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This last couple of weeks have been busy completing final treatments for the new Nature’s Library galleries to open next Friday. My favourite object for the new gallery has to be a book of snake skins collected and preserved in India in the 1860’s.

The folio before conservation work began
The folio before conservation work began
snake_skins_1

Examples of snake skins preserved inside the folio

The leather-bound folio cover contains a total of 42 dried snake skins, all specimens of common Indian snakes. 8 of these snakes are mounted on paper with information about where and when the sample was collected and occasionally the name of the apothecary who preserved them. The collector of the snake skins was Eyre Champion de Crespigny a Swiss surgeon who was the Acting Conservator of Forests and Superintendent of the Government Botanical Gardens in Dapsorie, near Poonah, India in the 1860’s. The collection was donated to the museum after his death by his wife.

The label detailing the collection and donation of the snake skins to Manchester Museum. Right half cleaned.

The label detailing the collection and donation of the snake skins to Manchester Museum. The right half has been cleaned with smoke sponge.

For display the folio corners and binding needed consolidating and strengthening. For this I took the folio to the John Rylands Library to seek specialist advice from the book conservators. Here they helped me apply tinted Japanese Tissue to the crumbling leather of the binding and wheat starch paste to the crushed corners of the cover.

 The skins themselves had been folded to fit into the folio and needed to be straightened out before being displayed. An enclosed space with high humidity was created and allowed to penetrate the snake skins for at least 90 minutes. After this they were flexible enough to be flattened out and left to dry on the suction table to keep the paper and skins flat.

Snake skin specimen in high humidity after being unfolded

Snake skin specimen in high humidity after being unfolded

Once flattened the skins were cleaned with IMS and water and any loose scales re-adhered with Sodium carboxy-methylcellulose.

Come to the new Nature’s Library galleries to see the finished result!

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