Image of CBL Ar 5655, Beginning to disbind the manuscript by carefully lifting the spine lining away from the textblock.

Part 2: CBL Ar 5655, evidence of structure and paper repair

29 April, 2020

As discussed in our previous blog post, CBL Ar 5655 was prioritised for conservation late in 2019 due to its badly damaged binding structure. At this point, all the evidence seemed to be pointing toward rebinding the manuscript as the best course of action to ensure its long-term preservation.  

The Mamluk Sultanate of Egypt and Syria (1250-1517) was a prominent benefactor of the Arts, and manuscript production was an essential part of that patronage. Indeed, the Mamluks are often remembered for their beautiful geometrical leather bindings and large format manuscripts (1). During disbinding, a precise collation map of the manuscript was drawn. Records of sewing holes were taken, which helped me to identify the original Mamluk sewing stations. Sewing thread and endband tiedowns from the various sewing campaigns were recorded, gathered and preserved. 

CBL Ar 5655 f.311, accretions at the gutter edge may suggest a previous binding structure.

CBL Ar 5655 f.311, accretions at the gutter edge may be suggestive of a previous binding structure.

We know very little about Mamluk binding structures, so all information collected at this time is precious. John Mumford and Jake Benson recorded a specific feature of Mamluk bindings when working in Dar al-Kutub, Cairo (2). They noted that the doublure was folded and sewn around the outer quires, forming a stub of material (leather or cloth) inside the textblock. Although it is difficult to say for certain, there is a darkening of the paper and leather accretions along the gutter edge of the outer quires of CBL Ar 5655, suggesting this may have been a feature of the first binding of the Chester Beatty manuscript. 

Image of CBL Ar 5655 bifolio, image in normal light showing inclusions in the paper and a smooth burnished surface (left); Transmitted light image showing laid lines and chain lines from a flexible mould screen (right).
CBL Ar 5655 bifolio, image in normal light showing inclusions in the paper and a smooth burnished surface (left); Transmitted light image showing laid lines and chain lines from a flexible mould screen (right).

Although the binding structure of the manuscript was failing, the paper textblock was nonetheless in very good condition, limiting the extent of conservation work necessary. Consisting mainly of quinions (five bifolios per quire), the manuscript is made from very high-quality paper. 

By the 14th century, the Mamluks had developed their papermaking industry for more than three centuries. Papermakers had learned their trade from generations before them and could produce high quality sheets in quantity. At this time, as is evident in CBL Ar 5655, the paper produced is sturdy and creamcoloured, made from dense fibrous pulp containing raw material and inclusions (3). The paper has been sized and lightly burnished, creating a smooth and shiny surface finish which retains a level of softness.  

Image of CBL Ar 5655 bifolio, image in normal light showing inclusions in the paper and a smooth burnished surface (left); Transmitted light image showing laid lines and chain lines from a flexible mould screen (right).
CBL Ar 5655 bifolio, image in normal light showing inclusions in the paper and a smooth burnished surface (left); Transmitted light image showing laid lines and chain lines from a flexible mould screen (right).

After this information was recorded, the treatment started on the textblock. Some heavy historical paper repairs were removed where necessary by thinning the paper down and lifting with a spatula using a 4% Methyl Cellulose poultice. An Usumino Kozo paper (28 gsm) was used to repair the bifolios, mainly the outermost bifolios, as well as creating guards to indicate where a facing folio had historically been removed. Strips of feathered paper were prepared and applied using wheat starch paste. To reduce shrinkage on drying, the fully separated bifolios were repaired by positioning them in their correct place around the quire, and applying the paper repair to one side along the gutter edge, before turning the full quire around and applying the second half of the repair strip to the other side of the gutter edge, thus forming an optimal paper repair width. The repair was then allowed to dry in-situ for a short amount of time before a second repair strip was applied to the inside of the bifolio for additional strength.  

Image of CBL Ar 5655, a Japanese paper repair being applied to the damaged spine fold (left); the majority of the textblock after repair (right).
CBL Ar 5655, a Japanese paper repair being applied to the damaged spine fold (left); the majority of the textblock after repair (right).

At present, I have just the first and last sections’ left to repair. I had left them to last as they were the ones that have suffered the most damage and they were quite complicated to make sense of. I am looking forward to finishing the paper repair and rebinding this beautiful manuscript soon. 

Julia Poirier, Book and Paper Conservator. 

References: 

(1) Ohta, A (2012) Covering the book: bindings of the Mamluk period, 1250‐1516 CE. PhD Thesis. SOAS, University of London.   

(2) Scheper, K. (2015) The technique of Islamic bookbinding: methods, materials and regional varieties, Brill, Leiden. 

(3) Loveday, H. (2001) Islamic Paper, a Study of the Ancient Craft.  London, The Don Baker Memorial Fund. Archetype Publications, London. 

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