The Conservation Process

Conserving The Edward IV Roll

Free Library of Philadelphia
Ms Lewis E201

For an object more than 500 years old, the Edward IV Roll was in surprisingly good condition.
Still, age and handling had begun to take its toll.

The portrait of Edward IV at the head of the roll was dirty and worn. Surface dirt had obscured many of the illustrations. There were minor tears to be repaired and wrinkles to be removed.

More alarmingly, the surface media (pigments, gold leaf, ink) were beginning to detach from the vellum, loosening and flaking off as the manuscript was unrolled and re-rolled. Finally, because it had been rolled tightly for many years, a section of the manuscript with an important gold-leaf over ink drawing had become seriously distorted (see Fig 5, below) and needed to be flattened without damaging the artwork.

The Conservation Center for Art and Historic Artifacts designed an ingenious assembly-line process to restore the long and cumbersome roll. First the entire roll was cleaned of surface dirt. Then, working in sections, the conservators humidified the manuscript using GoreTex fabric to relax the creased and cockled (or wrinkled) areas. The section was placed on a special table that applied suction through the underside of the manuscript. The conservators quickly smoothed the creases through layers of polyester film. The surface media was consolidated using a dilute solution of gelatin in deionized water, delivered in an ultrasonic mist. Each section was dried on the suction table, than flattened between layers of blotting papers under weight. Once finished, the section is virtually wrinkle-free.

Finally, the conservators constructed a new housing of a much larger diameter to minimize the stress on the manuscript when it was rolled and unrolled.

The Conservation in Photographs

Fig. 1. Conservators working on a humidified section of the manuscript to remove wrinkles from the vellum.

Fig. 2. A section of manuscript before (left) and after (right) treatment. The finished section, which begins at the end of the round diagrammatic map, is covered with a protective Mylar sheet, which gives it a darkened appearance.

Fig. 3. Stabilizing the surface media. While this section of the manuscript is spread on the suction table, conservator Paula Zyats applies a solution of gelatinin water in an ultrasonic mist, which humidifies and consolidates the media simultaneously, making it more flexible and improving its adherence to the vellum.

Fig 4. The small red box inside the large roll is the manuscript’s previous housing, showing its small diameter when compared with the new housing.

Fig. 5. A before-and-after illustration of one of the most badly damaged sections of the manuscript.