Displaying a Print by the Japanese artist Utagawa Toyoharu

Our Assistant Conservation Officer, Eugenie Karen, explains some of the conservation issues relating to a beautiful Japanese print.

There are major changes afoot in the main exhibition space of the Treasures Gallery.  Although we change the exhibits less frequently here, twice a year we look to offer a fresh view and new gems from the collection.

In the area designated for Prose and Drama we are putting a rarity on display.  It is an 18th century print entitled ‘View of a Dramatic Performance at the Three Theatres, 1770-1790’ by Utagawa Toyoharu.  This depicts the interior of a theatre.  The artist is notable for the perspective techniques that he mastered and our print shows this to great advantage.  Having had access to translations of Dutch and Chinese texts on geometrical perspective he began to apply the techniques to his own work.

Detail from Japanese print
Detail from ‘View of a Dramatic Performance at the Three Theatres’, 1770-1790, by Utagawa Toyoharu. Image credit Leeds University Library.

While there are still a variety of colours to be seen the print is notable for the tones that are missing.  Most notably the blue which would have been produced from the petals of the dayflower.  Unfortunately the pigment that it produces is extremely ‘fugitive’ which means, as the word suggests, the colour runs away.  In this case if there is exposure to the slightest moisture or light. The Japanese language hints that this unfortunate quality has always presented an issue.  It was described as a dyestuff by the name tsukikusa, literally moon grass.  The unstable blue colour seen in dyed clothes was cited in literature to describe ephemeral love.

Other colours have faded and although a specialist in Japanese prints judged that our copy had faded as much as it was going to, it is our responsibility to guard against the risk of further damage.  To this end we will be keeping a very close eye on the object once it has gone on display.  The case will be kept at a very low light level, around 50 lux, and we will monitor the humidity within the case.

We also photograph the print before and after display, comparing the colours and placing a blue wool scale which will help to monitor light exposure.  This is a method of tracking the permanence of pigments.  Identical dye samples are adhered to a card, one is hidden from UV light while the other one is exposed to the same light conditions as the object being monitored.  The amount of fading can be assessed by comparison to the control.

The other pigments are also susceptible to damage and the slightest bit of moisture on the surface causes an obvious mark.  This is so different to the usual etchings and engravings we work with that can happily be immersed in water and come out cleaner and healthier for it.

Mounting the print will be a challenge.  Not only is the paper immensely fragile but it is stuck by some adhesive we are yet to identify to an acidic card backing from which it must be removed.  Luckily the area of adhesion does not extend to the printed area so we should be able to do this safely while preserving the original mount for posterity.

This is undoubtedly one of the more challenging objects that I have been tasked with displaying but all the more interesting for it.

April new accessions – tokens, maps and photographs

In April we added a new token to our numismatics collection. The token was commissioned by Gerald Lorenzo Chorley in 1913.  Gerald was born in Leeds in 1848 where the Chorleys were a well-known family.  His father, Henry, was a respected surgeon and Justice of the Peace.  The family lived at 8 Park Square where their home survives today.

Gerald spent his early years in Leeds before moving to Manchester to work as a cotton mill manager. By 1891 he was ‘living on his own means’.  Firstly at 17 Cromer Terrace and later 23 Lyddon Terrace which are both familiar addresses to those who know the Leeds University campus. We do not know why Gerald commissioned the token, but he was evidently proud of his Chorley connection as the family crest showing a bird is displayed on the obverse.

We have also received an accrual to our Patrick Gilbert Kennedy archive in the Liddle Collection.  Kennedy was born in Surrey in 1899.  In the First World War he served as a 2nd Lieutenant in the Machine Gun Corps, Armoured Car Unit, with the Dunsterforce, receiving the Military Cross in October 1918.

In the Second World War Kennedy volunteered with the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve.  Working as a deep sea diver he helped to install a metal net, also known as a boom, across the Grand Harbour in Malta to protect it from enemy invasion.

Kennedy later volunteered with barrage balloon defence in England.  The large, helium filled, balloons were tethered to the ground and used to protect key sites such as ports and harbours against attacks by low flying aircraft.  During tests Kennedy stood in front of a barrage balloon in protective head gear and clothing. The balloon was then exploded so the effect on people could be observed.  The accrual includes photographs from the test.

For the Print Collections we aacquired a fourth impression of ‘Mr Ogilby’s and William Morgan’s Pocket Book of the Roads‘, 1689.

Map of the West Riding of Yorkshire
Map showing the West Riding of Yorkshire from ‘Britannia depicta, or Ogilby improv’d‘, 1724, by J. Ogilby and W. Morgan. Image credit Leeds University Library.

John Ogilby was a man of many talents. He worked a dancing-master, courtier and theatre owner, then a poet and translator, before he began to compile geographical works and atlases in the 1660s. Several years later he was appointed Cosmographer to his Majesty Charles II.  The title had passed to William Morgan, under James II, when this impression was published.

Designed to be portable, the book contains detailed tables of the distances between cities, market-towns and other places of interest and would originally have included a map. An explanation of the map is given at the beginning of the book and reads like a sage aphorism: ‘because from one and the same place a thousand men may have a thousand several ways to go.’

Other items by Ogilby, with examples of his strip road maps, can be found in Special Collections, including in the Whitaker Collection.

Map showing Ripon
Strip map featuring Boroughbridge and Ripon from ‘Britannia depicta, or Ogilby improv’d‘, 1724, by J. Ogilby and W. Morgan. Image credit Leeds University Library.

Our Numismatics Project

Dr Simon Glenn, Project Officer for Leeds Special Collections’ Numismatics Collection, gives an insight into our Numismatics Project.

Special Collections holds the University of Leeds’ collection of 15,000 coins, tokens, and medals from all over the world, from sixth century BC Greek examples to late 20th century British issues. The image above shows a lead lotus token from Cambodia from the time of the Khmer Empire (802–1431).

The collection has been the focus of renewed interest recently, thanks to the work undertaken by Emma Herbert-Davies, whose display of coins can be seen outside the Special Collections reception and an online exhibition.

We are now working on a broader numismatics project looking at other parts of the collection, in particular the many coins donated by Mr Paul Thackray. The project aims to address a number of issues: conservation, accessibility of the collection, and publicising the coins more widely.

Although the vast majority of the coins, tokens, and medals in the collection are in excellent condition themselves, the conditions in which they have been kept in the past can sometime lead to inadvertent damage.

One group of coins is in a rather different state from the rest of the collection, having been buried for a substantial part of the last 1,800 years: a hoard of 252 2nd and 3rd century AD Roman bronze coins, allegedly discovered on the Greek island of Paros. Before the project these coins were kept in individual envelopes made of acidic paper, creating the potential for chemical reactions harmful to the coins. They have now been arranged into chronological order by the emperor under whom they were produced and placed in inert plastic trays.

Coins from Paros hoard
Before: the coins of the Paros hoard in their individual envelopes. Image credit Leeds University Library
Repackaged coins
After: some of the coins in their new accommodation. Image credit Leeds University Library

Work to catalogue the coins and make them available online with full references is continuing, although the condition of some coins means they are rather challenging to identify!

Thanks to the work of Ilva Gjermeni, who undertook a placement with us as part of her MA in Art Gallery and Museums Studies, we have also made progress cataloguing the substantial collection of East Asian monetary objects donated by Mr Thackray. We are very much indebted to Dr Helen Wang, Curator of East Asian Money at the British Museum for her work identifying our coins. Ilva started the process of preparing the import of Helen’s identifications into our catalogue, which, when complete, will allow researchers to search the collection fully.

As well as improving the accessibility of the collection for researchers we want to publicise the coins widely. For this reason, coins will soon make an appearance in the Treasures of the Brotherton Gallery. The Be Curious festival, which aims to give members of the public an insight into work going on at the University of Leeds, provided an excellent opportunity for us to bring out some coins and run handling sessions last March. It was wonderful to be able to show a coin of Julius Caesar and see such enthusiasm for an object over 2,000 years old.

Sticky tape, rusty staples and other archive conservation challenges

Last year Special Collections received a grant from the National Manuscripts Conservation Trust for the conservation of the Phillips of Hitchin archive. For over a century the company of Phillips of Hitchin was a prominent antiques dealer. Its archive contains a wealth of information about the company, its clients and the antiques it dealt in dating from 1882-2005.

Before the archive arrived in Special Collections it was stored in a garage where the damp conditions caused mould to grow on some papers.  Many of the staples, paper clips and pins had rusted.

The conservation team estimate that 36,000 loose sheets of paper and around 200 bound manuscripts need to be cleaned and repackaged before the archive can be catalogued and made available to researchers. We have recruited an enthusiastic group of volunteers to help with this huge conservation task and are making steady progress.

archives in parcel
Phillips of Hitchin archives arrive wrapped in paper and parcel tape. Image credit Leeds University Library.

Many of the loose papers arrived wrapped in bundles of brown parcel paper held together with sticky tape. Poor quality paper can turn acidic as a result of its manufacturing process or environmental pollutants.  If left the wrapping paper would damage the archive. We remove the packaging carefully before starting to clean the papers and take care to ensure the sticky tape does not stick to the archives.

High tech equipment is not always necessary for cleaning paper.  The majority of the cleaning is carried out employing fairly simple tools. The conservation team remove small amounts of mould and surface dirt with a chemical sponge and a natural fibre brush.  For very fragile items we grate eraser into a fine powder and use it to gently clean the surface of paper.

Items which are very mouldy are treated with a special museum vacuum. Stubborn areas of mould that cannot be removed are treated with industrial denatured alcohol to kill off any remaining spores. While cleaning away mould is a painstaking task it is rewarding to see the difference before and after!

As well as potentially damaging the archive, mould can be harmful to people so we wear face masks, gloves and aprons.  The team decontaminate brushes and equipment after use.

rusty fastenings
Rusty fastenings on archives before removal by the conservation team. Image credit Leeds University Library

Rusty staples, pins and paper clips are a challenge. Using sheets of polyester to protect the documents, the conservation team remove the rusty fastenings carefully with tweezers. Stainless steel paper clips are used to hold the sheets together afterwards.

The Phillips of Hitchin archive presents a lot of conservation challenges.  However it is a very interesting collection to work on as it contains records of the purchase and sale of beautiful historic objects by an important and influential company.

New Accessions – February 2018

Walter Garstang (1868-1949) was Professor of Zoology at the University of Leeds from 1907 to 1933.  A pioneer in marine biology and fisheries research, the University’s Garstang building is named after him.  In February we acquired an interesting collection of Garstang’s literary works and lectures.

play programme
Programme for ‘The Student’s Opera’ by Walter Garstang. Image credit Leeds University Library

These include ‘The Student’s Opera: A Burlesque Adaptation of the Song-Cycle of Gay’s Beggar’s Opera to themes of Modern University Life’ by Garstang.  The programme announces that the play was performed to celebrate the ‘Jubilee of the Yorkshire College of Science and the Coming of Age of the University 1924’.  Garstang’s humour is evident in the names of the dramatis personae which include ‘Susie Socket – a realist’ and ‘Professor Flickem – a Dean of Faculty’.

Garstang was passionate about the University of Leeds.  His poem ‘The Red Sphinx’ is about the university’s icon the gryphon.  Another praises ‘The White Rose’ on the institution’s arms.  Garstang wrote many poems about nature and biology.  His poetry collection ‘Larval Forms and Other Zoological’ verses was published posthumously in 1951.

We’ve also received a fascinating series of letters written by Private Arthur Barker from Birstall, West Yorkshire, to his wife Alice.  Arthur (1881-1918) was conscripted in 1917.  He sent over 100 letters to Alice from 1917-18 while training and on active service.  Other items in his collection include an embroidered card sent by Alice to ‘My dear husband’, a pocket diary, two poems and a New Testament.

Arthur joined the Kings Own Yorkshire Light Infantry and was sent to Hedon near Hull. In his letters he discusses his training and the possibility of getting leave.  A talented singer, Arthur mentions being commended by an officer for singing in a concert.  Alice and also friends sent Arthur parcels containing items such as cream crackers, gingerbread and cigarettes and he writes warmly thanking them.

Letter from Private Arthur Barker to his wife Alice, 12 March 1918. Image credit Leeds University Library

Some of Arthur’s letters from Hedon were written on YMCA letter headed paper.  Within the first two weeks of war being declared in 1914 the YMCA had set up 250 social centres or ‘huts’ for troops.  Some were in England and Wales, others at the front line in France.  The organisation provided troops with writing materials to help them keep in contact with family and entertainment so they could temporarily forget the hardships of war.

Arthur was transferred to 1st Northumberland Fusiliers on arrival in France in March 1918.  Within a few days of arriving he was wounded.  Arthur describes to Alice being sent to a convalescent hospital and later starting work in the camp shoemaker’s shop at Bayeux which he hoped would become a permanent job.  However by 17 June Arthur was with his battalion on front line duties such as ration fatigues and wire carrying.  He died from wounds on 23 August.

Arthur Barker’s collection is of particular interest because of the number of letters it contains and their continuity.  His strong religious faith as a Methodist is evident throughout the correspondence.  The archives are in Special Collections’ Liddle Collection.

New Accessions – January 2018

In January we added an interesting nineteenth century manuscript recipe book to our Cookery Collection.  A signature dated 1824 inside the front cover shows that Nanny Clayton from Bierley in Bradford was the original owner.  Evidently religious, Nanny used the notebook to record extracts from the Bible which inspired her.

On 27 February 1829 Nanny married Benjamin Gummersall of Birstall in St. Peter’s Church, Bradford.  After her marriage Nanny turned the book upside down and back to front.  Signing it with her new name and place of residence, Dudley Hill, she began to write in it from what had previously been the back page.  Nanny saw her marriage as a new stage in her life and writings.

Her first entry was the ‘Christmas Hymn’ by the Reverend William Carus Wilson taken from the magazine ‘The Children’s Friend’.  Carus Wilson was the founder of the Clergy Daughters’ School at Cowan Bridge which the Brontë sisters attended.  He features in Charlotte Brontë’s novel ‘Jane Eyre’ as the overbearing head of Lowood School, Mr Brocklehurst.

The recipes in the notebook are in two different hands, neither of them Nanny’s.  Many are for cakes or buns so whoever recorded them seems to have had a sweet tooth!  The recipes include tipsy cake, lunch cake and raspberry buns.  The one recipe which Nanny probably wrote is on a loose scrap of paper and is a ‘Remedy for Ruhmatic’.

Pudding recipes from Nanny Gummersall’s manuscript notebook. Image credit Leeds University Library.

We have also added archives to the Theatre Company Blah, Blah, Blah Collection.  Set up in Harehills, Leeds, in 1985 the Blah’s are a Theatre in Education Company for children and young people.  The organisation offers interactive theatre sessions and workshops for schools which help children to develop their language and listening skills and to explore new ideas.

The Blah’s archive collection contains project files for teachers and production files.  There are many scripts including ones by well-known playwrights such as Mark Catley who has written for ‘Casualty’ and ‘Call the Midwife’, and Mike Kenny a leading writer in young people’s theatre.  Colourful publicity material includes posters and flyers.

In the bleak midwinter…

With 2018 well underway, Christmas and New Year celebrations seem a long time ago, but winter is still very much with us. This month the reading room team have chosen three items in the collections with a winter theme, all of which have been consulted in the Special Collections reading room.

The first item is a volume of The Birds of Great Britain by John Gould (1873) which has proved popular due to the Big Garden BirdWatch challenge our colleagues in the Treasures Gallery team have been tweeting about.  This beautiful image is of a Snow bunting, or Snowflake.  A large number of our team are wildlife enthusiasts and, upon learning that a pair of peregrines were nesting in the tower of the Parkinson Building last year, regularly checked their progress.

LAVC papers
Papers from the Leeds Archive for Vernacular Culture. Image credit Leeds University Library.

Our second item is a file of articles and letters about winter and spring festivals from the Leeds Archive of Vernacular Culture collection. One recorded in 1967 describes a Pembrokeshire new year custom in which children would hold sprigs of sea spurge and sprinkle water on passers-by to bring them good luck in exchange for pennies. Another documents a Swiss custom held on February 1st called The Burning of the L’hom Strom, or Straw Man. The ceremony is pagan in origin, with the Straw Man representing winter. It is drawn through the streets by horses and burned to herald the returning sun.

Further information is available about the Leeds Archive of Vernacular Culture heritage lottery project on our website.

Artists' book
Ice blue no.5. by Pat Hodson with words by Liz Cashdan. Image credit Leeds University Library.

Our final choice is from the Artists’ Books collection Ice Blue no.5 is a concertina-shaped art work comprised of a collage of layers of transparent material and stitching, reminiscent of ice and drawing on memories of Iceland. It is adorned with words from a poem ‘Two Islands’.  It is a collaboration between the artist Pat Hodson and the poet Liz Cashdan.  Artists’ books are intriguing and the team always look forward to retrieving from this collection as we never know what we’re going to find.

We hope you enjoyed our selection of winter – themed items. If you’d like to see them for yourself, or anything else in our collections, please get in touch to book a visit. Special Collections is open to the public and you can find information about planning a visit on our website.