Wednesday, 1 April 2015

The Moonstone, Wilkie Collins

“… a very curious story – wild, and yet domestic – with excellent character in it, great mystery and nothing belong to disguised women or the like. It is prepared with extraordinary care, and has every chance of being a hit. It is in many respects much better than anything else he has done.” Charles Dickens

The Moonstone published in 1868 and is often said to be the first detective novel. It contains many elements that more famous and more recent authors have used to great effect: a country house setting, assembling the cast of possible culprits to recreate the crime and a brilliant but flawed detective.

Collins was meticulous in his planning and researching his plot and characters. Every detail was worked out in advance – a way of working that his contemporary Anthony Trollope could not understand. The Moonstone as a novel centres on the inheritance and theft of a large cursed Indian Diamond. The book opens with a prologue describing the looting of the jewel from Seringapatam (Shriringapatna) in 1799 by British forces which according to legend invoked a prophecy from the Hindu God Vishnu predicting “certain disaster to the presumptuous mortal who laid hands on the sacred gem, and to all of his house and name who received it after”.

The yellow diamond is inherited by the niece of the officer who stole it in India upon her 18th birthday. It is presented to her at her birthday party hosted within a country house on the North Yorkshire coast. The house may well have been based upon Mulgrave Castle, near Whitby, at the time the home of Duleep Singh, the last Maharajah of the Punjab.

The party brings together a wide and varied cast of characters all with a story to tell. The party unfolds without incident though facts are revealed and cautions spread. The next morning the jewel is found to be missing! A detective is called to discover the criminal and over 420 pages a carefully calculated and well-drawn out plot unfolds recounted through the separate narratives from some of the principal characters until the end untwists.

The book is a great read for the admirer of detective fiction. At 500 pages long it is not a short novel but its length and paces gives the reader time and space to sink into the story. It is worth revisiting if you have already read it and, if not, then do dip into one of Victorian England’s best detective novels.

Andrew Morrison 
April 2015

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Restoration of ‘The Voyage of the Beagle’

The Voyage of the Beagle is the name commonly given to Narrative of the Surveying Voyages of His Majesty's Ships Adventure and Beagle, between the Years 1826 and 1836, describing their Examination of the Southern Shores of South America, and the Beagle's Circumnavigation of the Globe.  This book is not only an account of the voyage of 1831-1836 but also includes an account of the voyage made by the Beagle in 1826-1830, accompanying HMS Adventure (commanded by Capt. Phillip King).  On that voyage, the Beagle was commanded by Capt. Pringle Stokes but after two years and beset by prolonged and oppressive winter weather off the coast of South America, Stokes committed suicide and the ship’s meteorologist, Robert  Fitzroy took command of the vessel. 

  In 1831, The Beagle was commissioned by the admiralty to conduct a hydrographic survey of the coast of South America before proceeding into the Pacific and returning via Australia, completing a complete circumnavigation of the globe.  It was Fitzroy who invited the young Charles Darwin, a geologist and naturalist to accompany the voyage, an opportunity that was to make Darwin’s reputation and provide him with the material and inspiration for his theory of evolution.

On their return Fitzroy, took the journals of Captains King and Stokes to record their accounts of the first voyage which comprises volume 1.  Volume 2 with an appendix is Fitzroy’s account of the second voyage and Darwin was then invited to include his observations which form volume 3. The completed narrative was published in 1839.

The book was originally bound in cloth with blind stamped decoration.  The Leeds Library copy was rebound in 1891 by Leeds bookbinders. Edwin Morley at their workshop in William IV yard off Lands Lane. 

The half leather binding was now in very poor condition with the leather showing signs of serious acid degradation.  Sulphuric acid was used for washing skins to remove metallic particles introduced during processing and it was not realised at the time that this would ultimately lead to the deterioration of the leather unless the acid was effectively washed out.

As this was not the original binding and because of its extremely poor condition, it was decided to rebind the book rather than attempt restoration.  On removing the old binding and stripping off the spine linings it was found that when the book had been rebound by Morleys, it had been re-sewn by overcasting.  This is a sewing method used as a ‘last resort ‘ when there is so much damage to the back of the individual sections that it is not possible to sew the book by the usual methods.  This damage may have been caused by excessive wear – this was a popular and ultimately famous book which would have been read many times.  Alternatively, it may have been caused by acid degradation of the paper, this time as the result  of acid fumes given off by the gas lighting, installed in the library in 1853 and which we have identified as a problem in many of the books in the library’s collection.  As the text block of each of the four volumes appeared tight and sound it was decided not to risk further damage to the pages by taking the book apart and re-sewing,  but to simply attach new boards and rebind the books.

Endpapers sewn on
Cloth-jointed ‘made’ endpapers were sewn through the joints and the slip of starched linen, now firmly attached to the book were used to attach the split boards.   

Split boards attached to cloth slips

The spines were re-lined and a hollow back with false raised bands was attached.  Blue Chieftan goatskin, supplied by Hewits tannery in Edinburgh was selected for the binding.  Pieces were cut for the corners and spine and then each piece pared to the desired thickness before pasting and applying  the spine of the book, working over the raised bands.

Cutting the leather
Paring the leather

Working the leather over the false raised bands
Working the leather over the boards

 Forming the headcaps

The sides of the boards were covered in hand –marbled paper.

Title labels created using blocking machine and gold foil.

 Labels were made for each of the volumes using black leather with the lettering applied using a blocking machine and gold foil.  Once the labels were applied, the rest of the spine decoration was done using gold leaf.  This is laid over a heat-sensitive adhesive which causes the gold to adhere to the leather where a heated hot brass tool is applied.

Gold leaf applied to spine
Heated fillet wheel used to create lines across spine

Excess gold leaf removed with gold rubber

The finished book.

By Brian Cole