Con­serv­ing a rare copy of the first-ever “Friend”

When a rare and pre­cious copy of the first-ever “Friend” needed a lit­tle TLC, archive con­ser­va­tor Emma Fraser was called in. Alex Cor­lett finds out more.

The People's Friend - - This Week -

EMMA FRASER is a book and archive con­ser­va­tor, and she is rather spe­cial. In fact, there are only a few of her kind in the whole of Scot­land! Emma worked for 11 years at Dundee uni­ver­sity be­fore setting up on her own.

It was 2012, and her first client was none other than D.C. Thom­son, ask­ing her to take a look at the first edi­tion of “The Courier” – Dundee’s local news­pa­per.

Emma set up shop in a top-floor flat in Dundee city cen­tre. It was the for­mer stu­dio of an artist, and when Emma moved in she had to add some crea­ture com­forts like sec­ondary glaz­ing and heat­ing to make it com­fort­able as a work­ing and liv­ing space.

Be­fore she knew it, she had a long list of clients knock­ing at her door.

The few tools of her trade are held on mag­netic strips on the walls for easy ac­cess. Emma says they’ve spent so much time on the strips that they’re now mag­netic them­selves, and tend to move to­wards each other and stick to­gether when they’re on her desk.

With the “Friend”, as with every­thing else, Emma’s first task when start­ing a project is to take pho­tos of the ob­jects.

“In case any­thing goes wrong – and just to keep a record of what has changed and what has been adapted.

“I have spe­cial in­sur­ance! I pay quite a lot of money eeach year to in­sure the oob­jects that are in the stu­dio, in­sure my work and – as I also teach – any­one who’s work­ing with me.”

Much of Emma’s work sees her in the stu­dio, but as we spoke she was about to start a project over at Dundee’s V&A mu­seum.

“If I had to col­lect it and bring it here, I’d have to be in­sured to trans­port it, which is a whole other thing!”

Hav­ing worked on arte­facts stretch­ing back to me­di­ae­val times, were our neatly bound back is­sues an eas­ier propo­si­tion for her?

“The ‘Friend’ wasn’t so bad be­cause of its age. By the nine­teenth cen­tury al­most all pa­per was made by ma­chine – and al­most all with wood pulp. The prob­lem is that wood pulp is acidic and it needs quite a lot of treat­ment.

“It be­comes very brit­tle and is re­ally hard to re­pair be­cause you will fix it and it breaks some­where else.

“That is par­tic­u­larly true of all the ‘Beano’ stuff, too. It in­volved a re­ally long process of wash­ing, whereas that first ‘Friend’ wasn’t bad at all.

“I spend most of my time un­do­ing other peo­ple’s good in­ten­tions. The ‘Friend’ is­sue had a big Sel­lotape re­pair, which I re­moved.

“What hap­pens with ad­he­sive tapes is that the plas­tic stuff that car­ries the ad­he­sive will come away and you are left with a stain.”

Emma ex­plains how she pain­stak­ingly re­moves old tape with a tiny spat­ula, some­times heat­ing up the tape to re­ac­ti­vate the ad­he­sive and loosen it.

All of this work had to be done with the is­sue still in­side the bound vol­ume,

Only three copies of the first is­sue of the “Friend” are known to ex­ist. But we’re de­lighted to an­nounce that a com­plete replica copy of Jan­uary 13, 1869 will be in­cluded with Spe­cial 169. It’s on sale from Jan­uary 23, priced £3.99!

as to have un­done it would have been a mas­sive job.

Also not on Emma’s to-do list is fill­ing in lost words or gaps in the page. That’s the work of a re­storer, not a con­ser­va­tor.

“You are try­ing to keep as much of the orig­i­nal as pos­si­ble, but stop it get­ting worse. We have a code of ethics that all con­ser­va­tors work to, one part of which is that you have to make sure that every­thing you do can be re­versed.

“In some cases it is stretch­ing it a bit. We do me­chan­i­cal cleaning be­fore we do any­thing – you can’t re­ally re­verse that. You can’t put the dirt back!”

Know­ing the breadth of projects Emma works on, I’m cu­ri­ous to know what else she’s got on the go. Sud­denly it all gets a bit se­cret agent.

“A lot of it you can’t talk about! I can tell you about what kind of peo­ple I work for, but not much more than that. It’s a se­cu­rity is­sue, more than any­thing else.”

Emma tells me she is bound by con­fi­den­tial­ity agree­ments, but with­out nam­ing names, she shares the story of work she’s do­ing on some firedam­aged vol­umes.

“There was so much that was dam­aged that they needed to pre­vent it get­ting any worse un­til they could get to it, so they blast freeze it.

“Wrap it in a poly­thene bag, ba­si­cally, seal it, freeze it and keep it that way un­til they need to work on it.

“Then they blast dry it so quickly that all the wa­ter is taken out, then it comes to me for work.”

Even though it needs a lot of love, time and at­ten­tion, the in­ter­est­ing thing is that now – a num­ber of years into the dig­i­tal era – peo­ple are dis­cov­er­ing that pa­per is still one of the best ways of stor­ing things.

“Some of us have known that all along,” Emma says wryly.

The floppy disks and zip drives that folk rushed to store things on to save for the fu­ture no longer have any ma­chines around that can read them.

“All the work from my Mas­ter’s de­gree is on a floppy disk, and I don’t know if I’ll ever get to see it again. Pa­per is go­ing to be around for a while!”

Well, that suits us just fine, and it looks like Emma, too, will be busy for the fore­see­able fu­ture. ■

Emma’s skills ex­tend to work­ing with sil­ver.

Tra­di­tional, heavy­duty book press.

A lot of Emma’s work is top se­cret!

The mag­nif­i­cent mag­ne­tised tools.

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