The Eric Dingwall Papers

Welcome to the Eric Dingwall project! This was a project funded by the Wellcome Trust to catalogue and conserve just one of the University of London’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 7th 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, photographic negatives and prints, and technical correspondence files.


Dingwall’s Haunting and Poltergeist Investigation Kit

In terms of the types of physical material that are present in the collection, the most common are: photographic prints, glass plate negatives and lantern slides, correspondence files, index cards and scrapbooks of press cuttings and reports, letters, printed leaflets and photographs.

This variety of material present made the conservation of the collection extremely tricky, as each type of material has very specific requirements, which had to be factored in when deciding on a treatment plan and the long term care of the collection. The conservation was mainly focused on the scrapbooks, many of which had structural damage. Most of the other material just required new packaging and housing.


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 the research material to be adhered in by Dingwall.
  • The date of the content ranges from the late 19th century through to the late 20th.
  • 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.

MS912/1/18/1 – an example of a scrapbook containing both newsprint and photographs

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.


Ding 13

MS912/1/35 before treatment


  • H: 362mm, W: 265mm, D: 60mm
  • 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.
  • 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. It has a hollow back.
  • The leather appears to be calf, which has been imprinted to look like goat.
  • There is gold tooling on the spine, at the tail the editor’s name, and five small illustrations of the world.
  • The material within includes newsprint cuttings, manuscript letters, type written letters, reports, printed material and photographs. The material, for the most part, appears to be adhered with paste. Many items however, particularly the photographs, have been adhered with pressure sensitive tape.



  • Both boards are missing, including the end pages. However the spine leather remains and is almost completely intact – some loose fragments were found in the box. The head and tail of the spine leather were also very worn.
  • A layer of mull could be seen under the spine leather, going over the top of the hollow – possibly a later repair?
  • Too much material had been added to the book, which had caused the text block to swell and eventually the joints to break. The boards subsequently became detached and were missing.
Ding 11

Tail of spine showing missing head caps


  • Tearing had occurred to the first page at the top and also along the tail edge. There were also vertical cuts in the paper where the preceding pages had been removed.
  • Many of the items adhered into the textblock by Dingwall protrude from the edges of the text block and so had become ragged – particularly the brittle newsprint items.
  • The PST used on some items had degraded and become yellow, in many cases staining the items to which it was adhered. There was also many items on which the PST adhesive had become so oxidised and brittle, that it had failed the item became loose.
Ding 9

Degraded pressure sensitive tape



  • The spine leather was carefully removed and stored to be reattached later. The spine was cleaned down to remove all the original animal glue adhesive.
Ding 8

The spine after cleaning

  • Extra section stubs were sewn onto the text block to increase the width of the spine. New endleaves of a Western wove paper were made and sewn onto the text block.
Ding 14

Head of the spine showing the sections added to widen the spine to match the text block

  • The spine was then lined with layers of a thick Kozo tissue and Aerolinen, adhered with wheat starch paste.
  • 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. Aerolinen was toned with acrylic paints and used to cover the faces of the boards.
Ding 7

The text block with new boards and leather added

  • The old, original spine leather was pasted back in place.

Material within:

  • Due to time restrictions, only items where the PST had completely failed were treated. For these, the cellophane carrier was removed, any remaining tacky adhesive rubbed off with a crepe square and finally they were hinged back into position with Kozo tissue and wheat starch paste.
Ding 10

Before treatment – showing the opening of the book and broken stuck on endbands

Ding 3

After treatment – showing the opening of the text block and new endbands

Ding 12

The spine before treatment

Ding 1

The spine after treatment

It was decided to leave the photographic material in situ because of their relevance to the items adjacent to them. Interleaving was considered, but dismissed due to the risk of the interleaving material becoming crumpled and causing more damage to the surface of the photographs. Sleeving the photographs would add extra bulk to an already over stuffed binding, and would mean they were in danger of sliding out of the book.

Ding 5

Reattachment of photographs – PST removed

Ding 4

The Kozo used to attach the photographs

Ding 6

MS912/1/35 – After treatment

Ding 2

The scrapbook in its new box


Within the collection are two Victorian Carte-de-visite albums, c. 1860. They are examples of two common binding structures, which exhibited similar breakdown of the spines.



  • The album is full bound in goat leather with pieces of ivory attached to the front board
  • The album contains a mix of gelatine and albumen prints
  • The spine and lining had detached, and the front board along with the first leaf had also detached
  • Failure of spine adhesive



  • The album is full bound in calf leather, textured to look like goat, heavily stamped and tooled on boards
  • The album contains a mix of gelatine and albumen prints
  • The spine leather had detached, plus failure of spine adhesive
  • Multiple tears on book block facing papers


With the first album (BO), which is believed to be the earlier of the two, each leaf of the book block is connected to the next by a cloth hinge. When the album is open the spine flexes at an acute angle, which over time had caused any linings and the leather to become detached.


BO spine before treatment


BO – detachment of left board and first leaf of book block

The second album (BP) has the addition of a stub at the spine of each leaf, which allows the pages to be opened flatter with less flexing of the spine. However, similar damage had occurred.


BP – spine before treatment


BP – red cloth hinges connected to extra stubs


Repair to both albums was quite similar. The main aim was to keep the spine linings as strong but thin as possible to allow for maximum flexibility and to keep the style similar to how it would have been originally:

  • Tears to book block facing papers were repaired with kozo tissue and wheat starch paste.
  • After removing the remaining lining and adhesive from the spines, BO was re-lined with a very thin kozo tissue. BP with a thicker K36 tissue.
  • For both the original machine sewn endbands were reattached with wheat starch paste, then a lining of thin non-bleached cotton was added. For BO this just covered the area between the endbands (see image below), for BP it covered the whole spine area.
  • The cloth edges were left with an overhang, which was adhered onto the inside of the boards, to create a strong joint.
  • A hollow of archival craft was hinged in position on each of the spines.
  • New double hydrolysable goat skin leather was toned with Sellaset dyes, then adhered over the hollow and under the original leather on the boards.
  • Fragments of the original spine leather was adhered on top.

BO – attachment on head bands and non-bleached cotton


BO – hollow of archival manila hinged into position prior to new leather spine covering

Having consulted a photograph conservation expert it was decided not to carry out treatment on the photographs themselves. Interleaving each pages was considered, as was creating a polyester sleeve for each photograph but both of these would lead to extra strain being put on the album bindings.

CDV 10

BO – after treatment


Bo – improved opening of the album

CDV 11

BP – after treatment

CDV 12

BP – opening of the album with the support of a hollow

New clamshell boxes made from PAT tested materials were made for the long term storage of the albums. It was recommended to the library that the albums be stored in an environment where the RH is at a set point between 30 and 50% and the temperature be kept at a set point between 16 and 23 degrees celsius.


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