There’s No Place Like Conservation Lab: The Wizard of Oz Ruby Slippers Scheduled for Maintenance

Smithsonian Institution Ruby Slippers
Photo courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution

American popular culture’s most recognizable pair of shoes were removed from display and went into the Smithsonian’s conservation lab for some much-needed repairs on February 23. The famed ruby slippers, worn by Judy Garland in the 1939 classic film The Wizard of Oz, will return to the Smithsonian Museum of American History display cases on April 5, where they have been featured on a nearly continuous basis since being anonymously donated to the museum in 1979. The shoes will be a part of a new exhibition entitled, “American Stories.”

Originally, the shoes were not supposed to be kept for posterity nor be the iridescent red color for which they are famous. In fact, the shoes designed by the film’s costume designer Gilbert Adrian, were intended to be used solely for the movie. Most film fashion props are just used for the short duration of a shoot, and not showcased for several decades afterward. During an earlier conservation treatment, it was discovered through tests that the shoes’ famous red sequins were made of gelatin, an organic material that would be damaged if cleaned with most cleaning solvents. Smithsonian conservators decided that their best course of action would be to use cotton dipped in ice water to complete the tedious process of cleaning each sequin individually.

PortaScope Digital Microscope In both L. Frank Baum’s 1900 novel, from which the film was adapted, and early variations of Noel Langley’s screenplay, the shoes were originally intended to be silver. However, with the advent of technicolor film, the shoes’ hue was changed prior to filming in an effort to catch the eyes of moviegoers. During the conservation treatment, the original silver color of the shoes was discovered after being examined with a hand-held microscope. Conservators also found a netting underneath the bright red sequins that originally allowed the film’s costume designers to stitch those sequins to the silver slippers. This netting was added to the shoes in an effort to make the process of stitching the sequins to the shoes easier.

Similar conservation projects could be accomplished with the following tools and equipment from University Products: precision miniature fiber-tipped applicators, stainless steel conservation work trays, and PortaScope digital microscopes.

Archival Photo Storage: Choosing The Best Enclosure

Your valuable photo collection is vulnerable to dangerous threats including environmental contaminants, water, fingerprint oils and PVC plastics. archival quality photo storage box drop front blackWe have products and solutions to protect and preserve your photos for many years to come. University Products offers a wide variety of archival photo products that will help you with your photo restoration and preservation projects.

Included in these products is our line of custom archival boxes that have passed the Image Permanence Institute’s Photo Activity Test. The Photo Activity Test (PAT) evaluates photo-storage and display materials and how they interact with photographic materials. This test can determine the archival quality of materials including, but not limited to, paper, boards, and plastics. The components of such materials are also tested. These may include inks, tapes, paints, and labels.

 

archival quality photographic plastic enclosure sleeveOver 8,000 samples have undergone the PAT test in more than the two decades of the test. This test is administered by stacking materials in contact with image interaction and stain detectors. These stacks are then placed in a humidity and temperature-controlled chamber to simulate aging. This climate-altered chamber stays at a temperature of 70 degrees centigrade and 80% relative humidity. The incubation process of each sample takes place over the course of a 15-day period. Test results are sent to clients and manufacturers within 4-6 weeks after the test is administered.

archival quality photo negative slide storage pagesIn addition to our line of custom archival boxes, University Products offers photo pages and sleeves that have passed the PAT. Per the recommendation of the National Archives, polyester, polyethylene, and polypropylene enclosures provide the most stable and non-damaging storage environment for archiving your photos. Unlike PVC plastics, these materials are inert and do not stick to your photographs.

photo tex archival quality interleaving tissueAt one time, it was believed that photographs stored in buffered enclosures might be adversely affected by buffering. This is no longer believed to be true except for a couple of specific types of photographs. With dye transfer prints and cyanotypes, unbuffered enclosures should be used. The image of both print types can be harmed by alkalinity. University Products’ new Photo-Tex tissue was mentioned on our blog earlier this year as a suitable solution for interleaving between photographs when buffering is not desired.

 

Will You Be Our Archival Valentine?

valentine card archival storage and preservation university productsOn Valentine’s Day, let’s not forget about the Valentines themselves. Naturally, I’m talking about the cards, which besotted lovers exchanged for what seems like forever. In reality, the art of the Valentine Card migrated from England to the USA in the middle of 19th century, thanks to Esther Howland (1828–1904) of Worcester, Massachusetts.

valentine card archival storage and preservation university productsEsther was a daughter of a large book and stationary store owner, and after receiving a frilly Valentine card from one of her dad’s British associates, she began importing paper lace and floral decorations from England. She made dozens of hand-made card samples and with help from her salesman brother, got $5000 worth of orders on the first try. She developed and ran a very successful business, eventually becoming known throughout the US and is to this day called “The Mother of the American Valentine.”

archival quality valentine card memory albumWhether for sentimental reasons, because you are a serious collector, or just because you simply adore all the flowers, hearts and cupids, proper storage is the key to ensure that your beloved Valentines will last forever. University Products’ Oversize Memory Albums and Pages will protect and preserve the cards (or any other paper ephemera) while displaying them in an attractive and simple way. You can also choose from our many Museum Quality Boxes and/or Archival Storage Enclosures.

Also, for simple but effective advise on storage and preservation of your Private and Family Collections, we recommend Northeast Document Conservation Center’s excellent online resources.

Celebrating Thomas Edison’s Birthday

Thomas Edison in 1887 signed photo University ProductsToday, electric light bulbs, recorded music, and motion pictures are so integrated into our daily lives that we take them for granted. We can thank Thomas Edison for these revolutionary inventions. He was one of American history’s most prolific inventors having 1,093 US patents bearing his name. He would be celebrating his 165th birthday on Saturday, February 11, 2012.

Edison was born and raised in Michigan, but by the 1870’s, he made the home of his inventions and research in Menlo Park, N.J. This facility was an innovation in itself as it was the first research laboratory of its kind stressing teamwork and scientific collaboration. The Menlo Park lab was built with the money Edison received from Western Union for selling his quadruplex telegraph in 1874. The entire lab was relocated and can be currently seen in Greenfield Village, part of The Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, MI.

thomas edison signed photo in polyester sleeve by university productsEdison’s additional inventions include the phonograph, electric light bulb, kinetoscope, and the carbon telephone transmitter among over a thousand others. The transmitter was still being used in telephones until 1980. Edison also helped advance film-making by pioneering the practice of copying films and widely distributing them. In an effort to better protect his copyrights and to ensure preservation of the films, Edison deposited prints of them on long strips of photographic paper with the U.S. Copyright Office.

University Products proudly owns several photographs of Edison, signed by the man himself, and we featured one of them on the cover of our catalog a few years ago. To protect your own photographic treasures, polyester sleeves offer a great storage solution. Our hand-held magnifiers with LED illumination give you an opportunity to get a closer look at your photos, and our white cotton gloves are essential in the handling of your collection.

Happy 200th Birthday Charles Dickens!

Charles Dickens’ classic holiday novella, A Christmas Carol was first published in 1843. In 2011, the original manuscript was given new life and extensive treatment from New York’s Morgan Library and Museum‘s crew of conservators at the Thaw Center for Conservation.  The manuscript restoration was done in anticipation of the bicentenary of the famed author’s birthday which is being observed around the globe today.

Charles Dickens, seen here in an 1860's photograph taken by famed Civil War photographer Matthew Brady.

Each page, written word, and the binding itself were carefully examined before the treatment of the manuscript could begin. The initial steps of this process began with the removal of each page from the book’s binding. Each of these separated pages is then bathed in a combination of water and alcohol solution.

Soaking the paper in this solution caused a previously used adhesive to dissolve. According to Morgan conservators, the adhesive coating was probably applied sometime between 1910 and 1920. This now-antiquated technique, called “silking” was once used to strengthen and reinforce paper. The sheer silk coating tends to become brittle over time and loses its effectiveness.

The washing process was completed by a second bath in a combination of  calcium carbonate-enriched deionized water and alcohol. This bath has a neutralizing effect on soluble acids and adhesives. Dickens, like many other writers of the age, wrote in black iron-gall ink (iron gall ink test paper), which is water-resistant and adhered permanently to the paper’s surface.  However, with its high acidity, this ink caused the pages to deteriorate drastically and the ink itself changed to a dark brown tone over time.

After this washing, each page of the manuscript was air-dried and then humidified. To gently flatten each sheet, the pages were placed on blotting paper for several days. Each page was examined further  for tears, rips and holes, and those were repaired with Japanese tissue and a diluted wheat starch paste. Thanks in large part to the high quality paper that Dickens used, The Morgan’s conservators were pleased to report that the manuscript’s pages were in remarkably good condition after the conservation process and have incredibly similar color and flexibility to the original document penned by Dickens.