Since September’s discovery of HMS Erebus, believed to be the ship on which Sir John Franklin died, one of our rare books has stepped into the spotlight.
Narrative of a journey to the shores of the Polar Sea, in the years 1819, 20, 21 and 22 was written by Sir John Franklin in 1823, after his first two expeditions in the Arctic.
In October, it made local news and was showcased during the museum’s open house of its research and collections facility.
As you might imagine, leather binding dating back some 190 years requires a little TLC. The book’s cover was detached and slowly deteriorating to powder (red rot); it would not stand up to much more handling without accelerating the deterioration.
Although our rare books are kept in a climate-controlled room and handled with gloves, the preservation of these materials also relies on occasional special treatment. We commissioned Kyla Ubbink, an Ottawa paper conservator, to bring our book back to life.
Treatment was extensive. It included consolidating and treating the red-rotted leather, repairing tears, creases and fraying threads, refolding the maps to fit within the dimensions of the book, flattening the curled-in corners of the cover, surface cleaning and brushing to remove debris and dirt, and other binding repairs. Conservation treatment such as this takes time, glues require time to set and each step is meticulously completed before the next one can begin.
Beautifully encased and resting on a brass-accented support, the book can now be seen in the new exhibition Arctic Voices. Our exhibition team anxiously awaited the book’s return after conservation treatment to choose the plate that would be shown. They settled on “View of the Arctic Sea, From the Mouth of the Copper Mine River, Midnight – July 20, 1821”. It was not an easy choice; the plates are all so stunning.
Reading passages from the book, I was immediately immersed in a time long ago. The narrative and descriptions of time and place make it an easily consumable read, while the seemingly poetic free-verses add artistic expression in just the right amount.
The text can be found online, but I highly recommend seeing it in person. After Arctic Voices closes on May 3, 2015, you can make an appointment to see it at our library. You may even enjoy some of the other gems of the Rare-Book Collection.