Installing the Leistler bookcase
This massive bookcase is the centrepiece of Room 101: Europe and America 1800-1900. Previously, for about twenty years, it was shown in another gallery, and the challenge for the Museum was to dismantle and transport it across the museum. This time-lapse photography sequence was recorded as the bookcase was reassembled as a record for the future.
The dismantling, cleaning, recording and reconstruction of the Leistler bookcase took place intermittently over about four weeks. Between four and ten technicians, conservators, curators and photographers worked on the bookcase at different times.
We found that the bookcase could be dismantled into distinct elements, but that some of these were very large and heavy. For example, the horizontal surface above the banks of drawers is a single timber element almost six metres long. The two central glass vitrines are each octagonal drums sitting on mechanisms that allow them to revolve. Although the topmost decoration could be removed, the vitrines did not break down into units that could be easily handled. In fact, we found that they could not be removed from their previous gallery until they were laid on their sides in specially design cradles.
When shown at the Great Exhibition in 1851 the Leistler firm's exhibits were described as 'massive, bold and masculine in design, and well adapted to a palace'. This bookcase was a 'cathedral in wood'. Afterwards Emperor Franz Joseph of Austria presented it to Queen Victoria. It was installed first in Buckingham Palace and later in Holyrood Palace, Edinburgh. It was given to the University of Edinburgh who gave it to the V&A in 1967.