#AskAConservator Day 2023

Image of the atlas that Roger Williams is currently working on.

It’s #AskAConservator Day, so it’s a perfect time to introduce you to the JCB’s new(ish) Head of Libraries Conservation, Roger! Roger does all things conservation at the JCB: collections repair and stabilization, exhibit preparation and mounting, environmental monitoring, and box-making. 

Since he started the role one year ago, Roger has been building a small conservation lab in the former JCB mailing room. The lab now includes a photo-documentation area, historical bookbinding equipment (board shear, nipping press, sewing frame), a wide variety of conservation hand tools, a water filtration system and chemical cabinet, and all kinds of other supplies needed to get the job done.

On Roger’s bench at the moment is the Hacke Atlas,* one of the JCB’s more popular items. This huge volume, produced in London around 1698, is a manuscript atlas depicting the western coast of the Americas, section by section. All of the green areas in the atlas are painted with verdigris, a pigment produced by exposing copper to acetic acid (or vinegar). The copper ions present in the pigment have a corrosive effect on cellulose – the primary substance of paper – causing browning and embrittlement. Many of the verdigris-painted areas in the Hacke Atlas are cracking, making it dangerous to turn the pages.

To fix this, Roger is using “pre-coated tissues” – lightweight Japanese kozo-fiber paper that is brushed with adhesive and allowed to dry. Roger cuts strips of the pre-coated tissue and reactivates the water-soluble adhesives with moisture, then quickly applies it over the fragile break in the paper. This process is much drier than typical paper mending, which is done with wet wheat starch paste. Roger uses the pre-coated tissues because adding moisture to the verdigris only worsens the degradation process.

Got any questions about conservation at the JCB? Post a comment on one of our social media pages, and Roger will do his best to answer.

*Full title: An accurate description of all the harbours riuers ports islands sands rocks and dangers between the mouth of Calafornia & the Straghts of Lemaire in the South Sea of America as allso of Pepys's Island in the north sea near to the Magellan Straghts (3-SIZE Codex Z 6).