Gustav Doré, Signal Books, & Iron Gall Ink

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The postgraduates are back from their work placements! The workshops are a lot noisier (I mean busier!) now and they promise reports on their placements soon. Here's postgrad student William Bennett and his prize Doré. He's put new cotton on the spine (dyed to match with Sellaset leather dyes) to replace the old material after it deteriorated, and now he's attacking the failing guards. The stiff illustrations in this book were glued to thinner paper, now also somewhat acidic and brittle, which is beginning to tear along the edge of the plates. Any time there's one particular point where paper (or cloth or leather) hinges, rather than distributing the strain more evenly, the material tends to fail. William is attaching a Japanese paper to those areas; it has longer fibers than Western paper and will help bridge the weakness.

A tradition of postgraduate students working on signal books from the Admiralty Library continues; here's William's 18th century French pastepaper binding, now with reinforced sewing and repaired spine paper in a protective handmade paper folder. These paper bindings were issued by the publisher, and the owner would take the book to a binder to have its edges trimmed and a more protective/permanent binding applied if he or she had the money and inclination. This one had an interesting printed parchment fold-out.

Meanwhile, the graduate students made iron gall ink. This was an old, commonly-used ink made primarily from ferrous sulfate and gallic acid from oak galls. We crushed up the galls and soaked them in tap water for a few hours, then in this photo we were about to filter the extract. We made two recipes, one with a more favorable proportion of gall to ferrous sulfate (7:1 by weight), and one (3:1) that represents the corrosive recipes that were just as common and have caused a lot of damage to paper.

On the left is the gall extract alone; middle, the ferrous sulfate has just been tipped in and turned the solution back. Right, when stirred (and with a little gum arabic added), a dark blue-brown ink was made.