A seemingly unremarkable brown book, now over 120 years old, is in urgent need of conservation before it goes on display to the public, for the first time in its history, in May at the Barber Institute of Fine Arts.

Harry Gem’s Scrapbook

The Gem Scrapbook is held in the archives of the Birmingham Central Library and contains newspaper cuttings, correspondence, photographs and drawings giving an insight into the life of Major TH Gem, known to all as Harry. To lovers and historians of lawn tennis the Gem Scrapbook is the equivalent of the Holy Grail containing as it does copies of the first printed rules of the Leamington Club, the world’s first lawn tennis club set up in 1872 by Gem and Perera.

The conservator reports: “Harry Gem’s scrapbook is made up of various sized items bound together into a volume. The items have been pasted onto guard papers which have then been stitched into the spine. This method of binding often causes damage to the items within but may be desirable as an ‘object’ to be preserved in its entirety. The item in question is very fragile and has split along the edges of the guard papers.  Several pages have become completely detached. The position of the item within the binding and the design of the binding itself do not lend themselves well to display because of the shallow angle of opening. The preferred option is to remove the item from the binding completely for repair.  This may damage the binding and result in the stitching of other areas coming undone, loosening of the pages etc.  It would therefore be advisable to break down the volume and store the material as individual items in polyester sleeves, rather than having them rebound.  This would benefit the items themselves (particularly the photographs and newscuttings).”

The Harry Gem Project has launched a public appeal for the £1,000.00 needed for the conservation work. The first donation to the fund comes from Wright Hassall, the Leamington law firm which, as executor to Harry’s widow, presented the scrapbook to Birmingham Central Library in February 1900, following Ellen’s death in December 1899.

Professor Ann Sumner – herself a keen tennis player – is curator of the Court on Canvas, Tennis in Art exhibition at the Barber Institute of Fine Arts  27th May – 18 September 2011. Professor Sumner says: “The Gem Scrapbook will be a vital part and key focus of A Gem of a Game, a complimentary exhibition running alongside Court on Canvas which will explore the early history of lawn tennis and its local connections through artefacts such as early tennis racquets and equipment, women’s tennis outfits and other fascinating memorabilia.”

Birmingham Central Library archive reference: Gem TH Scrapbook 150861 ZZ32
Click photographs to enlarge.