Latest Shows and New Products

Just returned from the American Association of Museums annual meeting where University Products exhibited at Museum Expo. I enjoyed meeting old and new friends and discussing some of the many new products we will be launching in the coming months.

University Products' John Dunphy with Mark Hall-Patton of the Pawn Stars fame.

Among the many fun moments was Mark Hall-Patton stopping at the booth. Mark works for the Clark County Museum System in Las Vegas, NV and is an expert in historical artifacts. However, he may be better known for his frequent appearances on one of the History Channel’s most popular shows: Pawn Stars.
Pawn Stars takes you inside the colorful world of the pawn business. At the Gold & Silver Pawn Shop on the outskirts of Las Vegas, three generations of the Harrison family–grandfather Richard, son Rick and grandson Corey – jointly run the family business, and there’s clashing and camaraderie every step of the way. The three men use their sharp eyes and skills to assess the value of items from the commonplace to the truly historic, including a 16th-century samurai sword, a Super Bowl ring, a Picasso painting and a 17th-century stay of execution. It’s up to them to determine what’s real and what’s fake, as they reveal the often surprising answer to the questions on everyone’s mind, “What’s the story behind it? ” and “What’s it worth?”
Mark chatted with me about his participation in the show. He explained that neither he nor any of the experts are paid, but that the popularity of the show has greatly increased attendance at the Clark County Museum System, and the pawn shop had been very generous with the museums’ fund raising efforts. Mark is a customer of University Products and was kind enough to pose for a picture…

John with Carlos Mijares from Editorial Marco Polo, Mexico.
John with Carlos Mijares from Editorial Marco Polo, Mexico.

The American Institute for Conservation also held its annual meeting in May. University Products had a 20’ booth at the Albuquerque, NM convention center. I was joined in the booth by Carlos Mijares from Editorial Marco Polo, the major supplier of archival and conservation materials in Mexico and one of our favorite distributors of our products there. University Products also offers many of Editorial Marco Polo’s products here in the U.S. Among them are a variety of new suction tables which were on display at the booth, along with several new conservation weights.
In addition, we showed some of our new generation of products which include Fosshape and Wonderflex. These two new materials are used in mount making and creating light weight mannequin forms. You will be hearing more about these materials and many others as we move forward.
As I mentioned in our last blog, we will be participating in the Society of Southwest Archivists annual meeting being held in Phoenix, and the Association of Tribal Archives, Libraries & Museums being held in Tulsa. We will also be a platinum sponsor of the SPNHC (Society for the Preservation of Natural History Collections) annual meeting at Yale University in New Haven, CT. Regrettably, because of some health issues, I will not be able to attend these meetings as planned. We will, however, have products and catalogs on display and generous people in these organizations will set up and maintain our booth space. I hope to be back on my feet by early July in time to participate in the NAGARA (National Association of Government Archives and Records Administrators) show in Santa Fe, and the Society of American Archivists meeting in San Diego in August.

Bridgeport’s Barnum Museum Comes Back From The Brink

In the spirit of their namesake, the Barnum Museum in Bridgport, Conn., has made the effort to ensure that the show will go on after sustaining heavy damage when an EF1 tornado ripped through the city on June 24, 2010. The museum, named after famed Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey circus showman P.T. Barnum, has been a landmark in the Southern Connecticut city since 1893. The museum’s over 25,000 artifacts reflect both Barnum’s life and personal items in addition to artifacts focusing on the history of the Greater Bridgeport area.

The Barnum Museum, pre-tornado.

Last month, The Barnum Museum reopened on a two-day-a-week schedule. Upon re-opening, the museum started a new and unique exhibition called Recovery in Action. This exhibition is presented on Thursdays and Fridays from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., and allows visitors an opportunity to see the challenges of disaster recovery. The museum will showcase a unique array of artifacts including Tom Thumb’s miniature carriages and very ornate furniture owned by Barnum. However, these items will not be displayed traditionally. Instead, these pieces will be shown in their “evacuation” spaces. They were transfered from the museum and housed temporarily in the People’s United Bank Gallery. The museum’s visitors will see conservators work on artifacts while the recovery is in process. “The historic building itself is a work of art and the collection it contains is part of the overall restoration process,” Barnum Museum Executive Director and Curator Kathy Maher said about what’s taking place at her museum. “It’s now time to let everyone witness this tremendous effort as it unfolds,” she added.

The 2010 tornado caused millions of dollars in damage to the museum. A portion of the repair costs will focus solely on the museum’s collections. The American Institute of Conservation Collections Emergency Response Team in concert with both FEMA and the Institute of Museums and Library Services assessed the damage to these artifacts. The museum’s biggest problem has been elevated moisture levels that threaten pieces housed on the museum’s first floor and in basement level archival storage area. Amazingly, just one artifact was completely lost from the museum’s collection, a Barnum autobiography from 1870’s. Maher explained to New England Cable News that the tome was completely saturated and quickly molded over in the wake of the tornado.

According to initial estimates, well over 800 items in the museum’s collection will be reviewed, and many from that number will require some sort of conservation treatment. Included in the items that underwent this process was one of the museum’s pair of carriages built for Tom Thumb. The paint on the carriage had been stripped away by tornadic winds and debris as if it were scraped off by sandpaper. In fact, many of the painted surfaces in the museum experienced hydrothermal shock due to the drastic humidity and temperature changes from the storm. Conservator Chris Augerson coated the carriage with a thin layer of varnish before applying infill painting. Keeping with the tenets of conservation, these measures were taken so that this process can easily be reversed in the future. The fabric elements of the carriage are currently awaiting treatment.

In addition to the damage incurred by the museum’s collections, many structural deficiencies were spotted even before the tornado hit the building in 2010, including faulty support structures that hoist the museum’s famous dome. Due to the high speed of the tornadic winds and the compromised support structures, the domed roof actually shifted counterclockwise. To repair this, the dome will have to be supported by load-bearing columns placed on the museum’s third floor.  After the tornado, a historic buildings engineer also inspected the building’s structural integrity. The repairs to the museum are expected to be completed in another two years.

Natural disasters, like the tornado that hit the Barnum Museum, are largely unexpected weather phenomena. The key for a quick recovery from any natural disaster is preparedness. Both the National Park Service and Kansas Cultural Emergency Resources Network can provide you with numerous resources to help you formulate a plan in the event of a natural disa?ter. Once your disaster plan is finalized, University Products carries the necessary tools and equipment to protect your collections, as well as products to restore them if damage should occur.

 

A University Products How-To Tip: Display and Storage of Books

Books present a variety of unique conservation concerns.  Numerous construction materials may include paper, leather, fabric, silk, thread, and adhesives, each of which have specific requirements in the area of conservation.  Unlike a photograph or simple sheet of paper, a book has moving parts (pages) and must be handled and manipulated to perform the function it was designed for.

Protection from temperature and humidity fluctuation, ultraviolet light, and damaging display or storage materials is necessary for the long-term survival of books.  Beyond that, books take on a whole new set of rules.

Open Books
Opening a book completely (180 degrees) can flatten the spine and cause considerable damage.  Collectors often wish to display the book opened. To do so safely, the book should not be opened more than 90 degrees, and both front and back covers should receive full support.This can be accomplished using commercially available book cradles, support wedges and book mounts. They should be manufactured of inert materials (usually Plexiglas) and provide smooth, strong support.

A sheet of polyester (Melinex) cut to the proper size is ideal for holding down “springy” pages of an open book on display.  Because it is crystal clear, the page can be viewed without obstruction.  In addition, it will protect the exposed page(s) from dirt, dust and fingerprints.  The polyester page protector should be fastened to the support, never to the book itself.

Closed Books Storage
Closed books are a little simpler to store.  Adequate circulation should be maintained within the storage area.  Books stored on shelves or in a book case should not be pushed against the back wall, but kept an inch or two away to allow circulation of air.  This is especially important if it is an exterior wall since changes in temperature and humidity are more likely to occur. They should be stored upright on the shelf rather than laid flat, but should not be allowed to lean since the strain could damage the spine.  Books with leather bindings should be stored away from those with cloth or paper bindings to prevent migration of naturally occurring acids and oils in leather from damaging paper or cloth bindings.  Like-size books should be stored together to provide proper support, but should not be so tight as to cause damage when removed or replaced.
The downside to storing your book collection closed and on shelves is that viewing the book requires handling the book.  Careless handling of books can cause irreparable damage, and a few common sense handling procedures can preserve a book in its pristine condition.  Instead of pulling a book out by the top of the spine, push in the books on either side and remove by gently grasping both sides (another good reason to leave a few inches of space behind the books).  Modern day books with dust jackets should be covered with a polyester book jacket cover. Book jacket covers are fairly inexpensive and provide increased protection from general wear and tear. They also prevent chemicals from body oils in the hands and fingers from damaging the book.  Use only polyester or other inert materials to cover books since some plastics or acidic papers can cause more harm than good.  Most libraries use polyester dust jacket covers.

Older/Damaged Books
Older books that are already exhibiting signs of weakness or damage must be treated differently.  These should be stored flat rather than upright to provide needed support, and never more than two or three books high.  Ideally, each damaged book should be stored individually in a box custom made to the book’s dimensions.  These boxes should be manufactured from archival quality materials only.

Some damaged books can and should be repaired. Repair work should only be attempted by a qualified  book conservator trained in using proper materials and techniques.  A book conservator can deacidify any books manufactured with acidic paper, repair tears in pages, tighten loose hinges, and create proper storage boxes, among other procedures.  Properly cared for, your book collection will last indefinitely.