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The Broadwater collection includes Churchill family photograph albums and press-cutting books and other papers relating to the Churchill family. The images from these photographic albums are important and so heavily used that in order to reduce wear and tear on originals and prevent repeated copying the most important albums are now being digitised. Prior to the digitisation four very delicate albums had to be treated in the conservation studio.
They are ring bound photograph albums with one-piece covers covered in black embossed leather with a metal binder mechanism attached to the spine. Each album has around 24-30 thick card pages with grey facing paper and black and white photographs of Winston Churchill and his family. Covers are worn at joint and edges with slight corrosion of the metal parts and prior to conservation they were very dirty. The album pages had also a lot of surface dirt so the first stage of conservation treatment involved a careful cleaning. Covers were cleaned with a soft brush, cotton wool and latex sponge and the metal ring binder mechanism was cleaned with industrial methylated spirits (alcohol) and then sealed with a microcrystalline wax.
However, the main focus of the conservation treatment was on repair of pages. These were brittle with delaminated edges, missing corners and tears. It was decided that repairs should be toned and minimal in order to blend in aesthetically. This was achieved by toning of a Japanese paper and conservation spider tissue, which were going to be used for infills of missing corners. Toning was carried out using a mixture of grey, white and umber water-based acrylics. Different dilutions were used to create a colour palette similar to the colours of the pages. As a general rule, toned repairs are a shade lighter to distinguish recreated areas from original.
Losses were restored by four layers of Japanese paper to make up the thickness of the board. Starting on the back, the first layer served as an extension of the facing paper and it slightly overlapped the edge of loss. Two other layers closely following the shape of the loss facilitated the missing core board and the final layer, with slightly overlapping feathered edges, served as a facing paper on the front. Layers were attached with a reversible wheat starch paste and a warm tacking iron was used to speed up the drying process to avoid staining. Occasionally, the pieces of toned tissue were used to support fractures and tears.
Other problems included delaminated corners and edges that were consolidated with small amounts of Klucel G in IMS (modified cellulose in alcohol), and detached linen edging strips. In one case, the linen strip was completely missing and had to be re-created by 4 layers of infill along the edge with new, toned linen and then binding holes added. At the end it was all worth it and now the albums are ready for digitisation and retirement from the Reading Room!
Once they have been digitised, we hand over to the cataloguing archivists, who have the job of identifying and describing each photograph, ready for putting the images online. Watch this space for news about the next stage of this exciting project!
— Jana Kostalikova, Conservation Assistant