In 2017 the University of St Andrews Library was privileged to be entrusted with two albums containing letters and autographs from some of the most illustrious names in history, art and literature. As an important new resource for a wide range of scholars, priority was given to the digitisation of the albums – with the added twist that facsimile reproductions were to be made for use in exhibitions
Under normal circumstances the reprography of bound volumes is relatively straightforward. A photograph is taken of each page in turn, square-on and evenly lit. The main difficulty in such cases is caused by tight bindings leading to deep gutters and curved pages.
The two Holloway albums are beautifully bound, designed to open easily, yet they present a new difficulty. Where a page contains a letter, the letter is adhered with a hinge to the middle of the page. A photograph of the whole page is easy, but if we open the letter to record the inside and the back then it folds out over the facing page. Put simply – it becomes a three-dimensional nightmare, particularly when two or more folded letters are overlapped on one page!
Using our fantastic Travelling Conservation Copystand as a base, the digitisation of each letter requires manipulation of the album, and the careful building-up of a plastazote support to keep the plane of the letter parallel to the sensor in the camera. In some cases two letters had to be supported, one in front of the other. Unfortunately working in this way creates a new pitfall – one support allows for the photography of the first and third page, while for the second and fourth the album has to be turned and a new support built. Careful notes are required in order to marry the pieces together correctly in Photoshop later!
Due to the need for these careful supports the distance from the pages of each letter to the camera constantly changes, so there is no consistent, quantifiable reproduction ratio. For the printing of the facsimile letters, therefore, each digital page has to be carefully resized to match the measured dimensions. Thankfully Erica, our Preventive Conservation Officer, had produced a comprehensive condition assessment and report before I began the photography which gave me the millimetre-accurate measurements I needed.
The final result for each letter is a pair of composite images which, in theory, can be printed on each side of a single sheet of acid-free archival paper and then folded in the middle – et voilà, a perfect forgery!
The accurate, high-resolution record of every part of these albums has allowed us to create facsimiles of these two albums, one of which is now on display for our readers in the Napier Reading Room, Richardson Research Library at Martyrs Kirk.
There are no current plans to make the digitized albums available online, but please get in touch with us (firstname.lastname@example.org) should you have any queries about access to the digital reproductions of these albums.
Photographic Collections Cataloguer