials was important and might lead to some combinations
that we had not previously considered.

All the consolidants had some problems, and those that left a high
gloss on the surface of the vellum and inks and/or those that
provided only a very weak bond were eliminated. The class of
consolidants that gave the best results were the gelatines. Anthony
chose to use parchment size as it had good adhesion with no gloss
and, of course, the gelatine extract is compatible with the
substrate material.

Conservation services at the State Library of South Australia
carried out the treatment. This was a very long and labour intensive
process. Michael Veitch, from the State Library did a great deal of
the consolidation work. Michael and his colleagues used a microscope
during consolidation. To make the job a little easier and to give
staff some relief from peering down the microscope, a video camera
was rigged up to the microscope, allowing people to work on-screen.
This also has the added advantage of creating a record of the

During the consolidation stage of treatment we did notice some
darkening of the ink in a few areas. This was discussed with the
curators and was thought to be acceptable, certainly preferable to
continuing loss.

Following consolidation, the book has been repaired and rebound. The
consolidated ink is holding up well. We do expect that there could
be some further loss as we did not consolidate absolutely every
letter/note. A fairly pragmatic approach was necessary and State
Library staff and I agreed that only areas showing very obvious
signs of flaking and fragmentation of the ink would be treated.
There may then be some areas that will fragment and flake in the
future. Obviously a secure binding that restricts movement of the
pages against each other will cut down on abrasion and a good
storage environment should help to reduce the rate at which the ink
flakes and fragments in the future.

Anyone wanting further information could contact Anthony Zammit by
email at artlab [at] senet__com__au. The State Library also has a web site
devoted to the Antiphonal. The address is:

Vicki Humphrey
Assistant Director
Artlab Australia

                  Conservation DistList Instance 12:17
                Distributed: Wednesday, August 12, 1998
                       Message Id: cdl-12-17-005
Received on Monday, 10 August, 1998

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