Conserving the Dingwall collection

In 2012-13 the Library received funding from the Wellcome Trust to catalogue and conserve the papers of Eric Dingwall, which include albums and scrapbooks. Rachael Smither was employed on a six-month contract to undertake urgent conservation work and writes as follows:

A survey of the collection found that:

  • There were 77 scrapbooks containing press cuttings, reports, photographs, leaflets, letters and other ephemeral material.
  • Most are 20th-century printed books with their pages trimmed back to leave stubs and guards, allowing room for research material to be adhered in.
  • The date of the content ranges from the late 19th century through to the 1980s.
  • All of the scrapbooks needed some sort of repackaging and almost a third were in need of structural repair.
  • Over half contain photographic material and nearly all contain newsprint.
An example of one of the scrapbooks which contains both photographs and newsprint.

An example of one of the scrapbooks which contains both photographs and newsprint.

The aim of the conservation treatment was to get as many as possible of the damaged scrapbooks into a functioning condition, which would allow them to be safely handled by the readers. Below is an example of scrapbook where extensive treatment was required.

MS912/1/35

Condition

  • The original binding is an early edition of G.E.O. Newnes’ Citizen’s Atlas of the World.
  • Approximately a third of all the text block pages have been trimmed back to allow Dingwall to insert his research material.
  • However too much material has been added, which has caused the text block to swell and eventually the joints have broken. The boards subsequently became detached and are missing.
  • Due to the missing boards it is not known what the original binding style was, but later editions from the same period appear to be mainly half bound with leather and cloth.

Treatment

  • Extra section stubs were sewn onto the text block to increase the width of the spine.
  • Endbands were also sewn on to help improve the strength of the overall structure. Although not an original feature of the binding, it was felt that they would help support the structure and shape of the spine.
  • New boards were made and attached. Tanned goat skin was used to cover the spine and corners, with toned Aerolinen adhered to the outsides of the boards.
  • The old, original spine leather was pasted back in place. 
Before treatment.

Before treatment.

After treatment.

After treatment.

Spine before treatment.

Spine before treatment.

Spine after treatment.

Spine after treatment.

Head before treatment.

Head before treatment.

Head after treatment.

Head after treatment.

Re-housing of the scrapbooks:

All 77 scrapbooks were re-housed in custom made clamshell boxes. 

Scrapbook in clamshell box.

Scrapbook in clamshell box.

  

 

Eric Dingwall Papers Fully Catalogued

Eric John DIngwall who died in 1986 at the probable age of 95, the official record of his birth in Sri Lanka was eaten by termites, was one of the best read men of his time. He had many unusual, somewhat esoteric interests, and was a keen collector of books, curiosa, objects d’art and automata as well as being a bibliographer, cataloguer and conserver of documents. Thanks to funding by the Wellcome Trust the documents and other material in the Dingwall collection, held in the archives at Senate House, have now been fully catalogued.

The collection comprises a series of scrapbooks and index cards that can be cross referenced, various notebooks and diaries and over three hundred folders of correspondence, closed until 2025 as per Dingwall’s instructions, that contain nine different languages, as well as photographic material and his “haunting and poltergeist” toolkit. The material reflects the subjects that interested him most deeply and reflect his vast knowledge of relevant European and American literature, old and new, and often of literature in classical languages.

There seem to be two principal areas of interest. The first, the study of sexuality, includes human sexual practices and the culturally conditioned attitudes to them, together with erotic literature in all languages. In connection to the latter he became better known in academic circles as the Honorary Curator of the British Museum Library’s “locked case” or as some said “the pornographer royal”. Dingwall added to the collection and bequeathed to it some of his own substantial holdings.

The second area of interest, and for which he was probably better known, was that of psychical research. He investigated many curious cases and had sittings with most of the European and American mediums in the interwar years. His conclusions were largely negative though he admitted witnessing events that greatly puzzled him. This interest was linked to his long-standing interest in conjuring (he was an honorary vice-president of the Magic Circle) and also with his interest in religions and religious beliefs. He believed psychical research could be an important weapon in the ongoing struggle between superstition and rationality. Allied to his interest in psychical research was his interest in, and wide knowledge of, the history of mesmerism and hypnotism, a subject about which his writing broke fresh ground.  

It is hoped the cataloguing of the Eric Dingwall papers at Senate House Library will help facilitate research in area of psychical research and its related subjects as well as into the area of medical and scientific research into sexual behaviour.  An electronic copy of the catalogue can be found on the Archives and Manuscripts catalogue and a printed copy is held in the Historic Collections Reading Room.

The Dingwall Papers: Conservation of a Diverse Collection

EJD cropped 1Welcome to the Dingwall project blog! This blog will follow a project funded by the Wellcome Trust to catalogue and conserve just one of the University’s diverse collections held in the archives of Senate House Library.

First off, a brief introduction to the life of Eric John Dingwall with some key points from his life:

  • Born in Ceylon in around 1891 (Dingwall was unsure of his actual date of birth)
  • A Graduate of Pembroke College, Cambridge, he joined the staff of the Cambridge University Library in 1915 as a volunteer and went on to become an assistant librarian, leaving in 1918
  • In his youth he developed an enduring interest in magic and was eventually elected to the Magic Circle.
  • This informed his approach to the investigation of the physical phenomena of mediumship, his major contribution to the Society for Psychical Research which he joined in 1920.
  • In 1921 he spent a year in the United States as Director of the Department of Physical Phenomena at the American Society for Psychical Research
  • He was then appointed research officer to the British Society in 1922. He also had an interest in sexual deviation and peculiar sexual practices, which annoyed some of his colleagues at the Society and led to the termination of his appointment in 1927
  • Released from his responsibilities at the SPR he continued to publish books
  • In 1932 he was awarded his DSc from University College London
  • After the war he became Honorary Assistant Keeper at the British Museum Library (later the British Library) where he became a recognised authority on historical erotica, as well as on magic and psychical research
  • He also continued to publish books including two collections of short biographies of strange characters
  • Married twice, his first wife left him and his second died in 1976. Dingwall spent his remaining years independently and alone until his death on 7 August 1986.

In his will, Dingwall stipulated that his collection of notes and press cuttings be gifted to the University of London on his death. The collection arrived at the University in 1990, and is housed in the Historic Collections department of Senate House Library. It includes slip indexes, scrapbooks, albums and technical correspondence files. After a successful application to the Wellcome Trust, a grant was given to enable the cataloguing and conservation of the collection.

Once catalogued the collection will be open to viewing for research under supervision with the exception of the technical correspondence, which will remain closed until 2025 (as requested by Dingwall in his will).