Saturday, 22 November 2014

Preserved flowers in books

We made an exciting discovery in one of our rare books this week, when a visitor at a handling session found a pressed flower between the pages of John Gerard's Herball or generall historie of plantes (1597).
It's not such a surprise to find a forgotten plant specimen in a book all about plants, but it's not something I'd much come across before, and I'd certainly never known what any institutional approach or policy would be to dealing with such a find. So I asked the LIS-RAREBOOKS mailing list for information about what other people do when they find similar things in their books. This is a summary of the responses, which I've also posted to the list.

Firstly, I can report that the specimen has been identified as a legume, most likely most likely to be bird’s-foot trefoil (Lotus corniculatus).

Most libraries are keeping specimens. Two replies mentioned that they might dispose of them if they were disintegrating, or if they were of no apparent relevance to the book in which they were found.

Most replies mentioned documenting the specimens in the catalogue record. One specifically said that they don’t document. Those who gave details specified the 561 field or, in once case, a 590 field. For archives records, the description field was mentioned in one reply.

The great majority of respondent indicated that they would keep the specimen inside the book in the location in which it was found inside an appropriate enclosure, if the added thickness would not cause strain to the binding.

Another common alternative was to place the specimen in an enclosure at the back or front of the book, or to place it in the box of a boxed item.

Some libraries with specialised collections containing a lot of material of this kind have enclosure made by a conservator that are then either mounted on guards in the book, or kept with the book in another suitable manner.

The library that didn’t document specimens found also noted that it doesn’t enclose them, either.

At least one respondent suggested labelling the enclosure to indicate where it belongs – a sensible idea!

Melinex and acid free tissue were both used in roughly equal numbers of replies. Melinex has the benefit of allowing you to see the specimen, and to see through the enclosure to the page beneath. Acid free tissue is rather thinner.

Two more involved enclosures were suggested by one conservation officer:
But this same conservator also notes that leaving plants between the pages of a book, has been done successfully for centuries, and you can tell if the specimen has been causing damage.

Several responders noted that they would store the specimen separately from the book if it was harming the paper or binding, or if there are too many specimens in one volume to be kept in place in the book.

Separately stored specimens are stored with the book in a folder or envelop shelved next to the book.

Louise Roberston, a conservator at the University of Glasgow, made individual pockets to store plant material found in Fuchs’ De Historia Stirpium, as documented in this blog post:

There’s also guidance available on making herbarium samples:
This is a lovely blog post about a specimen found in a war memoir in Surrey:

And Kew Gardens managed to germinate some 200-year-old seeds found in the High Court of Admiralty Prize Papers at the National Archives.(This was missed out of my message to the list. Links via @Frieda_M and @rjc_archives.)


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