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Posts Tagged ‘conservation’

Periodically, TSLAC Conservation receives a volume for evaluation that looks something like this:

Executive Documents of the House of Representatives, First Session, 52nd Congress, 1890

Executive Documents of the House of Representatives, First Session, 52nd Congress, 1890

This book presents an example of a binding with stubs. This example is unusually large, but its design serves an important purpose. When a book contains fold-out maps, the maps attach to the binding with a single paper hinge at the spine. However, the folded map creates much more bulk than the hinge. Many bound, folded maps can create a book that is thicker on one side than the other. The resulting book is not square; in storage, uneven pressure will cause the boards to detach and the sewing to break.

To compensate for this problem, a binder can create a series of paper or board stubs between each map hinge to bulk up the spine. These stubs keep the book in square and reduce the risk of future damage. Higher-quality modern scrapbooks also feature similar bulking devices at the spine to accommodate photographs, clippings, and other ephemera.

Stubbed bindings such as the one pictured above are sometimes flagged for conservation treatment simply because of their unusual appearance. Actually, their structure is a promising indication that the binder planned ahead with the book’s longevity in mind. The book pictured above has no major structural issues, despite its size. The visible damage to the spine covering is primarily cosmetic rather than structural.

One possible conservation challenge for this type of book pertains to the maps inside rather than the binding. Repeatedly opening and re-folding these maps will cause tears over time, especially in brittle paper. In a high-use volume, a conservator might consider removing and flattening the maps for safer access. This decision would balance researcher access with the rarity, condition, and artifactual value of the binding.

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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.

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Scrapbooks pose unique challenges in conservation. They often feature a wide variety of rapidly deteriorating modern materials and adhesives. Full treatment is typically difficult to justify among other priorities, so strategies of stabilization, digitization, and reformatting are often pursued.

TSLAC’s recent conservation work included an exceptional scrapbook, a 1950s-era volume that documents our own agency. This handmade book features correspondence and handouts of the era, along with special pages that highlight institutional departments and functions with photographs and whimsical construction paper cut-outs. The rubber cement used to adhere many of these attachments had failed. Fortunately, these pages had been previously stabilized in archival plastic sleeves to keep the pieces together.

This scrapbook was an unusually strong candidate for conservation for two reasons. First, a limited number of leaves involving a limited number of materials required intensive intervention. Second, the handmade item’s unique documentation of agency operations made it a rare artifact of special value to TSLAC.

During treatment, detached photographs and paper cut-outs were re-adhered with wheat starch paste. Placement was determined according to existing adhesive staining. Reconstructed pages were returned to their sleeves, and the full binding was housed in a new, oversize phase box for flat storage. Before and after photos offer a window into 1950s TSLAC operations and period design aesthetics.

Before: Legislative Reference

Before: Legislative Reference

After: Legislative Reference

After: Legislative Reference

 

Before: Reading Room

Before: Reading Room

 

After: Reading Room

After: Reading Room

 

Before: Archives

Before: Archives

After: Archives

After: Archives (note “Repair and Restoration,” lower right)

 

Before: Processing

Before: Processing

After: Processing

After: Processing

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A unique item came to the lab for treatment in April: The Journal of the First Session of the Senate of the United States of America, 1789.   Though federal documents are not uncommon in our collection, this book stands out for its age and historical significance.  The Senate’s first item of business is of special note:

Senate Journal 1789

“Whereby it appears, that GEORGE WASHINGTON, ESQ. Was unanimously elected PRESIDENT, – And JOHN ADAMS, ESQ. Was duly elected VICE PRESIDENT, OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA.”

This book had a common condition problem.  Its hinges were broken where they had been repeatedly flexed with use.  Rather than apply repair tissue over the top of the hinge, as is a common, quick working method, a more delicate approach was chosen.  The leather that covered the spine and boards was carefully lifted and repair tissue was adhered underneath.  This created a mend that was less visually intrusive.  A drop-spine box was also created.  This type of box is typical of special collections materials and helps signify the item’s stature to users.

Since much of TSLAC’s conservation work focuses on 19th century Texas materials, this early American item was a surprise and a treat.

Senate Journal 1789

The Senate Journal of 1789 and its drop-spine box, after treatment.

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My shortage of January posts can be attributed to my thorough immersion in the planning stages of a significant effort to digitize TSLAC’s collection of cassette recordings of the proceedings of the Texas Senate, from 1972 – 2006.  These recordings document the laws and the lawmakers that shaped our state.  Listen to a sampling of the topics and colorful personalities in the collection here.

My work in the last month draws attention to the contrast between preservation strategies for books and paper vs. audio media.  For example, in January, most of the time I normally would have spent working with my hands at the workbench was instead spent working with the computer at my desk.  Conservation strategies for books and paper more frequently involve physical repair; for audio media, they more frequently involve transfer to new media, or, in my case, planning for that transfer.  While I’ve advocated in lectures and research for the artifactual value of audio media, practical realities dictate rapid transfer in the face of chemical decay and format obsolescence.  Digitization is just one reality for books and paper; it’s often the only reality for audio.

What’s interesting is that our decisions about whether to preserve original media route books and paper into the practice of conservation, while they route audio media into the practice of preservation.  Conservators are trained to work physically, and to use both science and craft knowledge to sustain cultural materials in their physical form.  Preservation administrators – note that extra word in the title – are trained to manage environment, storage, exhibition, people, money, etc., to sustain cultural materials in viable forms.   In theory, it’s much the same; in practice, it’s all different.

My feeling is that as the print and digital worlds continue to negotiate their territories, conservation and preservation approaches will continue to unify.  In libraries and archives, one sees many examples of this: conservation treatment supports digitization projects; then, digital access drives increased physical use and, presumably, wear.  But no one person can know all facets of such disparate practices.  That’s why hybrid library-conservation-preservation training programs like the one at the University of Texas were so important, and why we can hope they may be again in the future.

In the meantime, I’m glad for the opportunity to help prolong the lifetime of the Senate tapes, and I look forward to returning to the book and paper workbench in the near future.

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Last week, this blog highlighted a case study in artifactual value from Erik Larson’s Devil in the White City, an account of late-19th century Chicago based on archival research.  This week, we’ll detail a similar example from closer to home.

In TSLAC’s documents from the Confederacy, I often note evidence of recycling.  Sometimes this evidence takes the form of non-traditional papermaking materials (see previous entry, “Barn Floor Paper.”)  Other times recycling is apparent in remnants of previously printed materials, as in an example from this week:

Confederate document with recycling

This Confederate military document features recycled pieces of previous documents, such as the printed “b” seen here.

 

I have long suspected that such recycling, especially in non-disposable military records, was an indicator of economic stress in the Confederacy.  Informal conversation with colleagues supports this hunch: a conservator working on Union materials at another institution notes that their paper consists of comparatively high quality stock.  Here again is an example of artifactual value.  The physical paper on which these wartime records were kept offers historical information beyond the written records themselves.

I recently found further support for this interpretation of Confederate paper in Cathy Baker’s 2010 book, From the Hand to the Machine: Nineteenth Century American Paper and Mediums: Technologies, Materials, and Conservation.  Baker connects economic conditions in the South with scarcity in papermaking materials like rags, cotton, and bleach:

Just before the War, the South was largely dependent on the North for most supplies and equipment for its twenty-four papermills.  The chemicals needed to bleach rags for white paper for the Confederate government’s use or to process straw and raw cotton for news paper were only occasionally obtained from abroad through the Union blockades.  Few clothes and linens found their way into rag bags, and even if they did, they were often used for bandages instead of paper. 

-Cathy Baker, From the Hand to the Machine: Nineteenth Century American Paper and Mediums: Technologies, Materials, and Conservation, The Legacy Press, 2010, p 18.

Baker goes on to quote an 1863 newspaper account of an Alabama papermill, which struggled to maintain production without critical supplies like felt and wire mesh:

The energy displayed by Mr. Winter in keeping his mill running is worthy of all commendation.  He showed us fine tapestry carpet which he took from his floors as substitutes for felt, without which his mills are entirely useless… The want of wire cloth has forced Mr. Winter to convert his machine… (which) very seriously curtails his operations in the amount of paper turned off.

Memphis Daily Appeal, 6/13/1863, in Cathy Baker’s book (as above,) p 294.

That small “b” photographed above conveys a message about the Confederate economy much more succinctly than the words in this blog entry.  This is the power of artifactual value.  With access to primary, archival materials, researchers and the public have a chance to read more than what’s written on the page – they can also read the physical record left behind by historical forces.

For more on why it’s important to support public access to archives, see Christina Manz’s post on the closure of the Georgia Archives in TSLAC’s Library Developments blog.

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Several items are in the lab this month in preparation for TSLAC’s Civil War exhibit this fall.  At many institutions, exhibit materials compose their own workflow for conservation.  This month’s items represent the strengthening integration of conservation with our growing exhibits program here at TSLAC.

Conservation work for exhibit usually combines item stabilization with aesthetic improvements and display planning.  The goal is to have the item looking its best and displayed in a non-damaging way.  Just what kind of work might this generate?  I’m glad you asked!

Military Board Blotter

Military Board Blotter for exhibit, before treatment.

The loose paper covering on this 1860s military board blotter will be re-adhered to decrease the risk of further tearing and to improve the volume’s aesthetics.  The paper tabs at the book’s head contain significant information; rather than being removed, they will be tucked down into the volume.  Most importantly, the book’s opening will be chosen from among the pages most relevant to the exhibit, with preservation in mind.  The selected opening will create as little stress on the binding as possible over several months of display.  The book will also be fitted with a cradle to further minimize stress at that opening.

Harper's Weekly Engraving

Harper’s Weekly hand-colored engraving of the Battle of Galveston for exhibit, before treatment.

This 1863 hand-colored engraving from Harper’s Weekly illustrates both the Battle of Galveston and the effects of tape repairs.  Treatment will attempt to reduce the staining left behind by this previously applied tape.  Stain reduction is a case-by-case effort dependent upon many unknown variables, such as the materials in the paper, the materials in the tape’s adhesive, and how those materials have aged and interacted in varying conditions over time.  Here, the age and condition of these stains may limit the treatment’s effectiveness; the tape’s plastic carrier and adhesive are long gone, leaving the stain to set for many years.  Special care will also be taken not to disturb the hand-coloring with solvents.

Regimental Return

Regimental Return for exhibit, before treatment.

Several items, such as this 1862 regimental return document, simply require flattening and basic mends.  This will improve exhibit appearance and also stabilize the documents to guard against further damage during handling and storage.  There are many items in this condition at TSLAC and other libraries and archives.  For them, exhibit serves as an additional selection method to bring them into the lab.

You can see these items and others on display in TSLAC’s lobby starting September 24.   Also unique to this exhibit will be a display devoted just to conservation – stay tuned for more.

 

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