Tag Archives: manuscripts

Guest post: Iron gall ink in the Edward Thomas manuscripts

The following post is courtesy of Pamela Murray, an MSc Conservation Practice Student at Cardiff University and conservation volunteer at Glamorgan Archives. She has been working on the Edward Thomas Conservation project as a student conservator thanks to the generous support of the National Manuscript Conservation Trust


Dating back to the 1st century AD and used all the way until the 19th century, iron gall ink was a common writing ink throughout Europe. It is made from iron sulphates, gum,   tannins  extracted from galls (generally oak tree galls), and water. There are different recipes and methods found throughout history to make iron gall ink, and some even include using wine.

Iron Gall Ink recipe ET blog

This is a recipe from the Dutch website dedicated to Iron Gall Ink: https://irongallink.org/igi_index78f9.html

So, one of the problems with this historic ink is that the degradation process of it can be detrimental to the paper or work of art it has been used for.

Excess iron sulphates Fe(II) accelerate the oxidation process in the paper or parchment due to their reaction with atmospheric oxygen. There are three signs of degradation:

  1. Halo-ing: when there is a faint spreading of the ink.
  2. Burnthrough: when the ink becomes increasingly visible on the reverse of the page.
  3. Lacing:  where the inked area is so weak and friable that it causes the paper to cracks and eventually fall out. this is possibly the most detrimental.

Luckily, none of the manuscripts from the Edward Thomas archive had lacing. They did, however, have  a slight haloing. In order to test the paper for iron gall ink, we dipped an indicator paper impregnated with bathophenanthroleine is dipped in deionised water and spot tested on an appropriate area. The bathophenanthroleine reacts with ferrous ions to form a pink complex.

Many of the Edward Thomas notebooks tested positive for iron gall ink, meaning that none of the papers can be treated with water because the ferrous ions could spread, causing further degradation. Luckily for us, in a paper written in 1995, Neeval suggested a calcium phytate aquaeous treatment, where the phytate chellates the iron (II) ions. It  does not break down Iron (III) because it is a stable molecule, so that means the ink doesn’t fade. However, this treatment strategy has been met with some challenges because it is highly interventive, and there have been many international projects looking into the treatment of iron gall ink with calcium phytate. (Kolar et al. 2005, Kolbe 2004, Tse et al., 2005, Zappala and De Stefani 2005, Botti et al. 2005, Hofmann et al. 2004, Jembrih-Simbürger et al. 2004, Reissland and de Groot 1999.)

Testing ET Notebook

Testing one of Edward Thomas’ notebooks. The pink complex indicates ferrous ions present in the ink.

Looking at the altenatives, this is the most effective aqueous method of prolonging iron gall ink’s life time with minimal side effects. So, it was agreed that treating the notebooks in question with a calcium phytate bath was the best step forward to prevent further damage due to iron gall ink.

It is with thanks to the National Manuscript Conservation Trust and the Glamorgan Archives that the Edward Thomas manuscripts housed at Cardiff University’s Special Collections and Archives could be treated and conserved accordingly. In the same breath, it has served as an important learning tool for myself as a conservation student.

Mixing Calcium

Mixing up the calcium carbonate and phytate acid to make calcium phytate.

The BBC has a great clip about iron gall ink: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p033dbrb  in BBC Four’s documentary Oak Tree: Nature’s Greatest Survivor. The full programme can be purchased from the BBC Store.

References:

Neevel, J. (2009). Application Issues of the Bathophenanthroline Test for Iron(II) Ions. Restaurator 30, pp.3–15.

http://www.kennisvoorcollecties.nl/en/projects/collection-risk-management/paper-heritage-metamorfoze/ink-corrosion/

http://www.averybazemore.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/Bazemore_Avery_MA_thesis_16092016.pdf

https://irongallink.org/igi_index888e.html

 

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Guest post: Observations on Edward Thomas’ manuscript poems

This guest post comes from Rachel Carney, writer and blogger at http://www.createdtoread.com.


What I love about archives is the fact that they provide an opportunity to discover things you’d never see for yourself in the printed copies of a writers’ work. As we celebrate the centenary of the poet Edward Thomas, who lived and fought during the First World War, it is an incredible privilege to be able to see his personal handwritten letters and notebooks – to read the poems written in his own hand, and to see the very pages on which he wrote.

You can see some of these in a new online exhibition, featuring highlights from the world’s largest collection of Edward Thomas papers. Special Collections and Archives will also host an onsite exhibition, launching tomorrow on 19th April, the first day of the Edward Thomas 100 conference.

The following manuscripts of Thomas’ poems were all written in 1916, the last year of his life.

The Trumpet, by Edward Thomas.

The Trumpet, by Edward Thomas. Original manuscript draft in pencil, sent to Eleanor Farjeon.

On first glance, ‘The Trumpet’, written by Thomas in September 1916, seems to be a rousing call to arms, but on closer examination, there is much more to this simple poem than you might think. To begin with, as his biographer Matthew Hollis explains, “he did his best to conceal that it was a poem at all”. It was written whilst Thomas was based at the Royal Artillery Barracks in Trowbridge, and he was afraid, it seems, to let on to his fellow soldiers that he was actually a poet.

We wouldn’t necessarily know this unless we had the original manuscript, which he sent in a letter addressed to his friend Eleanor Farjeon, in which he admitted what he’d done: “You see I have written it with only capitals to mark the lines” because “people are all around me and I don’t want them to know”.

The poem itself is full of ambiguity and irony. Hollis describes it thus: “the form, strident, galloping, heroic… but the content suggesting other tones – the dark stars that failed to illuminate the earth below, the hounding of dreams…” Edward Thomas had always been against the war and the fervent nationalism that it inspired, and it had taken him a long time to make the momentous decision to enlist, and fight for his country. Of all his poems, just a handful refer directly to the war itself, and they are different in style to those of his contemporaries, such as Siegfried Sassoon, Robert Graves and Rupert Brooke.

Earlier that same month Edward Thomas wrote ‘Gone, gone again’, later titled ‘Blenheim Oranges‘. This is a bleak, depressing verse which focuses on the relentless march of time, as apples continue to “fall grubby from the trees” and the war continues to “turn young men to dung”.

Blenheim Oranges by Edward Thomas. Original manuscript draft in ink.

Blenheim Oranges by Edward Thomas. Original manuscript draft in ink.

 

We also hold the original manuscript of ‘As the team’s head brass’, a poem written earlier in 1916, which refers obliquely to the war. In Hollis’s biography, he describes how the poem was deeply significant for Thomas, mirroring his own decision to seek a commission on the Western Front. It pivots around the central phrase: ‘…Everything / Would have been different. For it would have been / Another world.’ These lines, and the fallen elm tree on which the speaker sits, highlight the fact that war changes everything, however remotely removed one might feel from the situation.

As the teams head brass by Edward Thomas.

As the teams head brass by Edward Thomas. Original manuscript draft in ink, sent to Eleanor Farjeon.

It is fascinating to compare these manuscripts, and see that Thomas’s handwriting varied widely. We can also see his corrections, and observe the editing process in action.

If you visit the exhibition you’ll be able to see some of them for yourself, or come along to our poetry performance event on Friday, where items from the archive will be on display.