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Posts Tagged ‘archives’

In September, TSLAC Conservation worked on the Map Showing the Beaumont – Sour Lake – Saratoga Oil Fields of Texas (nd) from the Sam Houston Regional Library and Research Center in Liberty, TX.  This 60 cm x 45.5 cm map features printer’s ink on machine-made, wove paper.  Adhesive staining, tears, and losses presented challenges for its upcoming exhibit.

Map before treatment

Map before treatment

Map after treatment

Map after treatment

A sticker-style label attached to the back of the map had caused pronounced staining on the front, upper right corner.  Solvent testing revealed that a mixture of acetone, toluene, and xylene was most effective on the stain, likely indicating an acrylic-based adhesive.  Successive poultices of the solvent mixture with Fuller’s earth provided some stain reduction, but better results were achieved by rolling with a solvent-dampened swab.  Care was taken in applying the solvent mixture over a ball-point pen annotation that was revealed beneath the removed label.  This ink proved surprisingly stable in the solvent mixture.

Adhesive staining and ball-point pen ink were revealed beneath the removed label.

Adhesive staining and ball-point pen ink were revealed beneath the removed label.

The map was washed and deacidified on wet blotter to reduce overall staining and localized tidelines.  Fills were constructed of handmade, Ruscombe Mill paper toned with water-thinned acrylic paint.  Fills were cut to shape, pared along their edges for a smooth seam, and adhered with wheat starch paste.  Extensive edge tears were then mended with NARA heat-set tissue.

Toned, shaped fills await final trimming.

Toned, shaped fills await final trimming.

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Recently TSLAC Conservation has been diversifying our paper mending capabilities with heat-set and remoistenable tissues.  These tissues can offer several advantages, including decreased working time and lessened exposure to water.  Such advantages are key as we prepare many items for the Sam Houston Regional Library and Research Center’s redesigned exhibit space, opening later this year.

A particularly useful heat-set tissue recipe comes from the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA.)  The recipe, presented at the 2015 meeting of the American Institute for Conservation, features an adhesive blend of acrylic Avanse and Plextol products mixed with water.  The adhesive can be cast on various weights of tissue, dried, and quickly applied with a tacking iron.  The tissue is reversible in ethanol and requires no water for use.  It is ideal for manuscripts with iron gall ink that are not otherwise undergoing aqueous treatment.  For these documents, minimizing water exposure minimizes the risk that damaging iron ions will migrate through the paper, thus requiring more intensive intervention.

Applying heat-set tissue with a tacking iron to a manuscript with iron gall ink.

Applying heat-set tissue with a tacking iron to a manuscript with iron gall ink.

Though mending with wheat starch paste is still the preferred standard, we have found the NARA heat-set tissue to be a useful alternative for specific applications.  NARA artificial aging tests indicated that optical brighteners in Avanse do not migrate into mended documents.  However, we will remain alert for future testing on this issue, as well as others relevant to the long-term behavior of acrylic-based adhesives in paper mending.

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The Address on African Slave Trade in Houston, TX is a rare 1859 pamphlet documenting a speech given by Peter Gray, an attorney, judge, and legislator in early Texas.  The item arrived in the conservation lab whip-stitched into an aging pamphlet binder.  The pamphlet’s leaves were silked, a previous preservation treatment that has now proved problematic.  Partly as a result of the silking, many of the acidic paper leaves were torn and detached, putting them at risk for further damage and loss during use.  The acidic pamphlet binder was also causing the leaves to become more brown and brittle over time.

Before treatment: silked, acidic, broken leaves.

Before treatment: silked, acidic, broken leaves.

Critical details about the pamphlet’s structure were documented during disbinding.  The pamphlet’s leaves were folded into two sections, but typical, pamphlet-style sewing was not observed.  Instead, the item appeared to have been side-sewn several times in the past.  This restrictive sewing method is not viable for fragile, brittle paper.

During treatment: mending tears

During treatment: mending tears

Two treatment options were considered.  One approach was to re-create a modified pamphlet: rebuild broken folds, punch new sewing holes, and sew with a pamphlet stitch.  Another option was to enclose each leaf in a Mylar sleeve and bind the sleeves with stiff posts.  We chose the first, more conservative option, which preserves more of the item’s original structure.  After treatment, we judged that the paper would be sufficiently strong to tolerate gentle flexing and anticipated use.

After treatment: pamphlet is sewn into a paper case typical of its period.

After treatment: pamphlet is sewn into a paper case typical of its period.

Leaves were washed, deacidified, desilked, and resized with gelatin.  Then, the paper was mended, losses were filled, and the pamphlet was rebuilt as described above.  Replacing the whip-stitching with typical pamphlet sewing allows an unrestricted opening that will minimize future damage.  The completed pamphlet was sewn into a paper case and housed in an acid-free pamphlet binder for safe storage.

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TSLAC Conservation has recently been working on a collection of 89 19th century Texas Supreme Court dockets.  These volumes document state Supreme Court proceedings and are frequently accessed by staff and patrons. The large number of items requires a blend of collections conservation and single-item treatment strategies.  Prioritizing collections issues has quickly improved access while freeing subsequent time for single-item treatment.

Texas Supreme Court dockets (foreground.)  The yellow color in these photographs comes from ultraviolet filtering in collections storage.

Texas Supreme Court dockets (foreground.) The yellow color in these photographs comes from ultraviolet filtering in collections storage.

First, a preliminary survey was conducted to characterize the oversize ledgers and classify them by severity of condition issues.  Then, collections stabilization procedures were streamlined to take place primarily within collections storage.  Once this is complete, severely damaged items will be targeted for full treatment in the conservation lab.  This workflow has enabled efficient treatment of the greatest number of items and flexible accommodation of other ongoing lab projects.

Portable treatment station in collections storage.

Portable treatment station in collections storage.

The project has presented several challenges.  The time-intensive demands of conservation documentation must be balanced with the pace of work required in a collections-level project.  This highlights the tension between product and process in an archives setting.  Further, efficiency-minded, single-item treatment techniques must be developed for oversize account books. TSLAC Conservation hopes to discuss the project’s challenges, techniques, and successes at the 2017 American Institute of Conservation annual meeting next year.

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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.

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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

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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.

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