Conserving a Caxton, Part 2

By Gretchen Allen, Library Conservator, Special Collections & Archives

Ingrained discoloration removed through capillary washing

This post contains the second half of the treatment of the St. Canice’s Caxton, a single folio of John Gower’s “Confessio Amantis” printed by William Caxton in 1483. For part 1 of this treatment and some historical background on the print itself, please see [this post.]

When we last spoke, the Caxton had been carefully removed from its frame, gently surface-cleaned, and put through several rounds of capillary washing, which helped remove both surface dirt and ingrained discoloration and prepared the print for consolidation and repair. It’s important to remove as much mobile dirt and discoloration as possible before introducing any adhesives to an object, since consolidants and repairs will end up fixing remaining dirt in place both in and on the paper. This was especially important since the paper was very fragile; it had lost the majority of its structural integrity over the course of its long life and as a result the paper has become very fluffy, especially around the edges. In order to restore some of the paper’s original robustness, a diluted water-soluble consolidant was carefully applied to the whole print on both sides. Once the consolidant was dry, the print was gently humidified and flattened under light weight and wool felts in order to preserve the surface texture of the paper.

Once the paper had been successfully consolidated, it was finally possible to repair the losses and tears along the edges. This was done using a very lightweight Japanese tissue paper that had been toned with acrylic paint in order to integrate the repair visually and not distract from the object. The repairs were attached using wheat starch paste, which is both compatible with the original substrate and a reversible adhesive that can be removed in the future if necessary.

Adding toned tissue repairs along torn edges

After all the repairs were completed, the print was encapsulated between two sheets of Melinex using a sonic welder. Gaps in the welds were left at the head and tail edges to allow

for airflow and prevent microclimate formation around the print. The encapsulated print was placed in a bespoke standing display frame which can be used for both storage and display purposes. The letter of authentication that came with the print was placed in an archival folder along with the label from the original glass frame. The encapsulated print, frame, and the folder containing the letter and label were all placed in a bespoke handmade archival solander box for storage and returned to the collection.

Trimmed toned repairs

This item was such a privilege to work on, as not only is it an incredibly rare and valuable example of early English-language printing, but also it was very satisfying to get a chance to repair and rehouse it. The item is now safe to be stored in the Maynooth Library collections and to be examined and handled by readers and researchers. Hopefully the St. Canice’s Caxton will prove to be a unique and beautiful resource for the wider academic community!

The Caxton in its bespoke solander box

The Caxton in its standing frame