Pilgrim Trust Conservation Grant – Tring and District Local History Museum

Victoria Stevens preparing the book for display landscape

Remedial conservation grant
AIM grant: £1,231
Conservation of the Charlotte Smith sketchbook

The book conservator’s art and craft is in balancing stability for access with the physical form and appearance of the binding and textblock, both of which can be very beautiful decorative objects in their own right. One such project was the Charlotte Smith sketchbook, conserved for Tring Local Museum through the generous support of AIM and the Pilgrim Trust.

This early 19th Century sketchbook was that most pleasing of objects: an unassuming maroon sheep-leather binding with marbled paper sides, very much a standard ‘off the peg’ stationery binding of its day. However, this modest cover contained a collection of charming pencil sketches drawn by Charlotte Smith in the 1820s and 1830s, depicting local scenes and people with both energy and movement.

Being a functional object, it had clearly seen some use: the leather was abraded and worn across the spine and board edges, and the marbled paper sides were lifting and scuffed. At some point it is likely that the book had been sitting in water on a shelf, as there was a substantial and visible tide line of discoloration obscuring the beauty of the sketches. The eye was most definitely drawn to the staining first and the sketches second.

However, the staining could be removed by immersion washing. This is a complex process, involving time, patience and skill, but once washed, the difference in the stain line was remarkable.

The next process was repairing the backs of the sections to allow resewing so the textblock can once again function as a book.

The cleaned and conserved volume is now able to be handled, displayed and enjoyed without risk of it being damaged in the process. More pleasing still is that the staining that was proving to be the main focus has gone, allowing the charming sketches to be the stars of the show once more. 

Victoria Stevens ACR

Tring Local History Museum

 Pictured: Victoria Stevens preparing the sketch book for display.