Never judge a book by the cover … the story of Chomp

Following on from our previous blog posts about the preservation lab here at QSA, and the different types of damage we see, we wanted to tell you a little story about a special register we have in our collection… so special it has a name.

Why you ask? Well, continue on, dear reader, for here is the story of Chomp.

Once upon a time, many years ago, there was a humble register – leather bound, with leaves of parchment, it’s pages blank just waiting for tales of woe (or happiness, who knows) to be inked onto its pages…. Ok so maybe not tales of woe, but I do not presume to know what Chomp’s hope and dreams were way back when it was young.

Let’s start at the very beginning

Life started as it would with any other register… pages were slowly filled with information, carefully and neatly inked in. Between each use it was placed back on a shelf (we think), ready and waiting for the next time it was needed to record such important information.

Once all those pages were filled with information, and (we assume) no longer needed for daily or regular reference, Chomp was sent to the main storage section in the building where it lived (not naming any names).

So far so good. But every good story needs a few twists. This is where it gets interesting and the misadventures start.

Fire! Fire!

The building where Chomp lived was suddenly on fire! That’s it, no more Chomp. Right? Wrong. Along comes the trusty firefighters to put out the flames and Chomp was saved… just not totally unscathed.

Alas, poor Chomp was now a little singed around the edges and covered in a fair amount of soot, and if that wasn’t enough, also now had smoke, heat and water damage too. Smoke damage we can handle, a few curly pages from heat is ok, water damage can be fixed … check out the website to find out how.

Chomp might not be the neat and tidy register it was before, but it had survived.

Image of register ‘Chomp’ closed, showing water, heat and smoke damage on the cover

But wait, there’s more…

There is yet another twist in this story.

We’re not sure when the next bit of damage occurred, but at some point poor Chomp was lunch (or dinner, maybe breakfast) to something – we believe rats or mice or similar – and has a large chuck taken out of it where said rodent had a feast.

Image of register ‘Chomp’ open showing heat, water and pest damage to pages.

You see, the pages in Chomp are made from parchment, which is made from animal skins rather than wood pulp or similar like paper would be. So, to our little rodent vandal, Chomp was filet mignon rather than a garden salad, which is a much more nutritious meal.

Now to be fair, we’ve made an educated guess about our little rodent friend’s motives for taking a chunk out of Chomp and do concede that it may in fact have been for nesting material rather than lunch, but either way the result is the same… damage to a public record.

To salvage or not to salvage

I know, it’s not looking good and you’d think after all of that, Chomp would be unsalvageable, so why do we have it here?

Well, Chomp is pretty old, and the information it contains is of permanent archival value – so we really didn’t want to lose it.

While we can’t repair the chunk that was taken out by the creature or creatures who did that little bit of damage, we were quite lucky that they didn’t like the taste of ink (we think). So, the only part they ate happened to be the corner of the pages that didn’t have anything written on it and all the information Chomp contained is actually still there to be read.

What’s the moral of the story?

So why are we telling you about all this damage?

Because, before the fire when our little rodent was having a feast (or a sleep), they didn’t touch the cover. So, from the outside Chomp looked fine and dandy… all pretty sitting there on the shelf, ready to be accessed. Anyone walking past that shelf would have been none the wiser of what was going on inside.

And that, my friends, is why you should check your records, and why re-using records is a good thing… because that’s when you’ll notice the problems.

We show Chomp to all visitors on our tours because it is quite a brilliant example of not only the damage that can occur without you even knowing but also why you shouldn’t dismiss a damaged record as done for just yet… because most of the time it can be salvaged.  

More information

For more information on all things preserving records, check out our advice on the website on storing, protecting and caring for records – both digital and physical – and salvaging damaged records.

If you do have any damaged records and are not sure what to do, or want to know more about storing your records, you can always contact the preservation team for advice on salvage, storage conditions, preserving different formats, and even best practice to keep your records safe.

Remember, you can contact the Government Records team via email, telephone (3037 6630), Records Connect and on the website.

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