Fragile Balance

Three standard box sizes and some examples of glass negatives with their four-flap enclosures open.

We came across an article in AuthentiCity, The City of Vancouver Archives Blog, describing a recent project completed by archive’s volunteers. The project consisted of cataloging and creating archivally safe housing for a large (over 8000!) collection of glass negative in various sizes. Not an easy task!

First, each negative was placed in a convenient 4-flap acid-free paper envelope, which was marked on the spine for easy browsing. Next step was re-housing the negatives in archival boxes which came in standard sizes, but some needed to be modified (by adding foam to the bottom and/or by adding corrugated board dividers) to accommodate size variations. The light-weight sturdy corrugated dividers within the box assure snug fit and immobility of the negatives which now uniformly stand on their side and also add air circulation around small groupings of negatives. Each box was also labeled on the front, so it can be easily spotted and identified while standing on the shelf among others.

Glass negatives stored neatly in their special modified box. Photo by Cindy McLellan.
Glass negatives stored neatly in their special modified box. Photo by Cindy McLellan.

This seemingly complex but necessary storage process provides maximum protection from the elements:
• paper envelopes protect from dust and fingerprints during handling
• board and foam provide cushioning and air circulation
• archival grade specialty boxes shield from dirt, dust, light and moisture while holding negatives upright and supported on all sides

Cudos to Vancouver Archives and their dedicated volunteers for tackling such large but important project and preserving fragile treasures, such as these Glass Negatives so they would continue providing priceless historical information to future generations!

Hidden Treasures

Brooklyn College Time CapsuleIn 1955, “Before a sun-soaked crowd of 1,500 viewers,” the Brooklyn College president Dr. Harry Gideonse, who served from 1939 to 1966, and Brooklyn Borough President John Cashmore placed a watertight copper box into the cornerstone of what was to become the Walt Whitman Hall.

More than 50 years later, a construction crew, demolishing the Hall to make way for the new Center for Performing Arts, discovered the hidden treasure and brought it to light. Among other things, the box contained some Brooklyn College memorabilia, President Dwight Eisenhower’s inauguration commemorative medal and some personal items of then college president Dr. Gideonse. All items were sent to the college library’s archive to be preserved and placed in protective enclosures before becoming available for public viewing. All the items appear to be in great shape and represent a great piece of the college’s history.

Time CapsuleThis Top 10 Incredible Time Capsules list on Listverse.com recounts some of the most grandiose and ambitious projects of this sort. But you don’t have to be part of a large Japanese corporation or Space Program to create a very special Time Capsule for your descendants. Although it is not strictly an “archival” preservation method, no truly valuable family heirlooms should be put in the capsule. Make sure both the capsule and your items are absolutely dry. Avoid staples, paper clips and rubber bands and separate the items as much as possible, reducing the risk of interaction of various materials. That said, some appropriate ephemera, photos, mementos and personal items will most certainly create a great educational and emotional “present” for future generations!

Hats Off to Dr. Seuss

If you are familiar with creative work by the beloved children’s book author and illustrator, Dr. Seuss, you might have noticed that hats play a very important role in his art. Cat in the Hat? The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins? Even the big fat fish from “One Fish, Two Fish” has a tiny yellow hat perched (no pun intended) on it’s head! You can find a creature sporting some sort of headgear on practically every page of his prolific collection of books! But what you may not know, is that Theodore Geisel (aka Dr. Seuss) himself was an avid collector and wearer of hats! Hundreds of them, according to his sister, Marnie, who wrote about it in Springfield Union News in 1937: “Ted has another peculiar hobby—that of collecting hats of every description…”
Now, twenty-six original hats from Dr. Seuss’ fascinating personal collection, as well as photographs and art reproductions showing the intricate links between the real hats and the imaginary ones, are part of the National Touring Exhibition, appropriately called “Hats Off to Dr. Seuss!” Current stop for this marvelous show is Wilmington, NC, and you can see the full schedule here.

Obviously, we are also interested in hats from a conservation point of view. Being rather fragile, 3-dimentional and often oddly-shaped objects, they are not very easy to preserve. University Products has many options for both storage and display that are used by museum professionals and conservators all around the world. Whether you’re trying to preserve a Fur Hat worn by the Czar of Russia or your grandmother’s little pill box number worn on the day she eloped with your grandfather, similar guidelines should apply.

First of all, conduct all necessary cleaning and repair before attempting to store or display the hat. Professional conservators start by carefully removing dust, dirt and other environmental debris and, if required, mending rips and/or signs of wear and tear. After the initial prep, the hats need support from the inside, so they will not loose their original shape. This can be achieved with a custom-made support (for example, carved out of Ethafoam), by using a Head Mount, or simply by stuffing the hat with Acid-free Tissue. For long term storage, protection from sunlight and dust is essential. Archival Quality Hat Boxes are a perfect solution for these tasks. For display, specially designed Hat Stands or Head Mounts with Lifelike Features would be ideal.

Please remember to always consult a professional conservator (unless you are one :)) before attempting any kind of treatment on objects of monetary or sentimental value.

World Famous Tapestry Comes Alive

The Bayeux Tapestry, is probably one of the most famous pieces of embroidered cloth (yes, despite it’s name it’s not really a tapestry) in the world. This massive (nearly 230 ft) depiction of the Norman conquest of England which was first mentioned in 1476, has survived multiple invasions, wars, revolutions and finally, after nearly being taken away by the Nazis during the WWII, was returned to it’s home town of Bayeux in 1945, where it is still exhibited at Musée de la Tapisserie de Bayeux. Amazingly, the Tapestry has survived over nine centuries practically unscathed!

The Tapestry serves as a tremendously important historical document, even though it was commissioned by the House of Normandy, and presents a rather one-sided view of the event. In 2007 it was added to the UNESCO’s Memory of the World Register.

The artifact is embroidered in wool yarn on linen, which is why it is not technically a tapestry (in which the design is woven into the cloth). It has been patched in numerous places and some of the embroidery (especially in the final scene) has been reworked, but we can be certain that it maintained much of its original appearance seeing that it compares closely with a careful drawing by Antoine Benoît made in 1730. It has quite a few replicas and has inspired some pretty impressive imitations around the world including the amazing needle lace 30ft “table runner” in the Textile Collection of the National Museum of American History.

The real thing, however, is still in the little French town of Bayeux, where it is housed in a long glassed vault with a door. In case of fire, gas cylinders will trigger automatic extinguishers. The vault is also equipped with an air conditioning system to preserve the embroidery. But if you are not planing to visit Normandy any time soon, you can see the The Bayeux Tapestry “come alive” in this wonderful animation:

Size Does Matter, Archivally Speaking!

Durer ChariotNew exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, “Kings, Queens, and Courtiers: Royalty on Paper” features the best examples of the ways in which European monarchs and their aristocratic followers have been represented on paper from the sixteenth century to 1900. From formal portraits to few pointed caricatures and elaborate tributes, designed to convey the splendor, power, and virtues of the various royals and their courts. The highlight of the exhibits is a giant (it measures approximately 1.5 feet high 8 feet long) print Triumphal Chariot of Maximilian I by Albrecht Dürer. The epic artwork, dated 1522 (but started in 1518) is really a composite image printed from 8 separate wood blocks created by Willibald Pirckheimer.

When faced with a task of preserving artifacts of such grandeur and splendor (not in the least by the sheer size of the pieces) one can’t help but wonder how hard it must be to preserve it, so it can retain it’s present glory for the generations to come.

University Products prides itself on its ability to provide custom solutions for archivists, museum conservators, librarians and the amateur collectors. From Clear Plastic Enclosures (designed to fit posters and extra large panoramic prints) and Oversized Folders (which can house artwork, photos and really big ephemera), to Custom Sized boxes, our products can accommodate practically any artifact no matter how big (or small).


BIG:
Giant Size Archival Scrapbook Album
Panoramic Print Folders
Unbuffered Large Print File Folders
Polypropylene Textile Storage Boxes
Movie Poster L-Velopes
Custom Boxes

SMALL:
Mix and Match Artifact/Specimen Trays
Full View Artifact Boxes
Polyethylene Zipper Bags
Magnifiers & Portable Microscopes
Stamp/Art Mounting Strips
Color Coded Coin Holders

How to Dress a Garment

wistariahurst museum holyoke maWistariahurst is a grand yet charming mansion of the prominent silk manufacturer, William Skinner and his family. The house was built in 1874 and owned continually by the Skinner family until in 1959, when the heirs donated Wistariahurst to the City of Holyoke for cultural and educational purposes. Now it is a beautifully maintained museum, dedicated to the preservation of the local history and it’s artifacts. It houses extensive collections of decorative arts; paintings and prints, textiles and manuscripts of family and local papers.

wistariahurst archival textile boxes university productsBut what the public doesn’t normally see would be a real treat for the archival enthusiast’s eye. The back rooms are filled with neat rows of archivally safe boxes (for the most part – manufactured right here, next door, at the University Products plant in Holyoke, MA) in different sizes and configurations. From huge textile boxes to convenient document cases, all meticulously and creatively labeled. The large textile collection is carefully preserved with convenient and versatile coverings, designed and produced by devoted museum volunteer Gloria Carver. We are very grateful to her for the delightful story she wrote for us:

I had been a Wistariahurst volunteer for a number of years before Penni Martorell began working on housing the museum’s textile collection in the new Carriage House at Wistariahurst.  Many of their costumes were stored in boxes, but quite a few were left on hangers and needed to have some sort of covering to keep away the inevitable layer of dust.  Knowing my interest in textiles, Penni asked if I’d like to research the best method to cover this portion of the collection. It wasn’t long before I found a pattern for a garment cover on a government site of archival textile storage. I love to sew and I was ready to go to work!

What could be easier than to whip up a basic cover like a cleaner’s plastic bag only in cotton? Armed with the drawing of the pattern, I made a full-sized pattern and began waiting for sales of muslin at the local fabric store.  For the first group of covers, the museum purchased two bolts of fabric and I began sewing my contribution to Wistariahurst.  We realized that the covers would have to have easy access to the costume, which meant one side would be open and the other closed.  This also meant that we needed to have some kind of inexpensive closure for this open side.  Finally I would be able to put my horde of white bias tape to good use!  The last piece of work was to adhere a plastic backed pocket/label on the left front and then sew this label on to ensure its staying power.  Inside the clear pocket goes a photo of the costume inside the garment bag.  Now all it takes is a quick look at the photo to find a desired costume, which is securely protected from dust and soil.  I estimate that it takes about three hours to make one cover.

These first twenty or so came out so well that I volunteered to make another batch.  The only difference was that I had run out of white bias tape for the ties and had to resort to using my collection of various colors!  Now when you look at the row of formal looking white covered garments in the textile archives, you’ll see a bright assortment of pink, blue, yellow, green, etc. colored ties to spark up the the proper row of costumes waiting for another special exhibit.

Story by Gloria Carver, Wistariahurst Museum, Holyoke, MA

A University Products How-To Tip: Encapsulation

One of the safest, most effective means of protecting a document from harm is through encapsulation. Encapsulation allows you to view and handle a document without exposing it to hazardous elements. The process involves the positioning of a flat document between two pieces of polyester film that are then sealed on all sides.

Clear Plastic Films
There are a variety of clear plastic films on the market. Some contain plasticizers or surface coatings that are inappropriate for encapsulation. They can and will react with the items they come in contact with, doing more harm than good. If you are planning to encapsulate, be certain you are using inert polyester. The material you choose should be free of plasticizers, or surface coatings of any kind.

Sealing
Sealing the polyester also involves specific methods and materials. Heat sealing and ultrasonic welding equipment is available for adhesive-free sealing of polyester. However, the price tag for this type of equipment may be prohibitive for the average collector. The alternative is to use a double sided pressure sensitive tape. The tape should feature a stable acrylic adhesive such as 3M’s No. 415 Polyester Transparent Tape.

Pre-Formed Encapsulation
An alternative to buying expensive equipment or using adhesive tape is to purchase pre-formed encapsulation units. They are available in sizes and styles that will accommodate items of just about any size. If you plan on encapsulating a small quantity of items, this may be the most economical and time saving approach. Should you choose this route, be sure, once again, that the encapsulation units you purchase are made from an inert polyester.

Research has shown that encapsulation can increase the rate of deterioration of an acidic document. A qualified conservator can determine if a document is acidic and also perform a deacidification treatment if it is required.

Besides the protection factor encapsulation provides, static electricity inherent in polyester film will hold a document in place. Worn and fragile documents benefit greatly from this static charge since it helps hold torn pages together. The downside is the same charge will attract some mediums, such as charcoal or pastels, away from the document. A qualified conservator can determine if a particular document should or should not be encapsulated.

Once an item is determined to be safe for encapsulation, and the procedure is complete, your document is safe from dirt, pollution and fingerprints. Encapsulation will not, however, protect your autographed document from the hazards of ultraviolet light, and temperature and humidity extremes. Your encapsulated document should be stored out of the light in a climate controlled environment. Ideally, it should be stored flat in an archival quality box.

A University Products How-To Tip: Temperature & Humidity

Temperature and Humidity
Besides light, there are additional environmental concerns, such as temperature and humidity, that can  adversely affect a collection. For every 18 degree F (10 C) increase in temperature, it is estimated that chemical reactions in paper double. Relative humidity is a measure of the capacity of air to hold water. This amount varies as temperatures increase or decrease. Paper and other porous materials either absorb or lose moisture as temperature and humidity levels vary. This action causes shrinking, stretching, and the eventual breakdown of structural fibers, while contributing to formation of acids. The effect is similar to the cracking, splitting, and weaknesses that result when an outdoor wooden deck is left unprotected, though on a microscopic level.

While the ideal temperature and relative humidity levels for proper storage of paper are yet to be agreed upon, consistency seems to be the key factor. The best advice is to treat your collection like one of the family. Hot attics and damp basements make poor living quarters; they also make poor storage facilities. Even a closet that abuts an outside wall may be exposed to a large range of temperature and RH fluctuations over the course of a year.

Monitoring
Maxant HygrothermographWhen properly monitored, the combination of heating and air conditioning equipment, as well as humidifiers and dehumidifiers, allows the maintenance of a stable climate. There are also a variety of tools (with a variety of price levels and degrees of sophistication) that can assist in the monitoring. When fluctuations can be controlled, acid formation and mechanical degradation can be slowed significantly.

Desiccants
In the absence of expensive equipment, RH levels can be controlled and stabilized with the help of desiccants such as Silica Gel. Silica Gel is a porous granular, chemically inert amorphous silica that can absorb 40% to 50 % of its own weight in water. The material comes in several forms including reusable canisters, beads, sheets, and packets. Because it can become fully saturated, Silica Gel must be monitored and reconditioned when saturation occurs. One form of Silica Gel changes from orange to a pale pink to indicate it has reached the saturation level. Again, a proper schedule of monitoring your collection should be maintained to achieve a stable environment.

Having addressed the problems associated with fluctuations in temperature and humidity, it is equally important to address the more obvious problems which occur with constant extremes. The combination of high temperature and relative humidity promotes mold growth and encourages insect infestation, whereas a cold and dry environment leads to embrittlement. As you may have guessed, neither scenario is going to improve the condition of your collection.

Acceptable temperatures in your storage area should remain lower than 68 degrees F, with relative humidity between 30 and 50%.  Fluctuations should not exceed +/- 5 degrees F in temperature, and  +/- 3% relative humidity within a 24 hour period.

Most museums and libraries strive to achieve the ideal conditions described above, but they may fall under the same restraints that you and I are likely to come across. Lack of time, expertise, and money can prevent us from achieving ultimate conditions. In addition, each of our individual geographic locations can present problems unique to that area. All we can do is strive for improvement.

Resurrecting the Uniform and Memory of William Cannonball Jackman

Throughout the history of Baseball’s Negro Leagues during the early 20th century, virtually every player had a nickname, such as “Cool Papa” Bell, Bullet Joe Rogan, and Scrappy Brown. These colloquial names given to ballplayers by fellow ballplayers, added some flair to the league’s brand of baseball. The man nicknamed “Cannonball,” William Jackman, is perhaps one of the sport’s most talented, yet unknown legends. His nickname derived from his blistering fastball, and his career statistics showcase over 200 victories, nearly 800 strikeouts, and 48 shutouts during a 20-year career. His talents saw sportswriters compare Jackman, who was once dubbed “The Greatest Player You’ve Never Heard Of”, to big league Hall-of-Famers like Walter Johnson and Grover Cleveland Alexander. During his career, Major League Baseball was segregated and remained so until second baseman (and future Hall-of-Famer) Jackie Robinson broke in with the Brooklyn Dodgers on April 15, 1947. Some baseball historians believe that Jackman had the talent necessary to succeed in the big leagues, had the league integrated earlier. Jackman pitched into his mid-50s until retiring from baseball in 1953. He died in 1972 at the age of 74.

Uniform of Boston Royal Giants player William "Cannonball" Jackman after conservation. (Photo courtesy of Museum of African American History, Boston and Nantucket, MA.)

A uniform worn by Jackman in his playing days with the Boston Royal Giants, has been given a second life by our friends at Museum Textile Services in Andover, Massachusetts. Included in the entire uniform package is a jersey, pants, belt, cleats, socks, stirrups, two rosin bags, and some pads. The uniform is being preserved and stabilized by MTS in an effort to have it included in the Museum of African American History‘s “The Color of Baseball in Boston” exhibit opening on May 19. With any fabric item, insects are a concern. After the initial insect damage was attended to by placing the object in an anoxic fumigation chamber, these items were subsequently cleaned with a HEPA vacuum. Using Ethafoam, conservators carved out a head mold to be used as a display piece for Jackman’s hat. This mold will be used to display the piece during exhibition. Conservators also used a Preservation Pencil which relaxed the fabric and released old adhesives. This tool directs hot or cold water vapor from an ultrasonic humidifier.

University Products has an all-star lineup of products that can help you complete a similar project. We carry the proper conservation tools such as HEPA vacuums, Ethafoam planks and rolls, foam saws and knives, as well as preservation pencils to bring your prized memorabilia back to life. We also offer ready-made display products including  conservation suit forms and head mounts to help you showcase your collection.

Time to Celebrate Preservation Week!

 

 

Starting Sunday April 22, the American Library Association will kick off its third annual Preservation Week. The intention is to make connections between communities through events and activities that showcase what we can do to better preserve personal and shared collections. Preservation Week got its start in 2010 to bring awareness to the 630 million items in collecting institutions that require immediate care and attention. The American Library Association also points out that some 2.6 billion items are not protected by some form of an emergency plan. In 2011, more than 65 events were held nationwide during Preservation Week to bring awareness to this issue. This year, institutions across the country will be presenting webinars, workshops and lectures on how to better preserve your collections. In 2012, a diverse group of institutions will be participating in Preservation Week. You can find all of the scheduled Preservation Week events and locations on the official map.

Some of this year’s highlights include:

  • At New York University’s Michelson Theater, Activist Archivists have collaborated with the Occupy Wall Street movement to hold a presentation about the OWS Archives Working Group and the challenges they have already experienced and will face with regards to preserving and archiving materials directly related to the Occupy Wall Street movement. (Tuesday April 24, 6 PM).
  •  MIT Libraries will be presenting about caring for your family’s textiles. This session is available as a webinar. It will cover proper storage and display of your textiles, and when to call in professional conservators to handle a project. Earlier, we wrote about one such group of professionals, our friends at Museum Textiles Services. (Tuesday April 24, 2:00-3:00 PM)
  • The Library of Congress is hosting a pair of noontime events during Preservation Week. On Monday April 23, the Library of Congress will show a 35-minute, 1980’s photofilm, a movie made solely from still images, about library preservation events at the Library of Congress some three decades ago. On Wednesday April 25, conservation specialists from the Preservation Directorate will hold a seminar on the preservation of artifacts on paper. This workshop will focus on the basic conservation remedies that can be done at home.

University Products wants to help you get ready for your preservation week projects, so we are offering a sitewide 20% off sale through April 20, 2012. Use the coupon code PRESERVE12 at checkout, and the savings is yours!