The Abbey Newsletter

Volume 22, Number 7-8

Minutes of the St. Gall Conference

The following English translation of the St. Gall minutes was sent in by Margit Smith, in response to an appeal on the front page of this newsletter two issues ago. It is apparently the first English translation ever made.

Margit J. Smith is Head of Technical Services, Copley Library, University of San Diego, San Diego, CA. The technical paragraphs in the "Addendum" were translated by Ursula Mitra, book conservator at the Bobst Library, New York University, with input from Frank Mowery, head of conservation at the Folger Library.

Minutes of the International Conference on Preservation and Repair of Old Manuscripts

held September 30 and October 1, 1898 in St. Gall

First Session, Friday 30th September 1898, At 2:15 Pm In the Government Ministry Commissioner's Chamber of the Canton of St. Gall.

Present: Messrs. P. Ehrle, Rome; Prof. Zangemeister, Heidelberg; Dr. von Laubmann, Munich; P. Van den Gheyn, Brussels; Nicholson, Oxford; Omont, Paris; Dr. de Vries, Leyden; Prof. Mommsen, Berlin; Dr. Wilmanns, Berlin; Dr. Lippmann, Berlin; Dr. Posse, Dresden; Dr. Fäh, St. Gall; Dr. C. Chr. Bernoulli, Basel; Dr. Joh. Bernoulli, Bern; Dr. Escher, Zurich; Dr. Fejérpataky, Budapest; Prof. Wintterlin, Stuttgart.

An additional guest: Mr. E. Chatelain, Paris.


Mr. P. Franz Ehrle, Head of the Vatican Library in Rome, opened the meeting by greeting everyone present, thanking the Government Minister of the Canton of St. Gall for making the site available, and reporting on the protocol observed by the Holy Chair and the Vatican Library in preparing invitations to the Conference.

Invitations were sent through diplomatic channels by the Vatican's Secretary of State to the respective governments, in some cases (namely England and Switzerland) by the Vatican Library to the libraries themselves (to the Libraries of the British Museum in London, in Oxford and Cambridge and to the Monastery Library in St. Gall) or to private associations (to the Association of Swiss Librarians).

The governments of Baden, Bavaria, Belgium, France, the Netherlands, Austria, Prussia, Saxony, Hungary and Württemberg, the libraries of Oxford and St. Gall, and the Association of Swiss Librarians had accepted the invitations by naming their representatives.

The governments of Denmark, Russia and Sweden, and the Library of Cambridge declined the invitations. The British Museum was unable to take part.

The following persons represented the following countries:

Baden: Prof. Zangemeister, Head Librarian of the University Library in Heidelberg;

Bavaria: Dr. v. Laubmann, Director of the Royal Court and State Library in Munich;

Belgium: Mr. P. Van den Gheyn, Conservator of the Section of Manuscripts of the Royal Library in Brussels;

England: Mr. Nicholson, Librarian of the Bodleian Library in Oxford;

France: Mr. Omont, Conservator of the Department of Manuscripts at the National Library in Paris, representing Mr. Delisle, General Administrator of the National Library;

Netherlands: Dr. de Vries, Director of the University Library in Leiden;

Prussia: Prof. Mommsen of Berlin; Dr. Wilmanns, General Director of the Royal Library in Berlin; Dr. Lippman, Director of the Royal Print Collection in Berlin;

Saxony: Dr. Posse, Director of the Royal State Archives in Dresden;

Switzerland: Dr. Fäh, Librarian of the Monastery Library in St. Gall; Dr. C. Chr. Bernoulli, Senior Librarian of the University Library in Basle; Dr. Joh. Bernoulli, Librarian of the Swiss State Library in Bern; Dr. Escher, Head Librarian of the City Library in Zurich;

Hungary: Dr. Fejérpataky, Director of the Library of the Hungarian National Museum in Budapest;

Vatican: Mr. P. Ehrle, Head of the Vatican Library in Rome;

Württemberg: Prof. Wintterlin, Head Librarian of the Royal Public Library in Stuttgart.


The following members were assigned official duties: Prof. Mommsen of Berlin is named Honorary President, and as Managing President Dr. de Vries of Leyden will work at his side; Messrs. Omont of Paris and Escher of Zurich are elected Secretaries.

The languages used during discussions will be, as necessary, the languages of the countries of the conference members.


The moderator, P. Ehrle, suggests dividing the proceedings into the following subjects to cover presentations and discussions:

  1. Parchment manuscripts with evidence of simple damage by insects
  2. Palimpsests
  3. Paper manuscripts


Mr. P. Ehrle points out his descriptions in the Centralblatt für Bibliothekswesen, in Revue des bibliothèques, and in Rivista delle biblioteche of highly interesting deterioration examples of parchment manuscripts in the Vatican Library, caused by simple insect damage. Messrs. Lippmann, de Vries, Nicholson and Posse also make presentations.

Messrs. Ehrle, Van den Gheyn, Lippmann, Mommsen, Nicholson, Omont, Posse, deVries, Wintterlin and Zangemeister participate in a discussion which covers a wide range of germane questions. No decisions are reached at this point. The most important contributions and suggestions, in case they are not included in the moderator's Minutes, are as follows:

Dr. Posse, giving a somewhat longer explanation: It should be discussed whether it is advisable to work toward an international agreement, by which individual countries will commit a certain amount of money. These funds would be used to start a central workshop staffed with scientifically educated and technically trained core personnel. The most suitable solution would be to expand the existing workshop in the Vatican to become the Central Workshop. This would benefit science, and provide some relief for the French, Belgian, Prussian, Austrian and Hungarian Institutes, and the Monumenta Germaniae.

Prof. Zangemeister: 1. An investigation would be welcome on whether ink still contains too much free, active acid that needs to be neutralized.

2. Manuscripts needing restoration should be photographed before treatment. Their current condition is thereby documented for all time, and the manuscripts could continue to be used. Special attention is to be paid to unique items.

Prof. Mommsen: This photographic documentation should only be done of manuscripts which are of value for research, not for items of sentimental value.

Mr. Omont: Restoration should be undertaken only with the greatest care and only when there is great danger of losing the item. An international agreement is to be worked out in regard to photographic documentation of relevant manuscripts, and needs to take into consideration the concerns of librarians and philologists.

Prof. Wintterlin: Chemists should be engaged to do research on the nature of the damage and on the means to remedy it.

Director Lippmann: The effect of one factor which is hard to determine in all chemical applications, is time. Therefore, for the time being, mechanical, rather than chemical, conservation practices are to be preferred.

At 5:15 pm the session ends. For Saturday, 1 October, one morning and one afternoon session are planned. The morning session begins at 9 am.

Second Session, Saturday, 1 October 1898, 9:15 Am.

Present: All conference participants. Honorary President, Prof. Mommsen. Moderating President, Dr. de Vries.


The Minutes of the previous session are read and approved.


Yesterday's interrupted session is continued.

The president recapitulates the results of yesterday's session and reiterates the four points formulated by Mr. Omont, namely: 1. The desirability of producing a list of manuscripts worth saving. 2. Photographic documentation of the oldest and most valuable manuscripts to gauge their current condition. 3. Adoption of the procedures followed at the Vatican, or other similar ones, for work on the most vulnerable manuscripts. 4. Establishment of a permanent committee, charged with contacting governments, librarians, and chemists to ensure adoption of the necessary guidelines.

Mr. Ehrle identifies the main question to be answered today: Do the manuscripts in question have to be treated, and may they be treated with the procedures known at this time?

Mr. Nicholson (in an extended explanation) reports, in connection with Mr. Ehrle's presentation, on the experiences gained by the Bodleian Library in regard to damage and repair of manuscripts. He especially wants further testing to show whether corrosion of manuscripts is steadily continuing, which seems questionable to him, since it is contingent on climatic conditions, and since the corrosive agents can lose their effectiveness.

The Conference adopts the following resolutions:

  1. The Conference registers the desire that a list be compiled of the oldest and most important manuscripts that are definitely threatened by destruction.
  2. The Conference registers the desire that the manuscripts on the list be documented photographically for the purpose of recording their present conditions.
  3. The Conference names a Permanent Committee with the charge of contacting and seeking agreements with governments, librarians and chemists, to study the appropriate conservation techniques and to recommend those that seem suitable for use.
  4. The Conference recommends, in view of the fact that deterioration of manuscripts is a slow process, that only such measures are adopted which in individual cases would assure the greatest relative safety, and not to rush into possible future applications until the Committee's investigations are known, in any case no later than the fall of 1899.


It is decided to append a short report to the Minutes describing presently known preservation methods.


Determination of the size of the Permanent Committee and election of the members are postponed until the afternoon meeting.


The as yet unnamed Committee is charged to report in the most appropriate professional journals from time to time on its deliberations and experiments.


In addition to the election of the Permanent Committee, the following subjects for discussion will be addressed during the afternoon session:

Deliberation regarding paper manuscripts, and decisions regarding the printing of the Minutes.

At 11:30 am the session is closed. Until 12 noon Mr. P. Ehrle shows the materials he brought from the Vatican, especially damaged palimpsests (parts of the two illustrated manuscripts of Virgil, from Dio Cassius, Fronto, Sallust, Strabo, Cicero de republica, from the Codex Marchalianus Prophetarum, etc.)

The next session will start at 2 pm.

Third Session Saturday, 1 October 1898, 2:15 Pm.

Present: All members. Honorary President: Prof. Mommsen. Moderating President: Dr. de Vries.


The Minutes of the last session are read and approved.


Discussion deals with treatment of damaged paper manuscripts.

It is recommended to look more closely at the following points:

a) Finding a method to neutralize the acid in ink, without changing the blackness of the ink.

b) Research on the effect of those beetles which, according to Dr. Posse, are not damaging, but useful.


After some discussion the number of members of the Permanent Committee is set at three for the time being. Messrs. Ehrle, de Vries and Zangemeister are elected to be Committee members. The Conference believes that the number of members must be limited at first, and since several persons could not attend, although they were very interested in the Conference, further members should not be elected. The Committee, however, was charged and empowered to co-opt.


Because of the necessity of rewriting the charge for the Permanent Committee, Article 3 of the morning session is being reconsidered. The newly revised Article reads:

3. The Conference names a Permanent Committee and charges it with the following:

a) Production of a list of the manuscripts as recommended in Article 1;

b) Encouragement of production of the planned photographic documentation described in Article 2;

c) Study of appropriate conservation methods and the implementation of those suitable for use;

d) Information in print about the conservation methods brought to the attention of the Conference during these discussions;

e) Getting in touch with librarians and technical experts regarding the assigned tasks;

f) Working toward governmental support for necessary funds in light of scientific interest in this subject.


The secretariat is asked to have the Minutes printed as quickly as possible and to distribute them to the Conference members.


The Moderating President and the Honorary President, as well as Messrs. Nicholson and P. Ehrle, briefly express their gratitude to: The government of the Canton of St. Gall; Dr. Fäh, the monastery librarian; then especially Mr. P. Ehrle and the government of the Vatican; also to the collaborators of the Conference (especially Messrs. Nicholson, Posse, Zangemeister, Lippman, and Omont); the Honorary President; the Association of Swiss Librarians; and the Secretaries.


At 4:30 pm the discussions are suspended for a quarter of an hour in order to amend the Minutes.


At 4:45 pm discussions are resumed. The Minutes are read and approved.


At 5 pm the Honorary President closes discussions as well as the Conference by thanking the Moderating President for managing the sessions and reiterates the hope that the Conference was successful.


1. The Conference makes known its wish that a list be produced, of the oldest and most important manuscripts that are obviously in danger of destruction.

2. The Conference makes known its wish that the manuscripts in the list be documented photographically in order to record their current condition.

3. The Conference names a Permanent Committee and charges it with the following tasks:

a) To make a list of the manuscripts as mentioned in Article 1;

b) To further the production of photographic documentation as mentioned in Article 2;

c) To study conservation techniques and to recommend those suitable for use;

d) To disseminate in print information about conservation techniques as they became known during the course of the Conference;

e) To cooperate with librarians and technical experts regarding the tasks under discussion;

f) To work towards financial support by governments in light of the scientific interest of these tasks;

4. Since deterioration of manuscripts is a slow process, the Conference recommends that until certain results are documented by the Committee, at the latest by Fall 1899, only those procedures be used which are safest in their application, and not to rush into possibly better suited procedures that may become known in the future.

The Members of the Conference

Th. Mommsen, Honorary President.
S. G. de Vries, Moderating President.
H. Omont, Herm. Escher, Secretaries.
F. Ehrle, S.J. Dr. Karl Zangemeister. Dr. G. Von Laubmann. J. Van den Gheyn, S.J. Edward W. B. Nicholson. Dr. A. Wilmanns. Dr. F. Lippmann. Dr. Otto Posse. Dr. Ad. Fäh. Dr. C. Chr. Bernoulli. Dr. Joh. Bernoulli. Dr. Fejérpataky. Dr. A. Wintterlin. Emile Chatelain.

For the Integrity of the Minutes:

The Secretaries: H. Omont, Herm. Escher.


As addendum to its Minutes, the Conference wanted to see made public short descriptions of those repair techniques which were suggested by several members, and asked the gentlemen to send short descriptions of procedures to the Secretaries. Herewith these descriptions are published as they were sent in response to the request.

1. Government Minister Dr. Posse (Dresden), regarding the Zapon Technique.

Dr. Schill, Head of the Bacteriology Laboratory of the Royal War Ministry in Dresden, recommends an impregnation technique using Zapon (a self-smoothing paste), which does not change manuscripts in any way but protects them from destruction by environmental factors and by giving greater strength to the carrier of the writing, be it parchment or paper, and by keeping mold from penetrating the porous material. The process of impregnation is very simple. Grouped by size, the manuscripts are placed into shallow porcelain or metal (tin) bowls, and the Zapon is poured over them. If it is too thick, the Zapon can be diluted with the commercially available thinner. Alternatively, one can place the rolled manuscripts into a glass cylinder and pour the Zapon into it. After the Zapon has been allowed to work for a few hours, up to half a day, the manuscripts are lifted out, left to drip for a while, then placed for drying in a draft-free area, if possible over tautly strung cords, but in such a manner that the impregnated piece touches the cord as little as possible. The protective layer can be strengthened if desired by repeating the described process. It remains to be said that the solvent used in Zapon is flammable, and therefore impregnation work should not to be done near an open flame.

2. Nicholson (Oxford), on the use of transparent paper.

The Bodleian Library, Oxford, has no complete vellum manuscript that is corroded, and no vellum fragment in which corrosion has been caused by a chemical reviver.

It has many early vellum fragments from Egypt, in Greek, or Coptic, or Greek and Coptic, which have suffered at some time from corrosion, but there is no evidence that this corrosion still continues: all these fragments are framed separately between glass.

It also has many Oriental vellum fragments of later date, likewise from Egypt, in which there has been corrosion at some time: these have been bound in volumes, and where the corrosion is advanced they have been overlaid with transparent paper.

Transparent paper is also used for covering paper manuscripts--chiefly Oriental--which have been much corroded by their own ink, and for covering Indian birch-bark manuscripts, which are always too fragile to be handled without protection.

The transparent paper used during the last 15 years does not seem to turn yellow, and in the last 7 or 8 years a quality has been obtained which possesses a higher degree of transparency.

3. Prof. Zangemeister (Heidelberg), on the use of goldbeater's skin.

For restoration, repair and strengthening of manuscripts the use of goldbeater's skin (pelle di battiloro) and isinglass is recommended in many cases. Skin should be chosen which is completely colorless, clear as water, and has no adhesive applied to it. Adhesive will be made freshly with isinglass. (Purchase of prefabricated material is to be avoided since absence of acid cannot be guaranteed.) The still warm isinglass glue is to be applied with a very fine brush to the damaged area, on both edges of the tear, but only in a very narrow line (1/4-1/2 mm wide) and a small strip of goldbeater's skin is to be placed on it. The glue is not to be put on the skin. -- This method has been used in Naples for about 100 years to repair the Herculean Papyri, and has been completely successful; neither the goldbeater's skin nor the glue has had any damaging effect or caused any changes.

4. Dr. Lippmann (Berlin), on the protection for repaired leaves.

Since I received the request to attend the meeting only several days before September 30, I did not have time to collect more than a few examples to show. These are limited to mechanical conservation of manuscripts in a type of passe-partout made of strong board into which sheets of [dried] gelatin are mounted, between which the manuscript is placed, so that it remains completely visible and legible, but is protected from contact and mechanical damage. Instead of the gelatin layers, celluloid can be used. Experience with similar arrangements by the Royal Print Collection in Berlin during the past 12 years shows that this is to be recommended for the conservation of manuscripts in certain cases.

5. Description of the gelatin-Formol procedure at this point is in my opinion unnecessary, since a detailed explanation of this has already been printed, especially since explanations about it that took place at the Conference are being reported on above.

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