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Corpus Christi College University of Cambridge

Conservation Projects

A brief outline of one of the projects currently being undertaken by the Cambridge Colleges' Conservation Consortium

Conservation of four early Chinese printed books

The presence of Chinese printed books in western libraries is the result of a long tradition of intricate cultural and commercial exchanges between East and West.

The transmission of Chinese volumes to Western libraries often saw them altered into the guise of western volumes; with hardboards added, sometimes over the traditional Chinese thread binding; leather, parchment, marbled paper, or cloth coverings were also common additions.

Emmanuel College’s corpus of four early printed books stood out as the volumes had no evidence of western or Chinese covers but showed evidence of Western binding techniques in the material used.

Detail of an intricate paper twist
Detail of parchment repair of sewing on fascicule

Three textblocks were held together simply with paper pegs or intricate paper twists along the spine. When making the book, paper fasteners were used as a primary technique to bind the printed textblock, before a more elaborate silk thread binding was applied along the spine to attach covers made of paper, or silk and paper. Interestingly, one of the textblocks was sewn with thread along the spine, and the sewing had been repaired in the past with parchment. The use of parchment tends to indicate that the somewhat crude repair was done while the book was in western hands, as parchment is traditionally used in the making of western books.

Thin slices of Mars Staedler eraser  used to catch the loose surface dirt from the vulnerable paper surface.
Local paper repairs were applied so that the book can be handled carefully.

The very thin, flexible Chinese paper of these four books had suffered wear and tear. The conservation of these volumes aimed at lessening the surface dirt, locally consolidating folds and tears, in order to allow safe handling while preserving the original structure.

Tears and detached fragments across a page, repairs in progress
Same opening following treatment