A lovely snack for silverfish

Silverfish are one of my favourite pests. Yes, I know that’s strange- they like to eat things that are rich in starch, and so are a nightmare for anyone looking after historic books or paper. But I like them because they are easy to identify with the naked eye, as they are about 2 mm long and a really distinctive shape. When we found a whole gang in one of our pest traps the other day we knew straight away what we were dealing with.

Close up of a pest trap, containing twelve silverfish and a moth.

Twelve silverfish, and a moth.

Ordinarily we wouldn’t worry too much- every house (even yours!) has a background level of insect activity, but the store where we found it is where we keep Mrs Greville’s precious photo albums and newspaper cuttings books. The latter are filled with nearly every newspaper article ever written about Mrs Greville and her family. Filled with starch and glue, they are an absolute silverfish feast.

We’ve been checking the books and albums page by page for signs of damage. This job is an absolute joy- it’s a great opportunity to browse this fascinating archive of Mrs Greville’s life. One of my favourite finds is this relaxed family photo of our current Queen running down one of Polesden’s garden paths as a child- with her mother following behind at a more sedate pace.

Photograph of four adults following Princess Elizabeth as she skips down a garden path.

Princess Elizabeth, the Duchess of York, and friends.

Most of the books seem fine, however when I checked the final book in the set:

Close up of an open cuttings book. Holes have been bitten through the paper by silverfish.

I was worried any damage would be hard to spot, until I saw this.

Classic signs of silverfish nibbling- they’ve ‘grazed’ through the surface of the paper, and only bitten all the way through in a few places.

We can’t know for certain that this is new damage. It could have happened at any time in the last 70 years. But we have to be cautious. I’m checking every week that the store is staying cool and dry using a portable Novasina device, which measures temperature and relative humidity. If the humidity goes over 65%, then I can easily reduce this using a dehumidifier or heater. Simple steps like this will go a long way to discourage our unwanted guests.

If we see any new signs of damage to the books, or continually high numbers of silverfish, then we will know we have an active problem. At that point we can call for back up from a conservator to help us say good-bye to them for good.


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