How to create a historical facsimile

12 December 2019


12 December 2019


Find out how we make historical facsimiles like those found in the Brunel Institute in this interesting and unique how to!

Find out how we make historical facsimiles in this how to!

Facsimiles can be created to enhance exisiting museum displays or protect original collection objects that can no longer be displayed. This is particularly the case when it comes to paper objects exposed to harmful light levels: too much light can speed up the deterioration of such objects, and if exposed for too long, historically significant images and written text can fade, causing irreversible damage. Facsimiles can therefore be used to replace original collection objects when they need to come off display for their protection.

It is important to note that we at Brunel’s SS Great Britain use facsimiles very rarely – where we can, we will always use the real collection object.


Before beginning any facsimile project, it is important to know the object you’re creating a copy of, in terms of size and composition.

Make sure you have a high resolution digital copy or scan of any pages you may be replicating so that none of the detail gets lost during the printing phase.


Brunel’s Great Eastern Sketchbook, which until very recently, was on display in Being Brunel, needed to come off display for conservation purposes. The object itself is integral to telling the story of Brunel as an innovative engineer and designer, so we looked at the possibility of creating a facsimile to sit in its place.

The facsimile needed to inhabit a display case in the museum surrounded by other original collection objects. The materials used therefore needed to be conservation-safe and present no immediate threat to the current condition of the other collection pieces.

A blank sketchbook needed to be found, as close as possible to the object’s original measurements. This sketchbook also needed to be made of acid-free paper.

Glue was needed to stick the sketchbook pages copied from the original. This was purchased from Preservation Equipment Limited (PEL) and was a white PH-neutral adhesive.

A dark crimson coloured paint was required to match the exterior colour of the sketchbook’s rebound cover. This was sourced from Golden Acrylics in the colour Red Medium, and was checked to ensure that no off-gassing (a process where harmful chemicals escape in the form of gas presenting potential harm to objects in a confined space) would occur.

Acid-free parchment paper and white card was also required for the process.


The first step is to paint the cover and inner borders of the sketchbook to match as closely as possible the colour of the rebound sketchbook.

Make sure to cover the edges with a slip of acid-free paper and secure them down whilst painting the inner borders to prevent paint bleed and create a clean line.

Once the paint has completely dried, the next step is artworking the inside of the book, to mimic the contents displayed in the original.

Firstly, measure the width of a page within the sketchbook as close to the spine as possible.

Mark these measurements out on a piece of A3 acid-free white card along with an accurate depth. Cutting and sticking these pieces along the edges of each page nearest the spine will mimic the look of the rebound pages in the sketchbook.

The next stage is editing the pages to the size required to produce as faithful a copy of the original as possible. This can be done in an editing software like Photoshop. If editing a photograph, make sure all the detail on the page is easily viewable and that colours and exposures match the original as closely as possible.

Once the image is edited to the right dimensions and ready for printing, this is where the A3 parchment paper comes in. Print each page and cut any excess using a guillotine.

The next stage requires a close study of the original and the printed pages to carry out further detailed artworking of the page on display.

As long as the image is of a high quality, it is possible to pick out age spots and see where the pages are sewn together, as well as parts where repair work has been done.

Very carefully sew the two sketchbook pages together with an accurately coloured cotton thread. Use page clamps to hold the two pages together and pre-punch the sewing holes along where the seam has been printed on each page. This will mean that the actual thread completely covers and disguises the print edges.

Once you have the two pages sewn together, sit them in place over the proposed pages for display to make sure the sizing is accurate.

Proceed with artworking all the age stains visible with warm water mixed with a standard teabag.

It’s important to constantly look at the reference images of the object being copied, to make sure you are accurately identifying the correct areas of ageing and getting an accurate depth of colour.

Next is to identify and replicate page repairs. This is typically carried out on genuine paper objects using Japanese, or washi, paper. The same look can be achieved by using masking tape dampened with water and left to dry.

Lastly, to perfect the pages which will be on view to the public, lightly use a pencil to get rid of the “just printed” look of the sketches. This is also really effective in making the more ghostly images look much more accurate to the original.

Once the artworking has been complete, secure, using the conservation-safe glue, a strip of acid-free white card to the underside of the bottom sketchbook page. This will make inserting it into the sketchbook much simpler and achieve the visual look of a tipped in page to a new bound volume.

Secure the pages into the sketchbook and make sure they are level and allow the glue to dry.

As a finishing touch, add strips of melinex to each side of the sketchbook to secure the pages in place, ready to go on display.

Author: Natalie Fey, Interpretation Officer

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