November 2015

My name is Catherine Mayo and I am the Conservator for the BMIHT Archive.

We often receive donations, sometimes consisting of a very eclectic mix of materials. One of our recent ones included a box of old handbooks, some were in good condition, others very poor. Part of my job is to look at new acquisitions and decide whether or not they need repairing before they are accepted into the collections and so they were passed over to me.

Why This Document?

I have chosen to talk about this handbook, as I have a bit of a soft spot for old motorcycles and especially the Douglas. My Dad has ridden a 1914 Douglas for many years and his particular bike was used by a Dispatch Rider in France during World War One.

This handbook caught my eye as it was entitled ‘The Douglas Motorcycle, 2¼ hp model 1916’. It is always a bonus when you are able to find some provenance in an object and on opening the first page I was pleased to find some notes and a name. The information told me that the book had belonged to a Corporal rider from the Royal Army Service Corps and was dated 1919. I had no idea what the role of the RASC was, so after a little bit of research, I found that they were responsible for getting supplies to the troops.

The book itself was in pretty poor condition, with failing stitching and damaged pages. To start off, I needed to totally deconstruct the book, which included cutting and removing all the old sewing thread and removing all traces of old glue, which had become very dry and crumbly. Years of movement in the thread had caused it to saw through the holes in the sections, so I had to reinforce these using Japanese paper strips and book paste, creating fresh places in the pages for sewing. Japanese paper is very versatile and great for repairing old documents; it is fine, but also very strong and perfect for this kind of repair.

Although unsightly to some, I decided to leave the oily finger prints on the pages alone. The stains were not damaging the paper and also, they made up a part of the book’s history. The oily prints indicate which parts of the bike were obviously more problematic and needed more work than others. In this case, it appears to have been the magneto that required the most attention.

When all the sections were repaired and dry, I was able to piece them back together and decide where I wanted to make fresh holes for sewing. The sections were then sewn together using waxed cotton thread, checking the tension in between to make sure they were all supported properly. The front cover of the book also had some tearing to the top and bottom of the spine, so I decided to paste a paper reinforcement strip along it to help. This also gave a nice clean surface to stick the sewn pages to.

Once finished, the book looked wonderful. I managed to retain its history and provenance, making it useable once more. Once placed into the Archive collections, it can be looked at by enthusiasts and Douglas owners alike; maybe even my Dad.

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The Archive, at the British Motor Museum, preserves and provides access to documents, images and film that record the work and achievements of the people who were employed in the British motor industry.

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