Conservation of the Silver Book

silver1The Liber Argenteus is composed of a bookbinding made of silver/silver gilt metal over dark blue velvet dating from the late 17th-early 18th century. William Sewell bought the bookbinding between 1847 and 1853 in an unknown bookseller’s in London. He had it made into a book with machine made wove paper watermarked “J Whatman 1855” with gophered (decorated) gold edges.

The Silver Book was rediscovered among the Archives in 2005. It had suffered severely in the years since it was last used in 1916, and was no longer recognisable as one of Sewell’s most magnificent treasures. When the book had lain uncovered or on display, the exposed silver had tarnished almost black. The velvet base was thick with grime and dust but, more damaging, there had been an attempt at some time to counteract the tarnish by using standard metal polish. This had left a thick residue of grey powder ground into the velvet. At one point the book had lain beneath a heavy pile of other books or boxes. This had crushed and distorted the silver hinges on the spine, parts of the silver decoration had broken away and one clasp was lost. Crushing the spine meant that the book could not be opened without snapping the silver hinges.


The book was sent to the conservation studios of the Oxford Colleges Conservation Consortium based at Magdalen College. The conservator who worked on the Silver Book was Katerina Powell. The work took five months, and was split into three aspects – the metalwork, the velvet, and the structure of the book. To ensure the future safety of the book, a protective box was built.