Library > News > Newsletter > 2014 > July-August 2014 > A Sphere of its Own: Restoration of Oriental Manuscripts and Books

A Sphere of its Own: Restoration of Oriental Manuscripts and Books

One of the richest and most exciting collections in the National Library is its collection of Oriental manuscripts. This world-class collection includes manuscripts in Arabic, Persian and Turkish, illustrations and calligraphy that are true treasures. The manuscripts are part of the collection donated to the Library in 1967 by Abraham Shalom Yehuda, a prominent early 20th century Islamic studies researcher. The collection, also containing items not connected to Islam, such as Hebrew texts and manuscripts by Napoleon and Isaac Newton, features 1,184 Muslim manuscripts, of which around 100 are Korans. This collection is deemed one of the Western world's most important collections of ancient Muslim texts. Given their special origin, these important and unique items present special preservation challenges.

Oriental books and manuscripts are materially different from their Western counterparts. Books and manuscripts from the West made from paper (and sometimes even those made of parchment), can in many cases be repaired with tools to fix damage such as holes and tears in the material. For example, it is possible to use the Leafcasting machine in the Library’s Department of Conservation and Restoration (described fully in one of the adjoining articles) to repair damaged items, providing they can withstand treatment with water. However, this is not possible with any Oriental items because neither the paper nor the ink allow for water-based treatment. Therefore, restoration and preservation of Oriental items requires painstaking work, done by hand with tremendous patience and a high level of skill.

Timna Elper, Director of the National Library’s Department of Conservation and Restoration participated in advanced training in use of the appropriate tools to treat manuscripts from the Orient.