Paper Treatments


About a month ago, the Preservation Lab hosted a group of students taking an upper level class in Public History. In this course the students use archival materials as primary sources for the research they are conducting, drawing from the Library’s Special Collections and Archives. Spending time in the Preservation Lab gives them a behind the scenes look at what it takes to stabilize  original materials so that they can be viewed in the reading room.

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As part of a practical  introduction to preservation, I demonstrated some hands-on conservation techniques that are often used to repair archival documents. Working on a discarded photoreproduction of Marston Hall, I removed some tape with a heated spatula and mended tears using wheat starch paste and Japanese tissue.

An interesting inter-disciplinary discussion happened around a group of WWII propaganda posters that were in the lab for conservation treatment. The posters were approximately 2 feet by 3 feet. They were staple-bound into a pad that was attached to a foldable easel made of cardboard.

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The instructor and the students talked about the use of this object as a presentation tool, a 1940’s PowerPoint presentation of sorts. The speaker could take the easel-pad  along with them to give encouraging talks to the public about wartime efforts at home. As you can see from the photos above, the top poster had gotten torn and became detached from the pad.  If I were to take this object out of its historical context and to consider only its physical characteristics, I would want to take it apart, repair it and store all the components separately. The posters would go into one folder, while the easel and the staple binding would go into a different folder. Stored in this way, the posters would be safe and easy for scholars to handle  without the assistance of an archivist or a conservator.

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However, the research value of this presentation pad lies in its format, which tells the story of its use as a WWII propaganda tool. So, my approach will be to disassemble the structure, repair the components and then to reassemble the binding using thread loops in place of the damaging rusty staples. The binding will be recreated, but slightly altered  to provide more stability and longevity to the object, ensuring the preservation of both its physical self and its contextual meaning.

This class discussion brought home to me the point that historians and conservators have an important conversation to carry out. In order to adequately preserve historic collections, we need to share our distinct areas of knowledge with each other, enriching each other’s understanding of primary source materials.

While preparing serials to either be shelved or prepared for binding, I often discover or receive damaged issues from other Library employees.  These damaged issues are either repaired by our Conservation Lab staff or, if damage is deemed beyond repair, a request for a replacement issue is placed with our Serials Acquisitions unit.

There are three common types of journal repairs which can be performed in our Library Conservation Lab: fill, mend and sew.

A fill done when there is a hole or chunk missing from the issue and an alternate piece of paper is used to fill it in.

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A mend repair occurs when there is a rip or tear in the issue, but it is small and generally fixed with repair tape.

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A sew repair happens when the cover or other pages are coming apart from the journal – a needle and thread is used or sometimes glue instead to alleviate this problem, so the issue can remain intact and be ready for use. 

It’s my final week at ISU Library, and I’m feeling nostalgic. Looking back on my five and a half years in the Conservation Lab, there are a few treatments that stand out as particularly memorable.

The 2010 flood hit during my first summer in Ames, and strongly impacted the next 18 months in the lab, as we salvaged and treated thousands of flood-soaked documents, architectural drawings, blueprints, and photographs for Facilities, Planning & Management.

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In 2011, this ISU football manual from the 1930s landed on my bench. I enjoyed the challenge of trying to preserve the original structure of the 3-ring binder, while also giving the acidic and insect-damaged pages some support. You can read about the treatment in my original post.

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In 2012, I worked on another football-related conservation treatment, the housing for the last letter written by Jack Trice. He wrote the letter on hotel stationery in 1923, on the eve of his first major college football game, during which he sustained fatal injuries. The double-sided letter is suspended in a Mylar window in this portfolio, so both sides can be read.

The last letter written by Jack Trice in 1923, on the eve of the college football game in which he was fatally injured.

The last letter written by Jack Trice in 1923, on the eve of the college football game in which he was fatally injured.

The original letter is housed in ISU Library Special Collections, but we also created a facsimile which I bound into a custom enclosure decked out in Cyclone colors for Coach Rhoads to take with him on recruiting trips.

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Facsimile of the last letter written by Jack Trice.

In 2013, I thoroughly enjoyed working on a display rehousing for unclassified botanical specimens in the Sarah Underwood Papers.

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In 2014, a new acquisition came to the lab with a curling, brittle paper label. I ended up resewing the textblock and rebacking the spine. This project was a particular pleasure because the sewing structure was a bit of a mystery to unravel, quite literally.

The Practical Planter (1799)

The Practical Planter (1799)

It turned out the volume had been sewn five-on, five-on, seven-on, seven-on, five-on on four support cords. This method would have saved time and money for the bookseller, and was in keeping with the humble paper retail binding. I resewed following the original pattern.

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And finally, just this month, I finished a full leather rebinding of a 1579 Italian imprint of Garcia de Orta’s Aromatum et simplicium aliquot… The book came to us bound in a typical eighteenth-century English style tightback binding covered in acid-sprinkled calfskin leather. Although the binding style was anachronistic with respect to the textblock, it told a story of the volume’s provenance, so I was hesitant to remove it. However, the volume had been oversewn and had some tears and sloppy hide glue repairs that made the book virtually unusable. I disbound the volume, removed the hide glue accretions, and mended and guarded the damaged pages. Then I rebound it in a manner sympathetic to the imprint’s sixteenth-century Italian origins by resewing on alum-tawed thongs with made endpapers of Italian handmade marbled paper. I sewed on silk endbands, and laced on boards built up from layers of paperboard. I covered the volume in edge-pared goatskin leather, working around the bands to give the appearance of a tightback, but in fact allowing a hollow on the spine when the book opens. According to Bernard Middleton, spine labels were not used before 1600 in Europe, although titles were sometime blind-tooled directly on the spine. However, most spines were left blank, and this is what I chose for this volume, since it would be housed in a cloth-covered clamshell box along with its previous case (which was given a foam insert for support).

Previous binding on left; rebound volume on right.

Previous binding (with foam insert)  on left; rebound volume on right.

Benchwork has been only one part of the enriching professional activities I have enjoyed during my tenure as ISU Library’s Conservator, but it has been a fascinating and deeply rewarding part of my work.

CLose up of the textured surface of Tek wipe, which is a nonwoven polyester and cellulose blend.

Close-up of the textured surface of Tek wipe, which is a nonwoven polyester and cellulose blend.

The AIC Annual Meeting in 2014 was abuzz with the virtues of Tek Wipe as a paper conservation material. We had been considering purchasing some as a disaster salvage supply for a while, after seeing how much cotton blotter we used up in the recovery from the Ames Flood of 2010. As the Chair-Elect of the AIC Sustainability Committee, I find the idea of an absorbent non-woven that is washable and reusable to be very appealing. Its reusability makes this material an attractive choice from both an environmental and an economic perspective. However, it wasn’t until I started hearing about other treatment uses for the material that I got over my inertia and ordered some for our lab.  Six months of experimentation later, I’m very pleased with Tek wipe’s versatility and results.

Tek wipe on a 35" wide roll.

Tek wipe on a 35″ wide roll.

Tek wipe is a highly absorbent polyester/cellulose nonwoven textile which can be ordered by the sheet or by the roll. We chose to order a roll and cut it down to sheets that are custom sized for various purposes. We have precut sheets to keep on hand for water disaster scenarios, but I have also been using it for document washing and paper mending in place of (and sometimes in addition to) cotton blotter. For mending, I have used Tek wipe in place of the small rectangles of blotter cut to fit our glass and plexi glass weights. I still sandwich Reemay or Holytex between the Tek wipe and the mend, because the Tek wipe can stick to the mend (or even the paper support itself) if allowed to dry in direct contact.

However, where Tek wipe’s versatility really shines is as a washing material.  I’ll qualify that assertion by saying my assessments are visual and anecdotal; we haven’t the time or the resources in our lab to assess the results with technical analytics (hint, hint to the conservation graduate students out there…)  I’ve been working on a project treating about twenty issues of a mid-19th century horticulture journal suffering from water and mold damage. All of the issues exhibit black and purple mold stains, as well as caked-on surface dirt and pronounced tidelines which fluoresce under UV light. Regardless of whether the tidelines are fluorescing as an indication of mold hyphae or an indication of soluble paper degradation products, reducing them has been a desirable part of this treatment. The project has therefore offered an ideal opportunity for testing out a few different washing techniques with Tek wipe.

Tidelines fluorescing under UV light.

Tidelines fluorescing under UV light.

After the initial treatment steps of HEPA vacuuming, dry cleaning, and misting with an ethanol solution, the separated folios of the horticulture journal were then washed aqueously.  I tried three different washing techniques with Tek wipe: blotter sandwich washing, slant board washing, and a combination of immersion washing combined with abbreviated blotter sandwich washing.  Tek wipe performed usefully in all three scenarios, dramatically reducing the tidelines visible in ambient light and completely removing the fluorescing compounds.  For all three washing methods, documents were dried in a blotter/Reemay stack under weight.

Blotter Sandwich Washing

For the blotter sandwich, I used Tek wipe in place of Reemay or Hollytex.  I sandwiched the document between two piece of Tek wipe, then sandwiched the ensemble between two piece of thick cotton blotter. This method worked the best to the naked eye, completely removing all visible traces of the tidelines. All fluorescing compounds were likewise removed with this method.

Slant Board Washing

In this scenario, I used Tek wipe in lieu of a fleece, but otherwise followed standard slant board washing procedures. The Tek wipe seemed to wick a bit more slowly than fleece, but the stain was reduced almost as well as blotter sandwich washing, with slight ghosting remaining. All fluorescing compounds were also removed with this method.

Immersion Washing Followed by Abbreviated Blotter Sandwich Washing

While trying the above washing methods with Tek wipe proved informative, neither method would be suitable for the scale of this project, which requires the washing of over 200 folios. So, I decided to try immersion washing in combination with a blotter sandwich lined with Tek wipe.  Following usual procedures, I washed a Reemay stack with one full issue of the journal in multiple baths of short duration (5 minutes each): two baths in deionized water, followed by two alkaline baths. Even though the water in the final bath remained clear, some visible tidelines did remain in the documents. The documents were peeled one by one from the stack and placed in a blotter/Tek wipe sandwich stack. The documents were re-misted with recalcified water after about an hour, and left for another hour in the blotter/Tek wipe stack. This method greatly reduced the tidelines, leaving behind only faint ghosting, and removing all fluorescing compounds.  I selected this method for the remainder of the project because it produced acceptable results in a more time-efficient manner.

Before (above) and after (below) immersion washing followed by abbreviated blotter/Tek wipe sandwich washing.

Before (above) and after (below) immersion washing followed by abbreviated blotter/Tek wipe sandwich washing.

Washing the Tek wipe in very warm water and then air-drying it removed the stains the material absorbed from the washing processes above, leaving it ready to be used again.

How Are You Using Tek Wipe?

Are you using Tek wipe for conservation treatments? We’d love to hear about your experience in the comments section.  I’m especially interested to hear if anyone has tried using Tek wipe instead of blotter in a drying stack in a treatment, rather than disaster salvage, scenario, and whether that was successful.

What do you like or dislike about the material? Have you had any particular successes or failures using it? Do you have any cautions to share?  Please join the conversation!

 

One of the best things about being a conservator is learning new treatment methods and materials. This allows you to expand your knowledge and develop preferences. During my time as a Lennox Intern, I have had the chance to broaden my skills by learning three new treatment methods.

The first new treatment I learned is the re-adhering of flaking emulsion on glass plate negatives. Working with a small brush and in small increments, I brushed a 5% solution of gelatin in deionized water on the glass, and then gently pressed the emulsion to the glass. In theory, this is a fairly straightforward treatment. In practice, it proved to be difficult. The emulsion is highly reactive to moisture. Thus, when coming in contact with the gelatin adhesive, it behaved erratically. It was difficult to re-adhere the pieces of emulsion seamlessly, resulting in space between two pieces of emulsion. The end results are not perfect visually, but the emulsion is now adhered well to the glass, reducing any risks of losing any delaminated pieces.

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A section of emulsion before and after re-adhesion.

Brushing on the gelatin solution.

Brushing on the gelatin solution.

The second new treatment I learned is the re-building of board corners, a technique often done on books which have corners that have snapped off. Some of the photographs in the Van Zandt collection (read my previous post on this collection here) are adhered to backing boards. This was typically done at the photography studio, and all of the backing boards have inscriptions. This means that removing the board would remove historic information, and as a result, repair of the boards with snapped corners was our chosen treatment method. Melissa taught me two ways of building up boards: (1) delaminating layers of archival board until it is the right thickness; and (2) adhering archival board and paper together to build up the right thickness. Then, the newly-made board corners are split and pared, the object’s backing board is split, and they are fit together. I found this to be a fun process, and enjoyed learning a bit about book conservation techniques.

A board edge made of archival board being fitted into the backing board of a photograph.

A board edge made of archival board being fitted into the backing board of a photograph.

The final new treatment method I will discuss is the use of TekWipe during the washing of a panoramic photograph, which had a significant tideline. I thought this would be a great opportunity to test out a new-to-me material, using the open blotter sandwich method. My set up for this open sandwich was, starting from the bottom: a sheet of Mylar, blotter, wet TekWipe, the object (recto-side up), Photo-Tex tissue, and Plexi. This method meant that the soluble degradation materials would move downward into the absorbent TekWipe. In the end, only a small amount of discoloration moved into the TekWipe, which did not result in much of a visual change in the object, but I did appreciate the opportunity to work with this material.

The panoramic photograph removed from the TekWipe, which shows some discoloration that has leeched out of the photograph.

The panoramic photograph removed from the TekWipe, which shows some discoloration that has leeched out of the photograph.

The opportunity to try out new techniques is incredibly valuable, and I am excited for future learning possibilities as my time at ISU comes to an end and I move on to the next position. If you’d like to keep up to date with my future conservation endeavors, please feel free to follow me on Twitter or have a look at my blog.

 

72ppi-GW-photocons-materialsThanks to generous support from ISU Library’s staff development funds, I recently attended Gawain Weaver and Jennifer Olsen’s Photograph Conservation Workshop for Book and Paper Conservators, hosted by Head of Conservation Beth Doyle and her team at the Duke University Libraries Conservation Department.

Duke University proved to be a wonderful workshop location, boasting a spacious conservation lab, beautifully landscaped campus, sunny weather (after that first day of rainstorms!), and lots of great eateries.

A few years ago, ISU Library hosted one of Gawain Weaver’s excellent Care and Identification of Photographs Workshops, so my expectations were pretty high for this week of study. Gawain and Jennifer did not disappoint: they came armed with an impressive arsenal of photographic materials for us to experiment on, as well as tools, specialized equipment, chemicals, and resource materials.  I appreciated their balanced approach, which included some instruction in the history of photography, the chemistry of photographic print processes and their deterioration, broad trends in the fine art photography market, the ethics of treating photographic materials, and — of course — plenty of hands-on treatment activities.

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Jennifer Olsen demonstrates filling and inpainting techniques on an albumen print.

Our group of twelve workshop participants hailed from all over the U.S., and represented institutional labs, regional conservation centers, and private practices. The workshop targets “mid-career” book and paper conservators, and assumes a solid knowledge base in paper conservation techniques.

 

Clara Ines Rojas Sebesta monitors photographs in a solvent bath under the fume hood (left). Testing methods for removing silver mirroring, including solvent-dampened swabs (right).

Clara Ines Rojas Sebesta monitors photographs in a solvent bath under the fume hood (left). Testing methods for removing silver mirroring, including solvent-dampened swabs (right).

Our hands-on instruction included some controversial “don’t try this at home” demos to impress upon us the irreversible and extreme repercussions of some types of chemical treatments, followed by dry and wet cleaning methods, silver mirroring removal techniques, separation of photographs stuck to glass, and tape removal.  We also learned to mount and unmount photographs with various types of drymount and various mechanical, heat-based, and solvent-based techniques. We practiced resin fills on albumen prints, and inpainted with watercolors. Throughout it all, Gawain and Jennifer were on hand to discuss our questions and concerns, encourage us, and share stories of their real-life photograph conservation successes and challenges.

(Left to right:) Gawain Weaver, Jennifer Olsen, and Beth Doyle.

(Left to right:) Gawain Weaver, Jennifer Olsen, and Beth Doyle.

Four days, thirty-plus pages of lecture notes, and countless hours of hands-on practice later, I will certainly not be putting any photograph conservators out of business.  On the contrary, I believe my fellow participants and I all left with a healthy respect for the risks and challenges particular to photograph conservation. Even so, I’m grateful to have spent the week in the company of talented and generous colleagues, and to have acquired some new skills and resources to help me more judiciously care for the photographs in our collections at ISU Library.

Inpainting resin fills on albument prints.

Inpainting resin fills on albumen prints.

Visit Preservation Underground to read Beth Doyle’s summary of the workshop from the perspective of the host institution.

 

The main focus of my three months here at ISU is a collection of family documents titled the Van Zandt Family Papers. The collection contains documents from 1838-1990. The Van Zandt family started out in North Carolina, with some members of the family moving to Iowa in the mid-1800s. There are a couple significant portions of the collection: correspondence during the Civil War, during which time members of the family were located in both the North and the South, and correspondence during World War I. The collection contains a variety of objects, including letters, postcards, photographs, and legal documents. The photographs are my main focus. More information about the collection can be found here.

Surface cleaning photographs in an album.

Surface cleaning photographs in an album.

My treatment of this collection is ongoing, but so far, the work I have carried out includes: surface cleaning using a soft brush to remove debris, mending tears and infilling losses on both the photographs themselves and on their backing boards, and removing accretions with a poultice made of methyl cellulose. Some of the work to still be done includes: building up areas of loss on backing boards, repairing bindings on Daguerreotypes, and treating photographic albums.

Using a methyl cellulose poultice to remove an accretion on the recto of a photograph.

Using a methyl cellulose poultice to remove an accretion on the recto of a photograph.

One issue the treatment of this collection has brought up is time management. As the internship only lasts three months, and I have other projects to complete in addition to the Van Zandt Family Papers, I knew I needed a treatment plan which would allow for various stages of completion depending on the amount of time I had available. What I came up with was a way to break down each type of treatment into levels of importance. Once the first level of importance is reached, I can go back and do the next level if time allows. This way, each photograph receives at least enough treatment to ensure its stability.

Before and after tape removal on the top, and an image of my tape removal set up in the fume cupboard.

Before and after tape/adhesive removal on the top, and an image of my tape/adhesive removal set up in the fume cupboard.

My treatment plan looks like this:

Surface cleaning:

  1. Surface clean all photographs, using only a brush (no aqueous treatment) unless otherwise needed.

Mending:

  1. Repair any tears and infill all losses on every photograph, including the backing board. This will give necessary support to areas which need it.

Tape Removal:

  1. Remove any sticky adhesive, leaving carriers as they are. This will prevent the photograph from sticking to its enclosure, potentially causing further damage.
  2. Remove all carriers, and any residue beneath the carriers.

Photo Albums:

  1. Surface clean all photographs in the album, re-adhere any photographs which have failed adhesive, and interleave the pages with photograph-safe paper.
  2. Consider removal of the photograph from the album, especially in albums which have heavily degraded the photographs. One possible solution would be to place each photograph in a Mylar enclosure, and adhere the enclosure to the spot the photograph originally was adhered.
Working on an infill for a missing corner.

Working on an infill for a missing corner.

In addition to learning more about the conservation of photographs, I am learning what it is like to juggle numerous projects with a time restriction. Taking the time to create a treatment plan like the one I have outlined has helped me organize my workflow, and has allowed me to complete the most imperative tasks first. I then have a plan in mind in the event that I have additional time to finish other treatments as well. This is a skillset, in addition to improving my bench skills, which I can carry with me throughout my career as a paper and photographs conservator.

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