Conservator Meagen Smith shares some of the gems she’s uncovered while conserving the Ri’s book and paper archive.
The Royal Institution has an amazing collection of iconic objects, many of which have become relevant to the conservation world: the first ionization spectrometer, the first enzyme model and Faraday’s sample of benzene. But in addition to these objects is a body of book and paper archive material that communicates the history of the Ri.
I joined the Ri October 2016 to work on a grant-funded project to survey this book and paper archive. The preservation of historical material depends on several overlapping factors, including a stable environment, safe handling, storage and exhibit practices, and the stabilisation of items that are physically vulnerable to use. Though the team here have a general perception of the condition of the archive, we really want to think about answering questions like what scale of conservation is needed for each series and across the collection, what proportion may be inaccessible to the public because of poor condition and what preservation actions may be needed to further safeguard this part of the Ri’s heritage.
Because of the diversity of the collection, which includes sketchbooks, correspondence, typescripts etc, we are conducting a comprehensive survey, rather than a sample survey. One of the joys of doing a survey of a collection like the Ri’s is the wonderful details a conservator encounters. Thus far I’ve looked at a beautifully executed drawing exercise, a Ceylonese bat, and the story of Little Nanette, a woman measuring 33 inches tall. I’m looking forward to what I may discover with the turn of the next page!
While doing condition checks on individual archive items, the following snippets caught my eye...