– notes, frequently asked questions and useful links from the archivist and curator of manuscripts at Balliol College, University of Oxford. Opinions expressed are the author's own.



Pre-before: Last week came the final batch of new boxes for Balliol’s medieval manuscripts! or mostly medieval. And mostly codices. The mss were measured up by OCC and made by the Bodleian’s PADS department – we all use them a lot and their services are quick, reasonable and brilliant. They’ve worked out a good system with the conservators, who can also make boxes when necessary, but use PADS for anything that’s custom-measured but without special requirements.


Before: The assembled mss, most of which have had no packaging before at all. A few are being replaced, as their old boxes are not acid-free and/or don’t fit well, are wearing out, don’t provide adequate support or compression or padding, and so on. Some of the volumes still require conservation treatment, but it won’t change their dimensions in ways that will require a different box, so we can proceed with boxing now.


This boxing campaign, which was interrupted for quite a while due to conservation planning hitches at our end, is now complete in the sense that there are no longer ANY unboxed manuscripts on the shelves! Boxes are the first defense against climatic fluctuations and all kinds of damage. There are still boxes and heavy four-flap folders that don’t fit well or could do with changing for other reasons. We have some beautifully made drop-spine solander boxes with wool felt linings, which is not great for our high-friction decaying half-calf bindings and is attractive to pests.  So we’ll be looking at changing or modifying those in due course. But the first stage of ‘a box for every book’ is complete, a satisfying milestone in the many useful outcomes of our 2014 condition survey of the manuscripts.


This box-within-a-box is a cunning solution to a complex housing issue. A packet of unbound leaves sat under two small and rather dirty bound volumes inside this presentation box, lined with padded textiles and using ribbons to hoist the tightly-fitted package out of the lower part of the box. The new replacement gives an elegant nod to the ms’ history by retaining the arrangement of the former box (which will be retained as well, separately) but makes it easy to lift all parts of the contents out, and prevents the small volumes from knocking about with a card block inserted between them to fill the empty space.


The old box.


The presentation box was made to look like a book stored vertically – you can imagine this was not great for the contents, as the two small volumes were rather loose.


After: manuscripts in their new boxes, with a few of the old boxes/wrappers that have been replaced but will be retained for historical purposes at the back. They are part of the manuscripts’ history and in some cases are interesting examples of state-of-the-art work of their time.

Many thanks to PADS! On to the next stage…

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