Happy 200th Birthday Charles Dickens!

Charles Dickens’ classic holiday novella, A Christmas Carol was first published in 1843. In 2011, the original manuscript was given new life and extensive treatment from New York’s Morgan Library and Museum‘s crew of conservators at the Thaw Center for Conservation.  The manuscript restoration was done in anticipation of the bicentenary of the famed author’s birthday which is being observed around the globe today.

Charles Dickens, seen here in an 1860's photograph taken by famed Civil War photographer Matthew Brady.

Each page, written word, and the binding itself were carefully examined before the treatment of the manuscript could begin. The initial steps of this process began with the removal of each page from the book’s binding. Each of these separated pages is then bathed in a combination of water and alcohol solution.

Soaking the paper in this solution caused a previously used adhesive to dissolve. According to Morgan conservators, the adhesive coating was probably applied sometime between 1910 and 1920. This now-antiquated technique, called “silking” was once used to strengthen and reinforce paper. The sheer silk coating tends to become brittle over time and loses its effectiveness.

The washing process was completed by a second bath in a combination of  calcium carbonate-enriched deionized water and alcohol. This bath has a neutralizing effect on soluble acids and adhesives. Dickens, like many other writers of the age, wrote in black iron-gall ink (iron gall ink test paper), which is water-resistant and adhered permanently to the paper’s surface.  However, with its high acidity, this ink caused the pages to deteriorate drastically and the ink itself changed to a dark brown tone over time.

After this washing, each page of the manuscript was air-dried and then humidified. To gently flatten each sheet, the pages were placed on blotting paper for several days. Each page was examined further  for tears, rips and holes, and those were repaired with Japanese tissue and a diluted wheat starch paste. Thanks in large part to the high quality paper that Dickens used, The Morgan’s conservators were pleased to report that the manuscript’s pages were in remarkably good condition after the conservation process and have incredibly similar color and flexibility to the original document penned by Dickens.