Conserving for Digitisation: MS 2927 and MS 3004/538

Recently, in the Glucksman Conservation Centre, our book conservator prepared two copies of the National Covenant (MS 2927 ‘Confession of faith of the Parish of Echt’, and MS 3004/538 ‘Original Copy of the Confession of Faith 1638’) for digitisation.

The National Covenant was a response, by Scottish Presbyterians, to the religious policies and reforms of Charles I. Signatories to the National Covenant pledged to defend the Presbyterian Church against recent religious reforms, while also professing their loyalty to the King. The National Covenant was first signed at Greyfriars Church in Edinburgh on the 28th February 1638. Copies were then sent across the country to be signed.

Both MS 2927 and MS 3004/538 were written on parchment. Parchment is made from the skin of calf, goat or sheep. The skin is soaked in a solution of lime to loosen the hair, the hair and flesh are scraped away and the skin is dried under tension creating a flat and durable writing surface.

The documents measure approximately 74cm by 64cm and each is made from a single sheet of parchment. Over time the parchment had become stiff and would no longer sit unfolded, even when held open with weights some of the text remained hidden in the folds. Treatment was required to flatten the documents so that all the text could be captured when they were photographed.

MS 3004_358 before treatment
MS 3004/358 before treatment (left: folded, right: unfolded)

Following thorough documentation of the current condition of each object they were cleaned with brushes, a blown latex sponge and grated eraser to remove surface dirt. Much dirt, particularly in the areas which had been on the outside of the folded document, was ingrained and could not be removed.

The next stage was to humidify the parchment.  Parchment reacts readily to changes in humidity.  In humid conditions parchment becomes pliable and can be manipulated easily.  The documents were humidified in a cedar wood humidity chamber.

Parchment in humidity chamber
Parchment in humidity chamber

Once humidified the parchment had to be dried carefully as it naturally wants to return to its original animal shape. To get the parchment to dry flat it was dried under tension, similar to the way it was dried during the manufacturing process.  Clips were placed round the edges of the parchment, the clips were then pinned to a board with needles to create the necessary tension. Corks were placed on the ends of the needles to prevent the clips slipping.  The documents were monitored as they dried and the clips were adjusted as necessary.

Drying parchment under tension with close up of clip
Drying parchment under tension with close up of clip

One small area of text in MS 2927 remained obscured.  The area was humidified locally by placing a piece of Sympatex® (a material which only allows water to pass through it in vapour form) on top of the object with strips of damp blotting paper and light weight placed on top of the area to be humidified.  Once humidified the area was flattened to reveal the text.  Magnets were used to maintain the necessary tension as the humidified area dried.

Local humidification, Magnets maintaining tension during drying
Local humidification                                                   Magnets maintaining tension during drying

The documents were then ready to be digitised.

MS 3004_358 and MS 2927 after treatment
MS 3004/538 and MS 2927 after treatment

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