20.3 Beauty and Utility: Conservation of Rare Books and Manuscripts at the Consortium

Beauty and Utility: Edward Cheese, (Corpus consortium, Cambridge).


Edward Cheese illustrating various types of binding, their performance and conservation needs in the beautiful Old Kitchen at Queen’s. Image by Carla Marchesan.

Edward’s delightful workshop was a thoroughly engaging introduction to the ARCLIB Conference. His profession, an accredited conservator and restorer (ACR), is almost as rare as some of the collections. We learnt that Cambridge has the greatest concentration of medieval illustrated manuscripts in Europe. They include the 12th century Dover Bible and the St. Augustine Bible from the 6th century which continues to be used, e.g. at the inauguration of the Archbishop of Canterbury.
That was the point that Edward wanted to make; his job is to ensure that these “reading machines” are available for future use. The 500 year old primary sources benefit from compression to stabilise the parchment, but other aspects of the collection provide quite a challenge, such as the collection of Indian miniature paintings on recycled newspapers, dating from the Raj – how do you conserve those? Edward seems to work out how!
Much of his time is spent removing the very poor rebinds from the 1950s, which has sometimes led to him having to restore the illuminations inside – with a 3-haired brush! Edward lives and breathes his work; he likes to buy broken books to explore their bindings. I’m not sure the job is quite for me, although the stitching involved in some of the rebinding processes is quite appealing. However, other delegates seemed keen to go and retrain for a new career, especially after being able to see examples of Edward’s fine work. For those who are interested, West Dean College is one of the few places left to study for ACR.
Review by: Greta Friggens, University of Portsmouth



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