In the honors seminar that Hilary and I are teaching, we recently discussed the ethics of conservation treatment where provenance is concerned.  Some of the questions raised were about artistic intent, the history of the artifact, and evidence of provenance. This Monday’s post is a bit of a brain-teaser with no quantifiably right or wrong answer — it’s simply a matter, as they say, of principles.

This little volume of children’s poetry belongs to a private individual who inherited it from her grandfather.  The book has great sentimental value, although its monetary value is debatable.  The masking tape repairs were made by a well-meaning family member long ago, and were subsequently colored in crayon by the volume’s owner herself as a child.  The tape repairs are still extremely well-adhered in some spots, while the adhesive has turned brittle and failed in other spots.  The textblock sewing is failing, so the book’s pages are starting to come apart.  The paper covering the front and back boards (the cover) is fraying and peeling at the edges.   Tape removal would be time-consuming, and might cause damage to the board-covering material beneath it.  The tape is also a part of the history of the book as an artifact.  However, the tape is partially failing in spots, so it is clearly not a stable material, and will continue to deteriorate and cause potential damage to the book.

Would you advise the book’s owner to have the tape removed, or to leave it in place?  What factors do you think her decision should be based on?  If you disagreed with her decision, would you still perform the treatment?  Would your opinion change if the book was deemed valuable monetarily?

If this book were not owned by an individual, but was a recent acquisition by institutional archives or a museum, would your opinion about the recommended treatment change? What would your decision be if the crayon-scribbling on the masking tape had been executed by a renowned artist as a child?  What would your decision be if this book were intended as part of an exhibit?

None of these questions necessarily have clear-cut answers, but please share your thoughts in the comments section!

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