Conservation Concerns

Iron Gall Ink

Iron gall ink deterioration is one of the primary concerns in manuscript conservation. The wide variety of ingredients and methods used to make the ink over several centuries, combined with the variations in both ongoing environmental conditions and substrate composition, have ensured that the number of variables influencing treatment options is immense.

The challenges posed by iron gall ink are not only significant in terms of viable treatment options but are compounded by the use of the ink in many of the world’s most valuable and irreplaceable treasures—making further research into this area of conservation absolutely essential.

The primary concerns in iron gall ink document conservation involve:

  • progressive (and often rapid) fading
  • corrosion of the ink itself, which leads to loss of both ink and substrate
  • ongoing acidity, which affects not only the document itself but other pages and materials near it
  • delamination and lifting of the ink
  • changes in the ink composition, sometimes mid-document, as the ink has been for so many centuries a variable organic home recipe
  • and, more often than not, a combination of these issues alongside document deterioration resulting from other reasons

As the primary philosophy of conservation treatment focuses on stabilizing the item to give the longest-lasting, most accessible state using the least-invasive treatment and with the lowest risk possible,[1] the options for treatment often narrow to a very specific range of options depending on the individual document. Trained document conservators have the ability to navigate these decisions with respect to the vast number of variables in each document.[2]


[1] e.g., for further reading,