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TSLAC’s upcoming exhibit, Wish You Were Here, opening April 4, highlights Texas travel and tourism with a spotlight on TSLAC’s postcard and photograph collections.  Exhibit preparation takes place in the Conservation Lab. Among other tasks, exhibit preparation can involve making cradles and mounts, matting, and devising custom display devices.

This San Antonio travel brochure is being prepared for flat display in a special exhibit case with interactive drawers. The brochure is mounted to thick card with non-adhesive, archival plastic corners. In order to keep the item from sliding in the drawer, small magnets are attached to the back of the card. These magnets anchor the item to the magnetized drawer to maintain stability throughout the exhibit.

Travel brochure mounted to stiff card with archival plastic corners.

Travel brochure mounted to stiff card with archival plastic corners.

This Texas Panhandle postcard requires a custom display ramp. The ramp is constructed of acid-free, lignin-free corrugated board chosen for its light weight and strength. The display ramp is sized to accommodate a second postcard during the latter part of the exhibit in order to minimize light damage on both items. Postcards are secured to the ramp with thin strips of non-adhesive, archival plastic.

Building custom ramp for postcard.

Building custom ramp for postcard.

Postcard mounted to ramp.

Postcard mounted to ramp.

Some items require more extensive preparation work. These three postcard books are being matted for display in a large exhibit frame. The frame allows viewing from both the front and back, so the postcard books must be carefully fitted with two matching mats. Reversible hinges made of thin Japanese tissue hold the postcard books flat and vertical.

Cutting a mat template.

Cutting a mat template.

Testing fit of mat template with postcard books.

Testing fit of mat template with postcard books.

This summer, TSLAC Conservation participated in an informal learning series called Thinkery21. Hosted at the Thinkery (formerly the Austin Children’s Museum,) Thinkery21 invites adults to visit the museum after hours to explore a variety of science- and arts-related programming. The evening, titled “Inkery,” offered talks and demonstrations about ink and printing.

While participants made iron gall ink a few feet away, TSLAC Conservation discussed the prevalence and challenges of iron gall ink in archives. We examined photographs of famous Texas documents written with iron gall ink, including the Travis Letter and the Texas Declaration of Independence. We also tested visitors’ newly made ink with indicator paper to look for excess iron ions. These ions point to accelerated future degradation. At this point, many concerned participants asked, “But what can you do?”

This excellent question has driven significant conservation research for many years. Left untreated, iron ions from iron gall ink will break the chains of cellulose that compose paper. This causes the paper to become brown, brittle, and prone to break. In extreme cases, inked areas can completely drop out of the paper.

Meusebach Treaty

This treaty on Texas Comanche affairs shows advanced iron gall corrosion. Large sections of the “G” have completely dropped out of the paper.

One response increasingly used by our lab is to treat the document with calcium phytate. This treatment employs a principle called chelation. During chelation, the calcium phytate locks up the dangerous iron ions so they can’t attack the paper. This is much the same process as when a person takes antioxidants to block free radicals in his or her body. Although the iron ions are still present, they no longer threaten continuing damage to the treated document.

TSLAC Conservation was pleasantly surprised that the Thinkery21 merrymakers were so receptive to a (brief) lecture on paper chemistry! We hope the event provided a useful window onto the surprising complexities of ink on paper.

The phase box is a standard conservation housing that provides physical and environmental protection. In June, TSLAC Conservation modified a phase box to approximate an original protective structure.

House Documents v.112, 58th Congress, 2nd Session, 1903-04 is a collection of soil maps published by the US Government Printing Office (GPO.) Rather than bind the maps into an atlas structure, GPO chose instead to box them as loose, folded leaves. Unique care was then taken to make the box look like a book:

House Documents v 112, 58th Congress, 2nd Session, 1903-1904

The box’s outer wrapper was covered in brown sheep leather. Spine labels are consistent with the look of GPO bindings.

House Documents v 112, 58th Congress, 2nd Session, 1903-1904

The box’s inner wrapper featured textile hinges and a printed map list.

It seems likely that this unusual structure originally protected the folded maps on its top and bottom, but these components are now missing. The back, covered board is missing, as well.

These maps receive relatively light patron use, so it was acceptable to leave them folded and boxed rather than flattened in a folder. Though the quickest treatment would be simply creating a new box, a bit of extra planning and time allowed preservation of the original housing’s careful aesthetic design.

First, a new inner wrapper was constructed of lightweight cardstock. The list of maps was lifted from the original inner wrapper and adhered in the same position in the new structure. Then, an outer phase box was constructed and the covering boards adhered. A new back board was made and covered in toned Japanese tissue.

House Documents v 112, 58th Congress, 2nd Session, 1903-1904

Existing and new boards are adhered to the flattened phase box. Here, the replacement board has not yet been toned to match the leather.

The result is a more robustly protective structure that retains the look and labeling of the original. This box better protects the maps inside and retains its unusual, carefully-designed appearance.

House Documents v 112, 58th Congress, 2nd Session, 1903-1904

New phase box with covering boards.

Canvas covers protect many oversize ledger bindings in TSLAC’s collection. Like modern paper covers for children’s textbooks, canvas covers were meant to safeguard government records through years of heavy use. Unlike modern paper covers, canvas covers are original to their bindings. They feature leather corners and decorative paper doublures (seen when the book opens) that match the volume.

General Index to Court of Criminal Appeals, 1919-1947 (19 3/4” x 16” x 4”) with damaged canvas cover.

General Index to Court of Criminal Appeals, 1919-1947 (19 3/4” x 16” x 4”) with damaged canvas cover.

Inside the book, the canvas cover is backed with stiff card.  Leather corners, decorative paper, and manufacturer’s labels on the cover match the original binding.

Inside the book, the canvas cover is backed with stiff card. Leather corners, decorative paper, and manufacturer’s labels on the cover match the original binding.

Today, tattered canvas covers present a conservation conundrum. Is the cover simply a disposable protective layer at the end of its useful life? Or is it an inherent part of the binding that should be preserved? Given the abundance of government ledger bindings, can full treatment be justified and time-efficient?

These questions shaped treatment of the General Index to Court of Criminal Appeals, 1919-1947. Frequent use of this 40 lb+ book had left its canvas cover frayed and torn, with large losses at its edges and all along its spine. An ideal treatment would preserve legibility of labeling on the canvas cover and the exposed book’s spine for the use of reading room staff.

A treatment was designed to retain and stabilize the canvas cover. First, losses were filled with toned muslin. In order to achieve reversibility and prevent adhesive strike-through, heat-set tissue was applied beneath the torn edges of the canvas. Shaped, toned muslin patches were then adhered with PVA to bridge canvas losses.

Inserting toned muslin fills beneath canvas backed with heat-set tissue.

Inserting toned muslin fills beneath canvas backed with heat-set tissue.

Repairs to the spine leather were completed with linen-backed toned tissue. Then, the remaining segments of canvas cover were secured to the binding using a modified reback treatment. A reback is a common spine repair method in circulating collections. Since our canvas spine cover was missing, the remaining canvas cover was rebacked to the book’s original spine covering. This involved lifting material in the book’s hinges, adhering the loose canvas on the board’s inner edge with reversible Lascaux, and reattaching the original covering material.

Preparing hinge region to “reback” the remaining canvas cover to the book’s exposed spine covering.

Preparing hinge region to “reback” the remaining canvas cover to the book’s exposed spine covering.

In creating a hybrid structure of canvas cover and original binding, this treatment acknowledges both elements as integral parts of the volume. The treatment is aesthetically tidy, stabilizes the volume for ongoing use, and remains reversible with heat and solvent. The treatment required approximately 10 hours to complete, which is not unrealistic for other, prioritized volumes with similar condition issues.

Future versions of this treatment might revisit the use of heat-set tissue, which may prove to be somewhat too reversible in this application. In place of heat-set, inconspicuous sewing could improve durability while maintaining reversibility and aesthetic compatibility. However, sewing would be complicated by the inability to turn the cover inside out. TSLAC Conservation welcomes thoughts and discussion about this treatment.

Before treatment

Before treatment

After treatment

After treatment

Before treatment

Before treatment

After treatment

After treatment

Each year, the preservation community observes MayDay on May 1 to promote disaster preparedness and recovery. Along with Preservation Week (April 26 – May 2) and Preservation Month throughout May, MayDay is a great time to ensure that your family heirlooms are protected against harm.

Water is among the greatest threats to books, documents, and photographs. Water can cause permanent staining, fading, and warping. It also increases other risks, like mold and pest infestation. Here in Texas, hurricanes and thunderstorms make flooding a very real concern.

How can you guard your keepsakes from flood damage? One simple step is to store items off the floor. The majority of floods leave just a few inches of water behind. Storing materials in elevated cabinets or shelves keeps them out of harm’s way. If your storage furniture is flush to the ground, consider elevating it with bricks, cinder blocks, or other materials. Just a few inches of clearance can turn a potential disaster into a quick cleanup.

Preservation Week 2015

For more on this and other Preservation Week tips, visit TSLAC’s Facebook page. Happy MayDay!

Testing Tek-Wipe

Tek-Wipe is a new treatment material that has been much discussed by conservators during the annual meeting of the American Institute for Conservation and beyond. TekWipe is a reusable substitute for the blotter paper typically used in washing treatments. Conservators have used Tek-Wipe to dramatically reduce stains and tidelines in paper, as recently discussed in an Iowa State University Library blog.

TSLAC Conservation was curious whether the detailed methodology of the ISU blog could be successfully repeated. In February, one sheet of a Confederate muster roll exhibited unusually pervasive staining and tidelines. A Tek-Wipe washing component was added to our ongoing muster roll treatment procedures in order to observe its effect on the staining.

Muster roll sheet before treatment.

Muster roll sheet before treatment.

The treatment began typically for our muster roll project. The item was humidified and sprayed with a 50/50 water/ethanol mixture due to iron gall ink corrosion. It was then placed in two successive 10-minute water baths, the second one conditioned to pH 8.5 with calcium hydroxide. The treatment procedure was then adjusted to incorporate Tek-Wipe. The item was sandwiched between damp blotter, Tek-Wipe, and spun polyester for two hours, as detailed in the ISU blog. After the first hour, the pre-existing silk lining was removed from the document. The item was then dried in open air and with blotters. Japanese tissue fills and mends were applied with wheat starch paste, and the item was stored in an archival plastic sleeve.

Muster roll sheet after washing with TekWipe and water baths.

Muster roll sheet after washing with TekWipe and water baths.

This after-washing photograph shows that the Tek-Wipe treatment had a negligible impact on stains and tidelines. Why might this be? Many of the stains in this collection are oil-based and ink-based, rather than water-based as seen in the ISU methodology. It’s possible, then, that stains of this nature remain unaffected by water-based TekWipe washing. Further testing might identify a different solvent that has a greater impact than water. Such solvents would require careful testing to ensure media stability.

Until more formal, repeatable studies occur, informal observations like these can add to the conservation field’s growing knowledge of Tek-Wipe treatment procedures. With further testing, documentation, and information sharing, methodologies can evolve to meet treatment needs.

In preparation for our upcoming exhibit of treasured Texas icons, TSLAC Conservation completed treatment on the Travis Bible. This 1823 Bible may have been with Commander William Travis during the siege on the Alamo. At some past time, the Travis Bible sustained significant water damage, which caused its pages to swell. Major components of the outer binding had broken to accommodate the extra thickness of the paper.

One treatment goal was to stabilize the Bible’s spine and broken hinges with new leather. This process requires significant preparation, as the repair leather must first be dyed, burnished, and pared to match the binding. The leather was then shaped to the spine and adhered under the original leather on the boards, or covers. Stylistic elements of the headcaps and joints were fashioned according to typical 19th century binding aesthetics. Finally, the original spine covering was re-adhered.

Travis Bible

Dyeing repair leather

Travis Bible

Reattaching boards

A second goal was to stabilize eight silked leaves. Silking is a previous preservation strategy that reinforced fragile paper with a thin silk lining. Today, we know that silk’s acidity hastens paper’s degradation, and modern conservators instead work with pH-neutral Japanese tissue. During this treatment, the silk was removed and the leaves were mended with tissue as needed. However, three leaves of hand-written family history were especially brittle. Their ongoing use in the binding risked further chipping and loss. These leaves were removed, washed, desilked, deacidified, and housed in window mats. A custom enclosure was then created for the Bible and its removed components.

Travis Bible

Silked leaves removed from binding

630-53-Edit

De-silked leaf in window mat

The Travis Bible and other treasures will be on exhibit beginning January 27. Travis’ famous “Victory or Death” letter from the Alamo joins the exhibit February 23. A few before and after images summarize the Bible’s conservation treatment:

Travis Bible

Before

Travis Bible

After

Travis Bible

Before

Travis Bible

After

 

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