Back a Book

The Back a Book fundraising initiative was begun in 2018 to help support the collections of the Pepys Library, the Old Library and the Archives.  As these historical collections continue to be used in exhibitions and  scholarship, careful monitoring and professional conservation is required.  This conservation ensures that these collections can be studied and exhibited for years to come. 

The following examples of books and manuscripts, which have been supported via Back a Book, demonstrate the wonderful work completed by the conservators at the Cambridge Colleges’ Conservation Consortium.

This book from the Old Library, ‘Great Brittans little Calendar or Triple Diarie’ from 1618 by Samuel Garey, was in a serious state of disrepair before conservation.  The cover needed to be reattached, and infilling of torn pages (such as the title page shown above) was recommended by the conservators to prevent further damage and to ease turning of the pages.

Spine of the book Triple Diarie showing half the spine before it was cleaned and the other half after it had been cleaned by the conservators
The book spine during conservation.

During the repair, the spine was cleaned with a poultice of sodium carboxyl methyl cellulose in water.  Here one can see the first half of the spine before cleaning, and the second half of the spine after cleaning.

Spine of the book Triple Diarie with extensions to the original sewing which fastens the pages together, preparing to have its cover reattached
Preparing to reattach the cover.

To reattach the cover, extensions to the original sewing which fastens the pages together were applied, and Japanese tissue paper was used to infill torn pages. 

Title page of the book Triple Diarie with Japanese tissue applied to infill and repair the torn page
Infilling torn pages with Japanese paper.

The book is now safe to be used again for study.

This Fourteenth century manuscript from the Pepys Library, ‘De Re Militari’ by Vegetius, was in need of some historical tear repairs.

The tears were repaired using pared down parchment and isinglass, which is a glue made from the membrane of sturgeon swim bladders.  No wonder it has been called ‘Conservator’s Caviar’!

This is a small sample of the wide range of conservation and repair work which is possible to achieve, with many thanks to Back a Book supporters. If you wish to view the list of items selected for Back a Book in 2021-22, please visit the college website.  A new selection of Back a Book items appears every autumn.

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