Tag Archives: conservation

The Conservation of the 18th Century Sloan-Osborne Ciphering Book

[This blog post was written by Garrett Sumner, a graduate student at West Dean College and summer intern in the Conservation Lab]

As part of my internship at the Conservation Lab in the State Archives of North Carolina, I had the opportunity to work on a number of projects, but the one object that garnered most of my time was the Sloan-Osborne Ciphering Book (PC.1955). The Sloan-Osborne Ciphering Book is actually two distinct notebooks, one from the 1750s, and the other from the early 1780s, which were later sewn together. The notebooks contain numerous ciphering problems, such as long division and unit conversion, and were composed by two individuals, Adlai Osborne and Henry Sloan. While their exact relationship to one another is unclear, Sloan may have served as Osborne’s pupil at Charlotte’s Liberty Hall Academy, where Osborne may have given Sloan his notebook. The most intriguing aspect of the book is that it contains two partial snake skins that are still adhered to the paper. Most likely the book was stored in an attic or basement and one or more snakes slithered between the papers to shed their skin.

The book arrived in the conservation lab in a very poor condition, preventing its use by researchers. The paper was very brittle and cockled, and had suffered extensive water and pest damage. Furthermore, some pages were missing, removed either intentionally or accidentally. The iron gall ink used to write the notebook was fading, and in some areas had even burned through the paper.

PC1955

Example of iron gall ink burn and damage to paper.

In conservation practice we aim to follow two principles when treating an object: minimal intervention (doing as little as is needed), and reversibility (that any treatment performed can be reversed). However, when an object is so extensively damaged it cannot be safely handled, a more aggressive treatment may be necessary to stabilize it. Such was the case with the Ciphering Book.

The treatment plan for the book involved removing the original sewing thread to allow the paper to be washed. Because iron gall ink can be water-soluble, we first had to perform solubility tests by placing droplets of water, ethanol, or a mixture of the two in different areas to see if the ink migrated. The tests showed that some ink was water soluble, and so to err on the side of caution we used a solution of 50/50 water and ethanol for the bath. Although washing paper is a risky, non-reversible procedure, it can also remove dirt, discoloration, and the acidity that makes the brittle, as well as flattening out the folds and cockling in the paper.

The sheets were gently placed in the bath for 25 minutes. The paper was so dirty we could actually see the discoloration floating out of the paper. After washing, the sheets were then placed between felts to dry. A less invasive washing method was needed for the snakeskin pages. Instead of immersing the sheets in a bath, we placed them between sheets of blotting paper saturated with the 50/50 solution, along with a hole cut out in the areas around the snakeskin in order to not disturb them.

After drying, the paper was noticeably cleaner and flatter, and some of the writing was more legible as a result of the increased contrast between the ink and the now-cleaner paper. However, washing left the paper a bit weak and limp, so the paper was re-sized with a 0.5% gelatin solution. Paper was traditionally sized with gelatin, a type of animal-based adhesive, which would fill in the gaps of air between the paper fibers to give the paper more strength and protect it.

After more drying, the paper was ready to be mended. There were countless tears and holes on every sheet, in all shapes and sizes. When mending paper, conservators typically prefer to use Japanese tissue and wheat starch paste. Japanese tissue is thin yet strong, with long fibers that allow it to easily blend into the original paper. Wheat starch paste is a refined paste made by hand using just starch and water. Together, these form a strong repair that can be reversed in the future with water, if needed. To mend the tears and holes, pieces of Japanese tissue were carefully torn to the appropriate shape, then brushed with paste and applied to paper.

Twenty-five hours later, the mending was complete, and the repaired book was ready to be resewn. Replicating the original sewing pattern would have been difficult and potentially damaging, so instead the book was sewn through five new holes using linen thread. A paper wrapper was sewn on the outside of the book in order to provide more protection. In all, the treatment took 49 hours to complete. After treatment, the book is now much cleaner and can be safely handled by researchers, snakeskins and all.

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I would like to thank the NC Department of Natural and Cultural Resources for facilitating this internship and for providing guidance and assistance during its course, especially Dr. Kevin Cherry, Emily Rainwater, Kate Vukovich, and Mathew Waehner.

The Sloan-Osborne ciphering book is now available as part of our North Carolina Digital Collections!  http://digital.ncdcr.gov/cdm/ref/collection/p16062coll28/id/5601

 

Housing 220 Drawings from a Black Mountain College Student

[This post was written by Kate Vukovich, conservation technician for the State Archives of North Carolina.]

Don Page, a young man wearing glasses, sits at a vertical loom, weaving. The picture is taken through the warp threads of the loom.

Figure 1. Don Page, a young man wearing glasses, sits at a vertical loom, weaving. The picture is taken through the warp threads of the loom.

Black Mountain College was an experimental liberal arts college in Western North Carolina, active from 1933-1957. One of its students was Don Page, who went on to become an architect, graphic and interior designer, and artist. The Western Regional Archives (WRA) has a collection (PC.1924) of his drawing studies and textile designs from his time at Black Mountain College, 1936-1942. These drawings are done in mixed media, mostly on paper (with a couple on wood) and were stored in folders organized by genre, but needed new housing to stabilize them. Because many of the materials used to make the drawings are friable—pencil, ink, charcoal, pastels, and other similar media—placing many drawings together without interleaving had led to smudging and media wearing off onto adjacent drawings.

A collage of six images of varying sizes and genres from the collection. Three are studies of violins, two are flowers, and one is an abstract color study on wood.

Figure 2. A collage of six images of varying sizes and genres from the collection. Three are studies of violins, two are flowers, and one is an abstract color study on wood.

Ultimately, we decided on making sink mats to accommodate groups of 5-10 drawings, which remained sorted by genre as they had originally been. Sink mats are a type of mat

Figure 2. A collage of six images of varying sizes and genres from the collection. Three are studies of violins, two are flowers, and one is an abstract color study on wood.

Figure 2. A collage of six images of varying sizes and genres from the collection. Three are studies of violins, two are flowers, and one is an abstract color study on wood.

that allows for the pressure of the cover of the mat, and anything that might rest on top of the mat, to rest on the material of the mat and rather than on the items themselves. It also allows for storing multiple items or thicker works than a traditional window mat.   Because many of these drawings were made with friable media like charcoal and pencil, it was important to make sure that they wouldn’t wear on each other any more than they already had. We chose to use PhotoTex paper as interleaving between each drawing. PhotoTex is designed to be ultra-smooth to not abrade photographic materials, textiles, and works on paper. Its smoothness means there’s little friction for it to pick up friable media.

We constructed the mats out of archival quality corrugated cardboard, making hinges on two sides so the drawings could be removed easily, and making a cover out of heavyweight cardstock. This was hinged to the mat with linen tape. While the mat base and cover were cut to a standard size, each mat is custom-fit to the drawings within (you can see the differences in the sizes of the drawings in the images below!).

Figure 4. Two completed sink mats of the same size are placed next to each other. One holds a small set of drawings (about 9 inches by 12 inches) and the other a large set (about 19 by 23 inches), demonstrating how mats are custom built to different drawings.

Figure 4. Two completed sink mats of the same size are placed next to each other. One holds a small set of drawings (about 9 inches by 12 inches) and the other a large set (about 19 by 23 inches), demonstrating how mats are custom built to different drawings.

The completed mats—with interleaved drawings inside—are put in boxes for convenience and additional protection. Forty-eight sink mats were made for about 220 items.

Figure 5. Five boxes are stacked on a table. The top box’s lid is removed, so the contents (the completed sink mats) are visible. A ruler is included for scale: the boxes are 25 inches by 32 inches.

Figure 5. Five boxes are stacked on a table. The top box’s lid is removed, so the contents (the completed sink mats) are visible. A ruler is included for scale: the boxes are 25 inches by 32 inches.

The WRA finding aid for the Don Page Collection is here. If you want to learn more about Black Mountain College, check out the NCPedia article, the NC Archives Digital Black Mountain College Collection, and the WRA finding aids of the Black Mountain College collections.

Support the Conservation of Our Archival Treasures

[This blog post comes from the Friends of the Archives.]

The Friends of the Archives is a non-profit organization that privately funds some of the services, activities, and programs of the State Archives of North Carolina not provided by state-appropriated funding. Some of our most treasured documents are in critical need of preservation and restoration.  After careful evaluation of these materials, the Friends has set their funding goal for 2018.

Detail of a portrait of King Charles on the first page of the Carolina Charter of 1663

The first page of the Carolina Charter features an elaborate drawing of King Charles. Learn more about this document in the North Carolina Digital Collections: http://digital.ncdcr.gov/cdm/ref/collection/p15012coll11/id/10

The Carolina Charter needs immediate attention.  The Carolina Charter of 1663 is considered the “birth certificate” of North Carolina. The document consists of four vellum sheets and details the granting of land in what is now known as North Carolina. It has been more than twenty years since the Carolina Charter has been examined for treatment. The document will be exhibited in early spring and repairs are needed immediately.

North Carolina’s original copy of the Bill of Rights serves as an example of North Carolina’s involvement in the ratification of the United States Constitution.  The one-page document was presented to North Carolina after the ratification of the U.S. Constitution.

The Papers of Peter Carteret, Governor of the County of Albemarle. The county of Albemarle is the oldest county government in North Carolina. Peter Carteret served as governor of the Precinct of Albemarle from 1670 to 1673 and his papers document his influence and actions from 1666 to 1673 in Albemarle County.

We have already raised $3,500 of the approximate $12,000 needed for the preservation of these documents.

North Carolina's copy of the Bill of Rights, 1789

North Carolina’s copy of the Bill of Rights, 1789. Part of the Vault Collection. Available online at http://digital.ncdcr.gov/cdm/ref/collection/p15012coll11/id/29.

These precious documents are exhibited for special occasions but even the slightest exposure to light can be harmful to them.  With improvements in preservation technology, we will be able to conserve these documents for an extended period.

To donate to this preservation fund, join the Friends of the Archives, or renew your membership, visit the Friends of the Archives  website and click on Become A Friend of the Archives Today!  If you are already a member you may donate on that same page. Benefits of membership include discounted registration to public programs and on some publications, DVDs, and posters. Please note that The Charter is now available only electronically, so please don’t forget to include your e-mail address.

If you’ve already renewed for 2018 or made donations to preservation, thank you. As a member of The Friends your support is an important part of our success.

Preservation Matting and Framing

[This blog post was written by Jennifer Blomberg, Head of the Collections Management Branch.]

The Collections Management Branch has been busy preparing State Archives materials to go on display in the Treasures of Carolina: Stories from the State Archives of North Carolina exhibit opening at the Museum of History. Displaying original objects can be very challenging and can even compromise preservation efforts. To minimize the risk and damage of exhibiting our material, we have taken a lot of preservation actions. Some of these include carefully selecting stable original objects, using facsimiles, rotating sensitive and fragile materials, limiting length of the exhibit, having low light levels in the gallery, and using preservation matting and framing.

Long term display of original materials is not recommended, but when displaying an original object is desired, the object needs to be protected from light, air, and touching. Below are some tips and guidelines on preservation matting and framing of original materials.

Preservation Matting and Framing

Preservation matting and framing are the methods and special framing materials used to limit risks to objects on display. The key to preservation matting and framing is using conservation quality materials that are chemically stable.

  • The matboard for the window and the back-mat needs to be made of 100% cotton rag, lignin-free wood pulp stock, and pH-neutral or slightly alkaline.
  • UV-filtering glazing used to help mitigate the irreversible damage from light. Glazing should never come in contact with the object and acrylic glazing should not be used with friable media.
  • Use caution when using wood frames. If using a wood frame, the interior of the frame should be lined with a barrier film to prevent acids in the wood from migrating to the matboard and object.
  • Make sure the mat package is firmly secured in the frame using pins or brads, not tape. Ensure that the frame package is constructed in such a way as to minimize warping, bowing, and bending.

Preferred Display Areas and Storage

  • Always display and store objects out of direct sunlight
  • Do not display objects near fireplaces, radiators, windows, and air vents
  • Display originals on interior walls
  • Do not store objects in basements, attics, or areas prone to environmental extremes or with high risk of water leaks or flooding

Conservation quality matboard package

Conservation quality matboard package

UV filtering acrylic

UV filtering acrylic

Always contact a professional framer, collections specialist, or conservator if you are considering displaying your original materials. Please feel free to contact Jennifer Blomberg, Head of Collections Management Branch if you have questions on preservation and how to protect and safeguard your collections.

State Archives on North Carolina Weekend

The Collecting Carolina segment on the State Archives of North Carolina features many archival resources including the map collection.

The Collecting Carolina segment on the State Archives of North Carolina features many archival resources including the map collection.

The State Archives of North Carolina was featured on the UNC-TV program North Carolina Weekend last week. The Collecting Carolina segment includes an introduction to genealogical and historical research at the State Archives, several of the treasures from the vault collection, and the State Archives conservation lab. It is available online on the North Carolina Weekend website and UNC-TV PBS video.

UNC-TV is watched by more than 4 million viewers each week, and almost 75,000 members send in their contributions each year to keep UNC-TV on the air. During 2014-2015, UNC-TV and its partners produced more than 340 hours of original local programming, making it a leader in the public television industry in that respect. UNC-TV has received 7 Regional Emmy Awards already this year and many other honors for its programming and services over the years. UNC-TV’s programming reaches into 13 million homes including all of North Carolina, into portions of Virginia, West Virginia, Tennessee and South Carolina.

Historic Paper Repair

[This blog post was written by Emily Rainwater, Conservator for the State Archives of North Carolina.]

How would you fix a torn piece of paper without tape? One way might be to take another, smaller piece of paper and glue it on top of the tear. This actually forms the basis of modern conservation repair work, though Conservators take great care when choosing both the paper and adhesive. The repair paper is usually an extremely thin tissue with long fibers and excellent aging properties, while the adhesive will be non-staining and easily reversible even with age.

 

Historic paper repair on MC.150.1775m, c. 2

Historic paper repair on MC.150.1775m, c. 2

 

Another way would be to sew the tear back together. This is seen more commonly with parchment as it tends to be sturdier and less likely to tear further from the stitches. However, if the paper is good quality and in good condition, it can be sewn as well, as seen in this example from the Northampton County Apprentice Bonds.

 

Northampton County Apprentice Bonds and Records, 1797-1888, 071.101.2

Northampton County Apprentice Bonds and Records, 1797-1888, 071.101.2 (Front)

Northampton County Apprentice Bonds and Records, 1797-1888, 071.101.2

Northampton County Apprentice Bonds and Records, 1797-1888, 071.101.2 (Back)

If a historic repair is still working and functioning properly, I will frequently leave it intact. However, if it is damaging the paper, either because it has caused a new breaking point or was done using harmful materials, I may remove it and replace it with a more conservationally sound repair. In the case of this Apprentice Bond, both the paper and repair were in good condition, so the sewing was left intact.

Conservation Treatment of a Company Payroll

[This blog post was written by Emily Rainwater, Conservator for the State Archives of North Carolina.]

Company payroll, before treatment

Company payroll, before treatment

During Preservation Week, the State Archives will be displaying a recently conserved 1864 payroll for Company G of the 38th North Carolina Infantry, Confederate States Army. When it was donated, the company payroll was in poor condition. Though the family had done what they could to preserve it, the document suffered from previous water damage and had numerous tears and areas where the paper was lost completely. Some of the text areas were folded over, which obscured the information. There were also several old pieces of tape which had been used at some point to hold the document together. As regular readers of The Charter know, tape can cause a lot of damage, and can be extremely time consuming for a Conservator to remove.

After conservation treatment

After conservation treatment

The treatment started out with thorough written and photographic documentation of the condition of the payroll. Solubility testing was carried out to see if the various printing and manuscript inks could be safely washed, as well as to test what solvent combination would work best on the tape. The document was cleaned with a soft brush, and then each piece of tape and its sticky residue was carefully removed. The document was then washed in a bath to remove some of the products of deterioration which had built up in the paper as well as re-establish the chemical bonds. Next, the document was placed in an alkaline bath, which raises the pH of the paper slightly and gives it a buffer against future acidic degradation. The document was dried flat, and then carefully mended back together using wheat starch paste and a thin Japanese tissue which had been toned to match the color of the paper. Larger areas of loss were filled in with a heavier weight tissue. Finally, the payroll was encapsulated to add protection from handling.

The exhibit will be up through the end of the week and will display the newly conserved payroll and show examples of preservation techniques used to protect paper based materials. The exhibit will take place in the Search Room of the State Archives of North Carolina located at 109 E. Jones Street, 2nd floor. The State Archives is open 8am – 5:30am, Tuesday –Friday and 9am-2pm on Saturday.