Conservation of select, endangered codices from the Kaufmann Collection

The Oriental Collection of the Library has embarked upon a 15 months long project in 2016 aiming at the conservation of 32 highly endangered Hebrew manuscripts of the Kaufmann collection. Since the Library has no in-house conservation lab, paper conservator Eszter Fodor and objects conservator László Kalocsai of FoKaArt were contracted for the work.

The curator and the conservators worked together in choosing the most endangered items that needed urgent treatment. Although the primary criterion for the selection of the manuscripts was their state, the intention to cover a wide thematic representation also influenced the decision.

The manuscripts included the Kaufmann Mishnah (A 50), the binding of which needed treatment (Figs. 1-3). The selection also contained, among others, manuscripts of the Tanakh (A 3, Figs. 4-6), commentaries (A 54, Figs. 7-9), 16th century Italian responsa (A 150, Figs. 10-12), Kabbalah (A 240, Fig. 13), apologetics (A 303, Figs. 14-16), history (A 354, Figs. 17-19), prayer books (A 394, Figs. 20-22), and liturgical poems (A 440, Figs. 23-24).

The manuscripts also diverged from the point of view of their material and binding. They included vellum, paper, and vellum-paper mixed manuscripts alike, while the bindings ranged from vellum, through full and half leather (often with clasps), to paper. The main challenges during the conservation were the treatment of ink corrosion, fungus damage and the removal of previous repairs which often caused illegibility. The Oriental Collection’s holdings were also enriched by the several fragments that were brought to light by the treatment of the bindings (A 42, Fig. 25).