Posts Tagged ‘nature’s library’


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

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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After the excitement of the opening of the new Ancient Worlds galleries the conservation labs have been taking a well deserved break. As interns this has given us the opportunity to explore the stores and the museum in the search for objects which will provide a challenging but rewarding project.

For me the anthropology stores were calling and I emerged with a rather sorry looking Norwegian bridal crown, described in the catalogue as “an elaborate headdress; a bead-embroidered cloth on a wire frame with a variety of wire attachments and lengths of embroidered cloth and ornaments hanging from it.”

Bridal crown with beaded headband and lengths of silk laid out behind. The metal frame is detached and lies next to the headband.

Norwegian bridal crown

The bridal crown is a signifier of the in-between status of the bride, no-longer a maiden but not quite a wife. An expensive object glittering with silver or gold the crown would have been a family heirloom, worn by the females in every generation for their special day. I look forward to returning the object to its original form.

Of course the real work never stops and despite a quiet week work has already begun cleaning objects for Nature’s Library. 12 dog skulls down, 40 to go…

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