MHS Takes Care of History

De-acidification of the newspaper in purified water. Photos by Laura Wulf for the Massachusetts Historical Society.
Photos by Laura Wulf for the Massachusetts Historical Society.

Because our state of Massachusetts has played such a huge role in American history and culture, it is home to a multitude of documents, artifacts and objects of historical significance. Some of them are preserved at the esteemed Massachusetts Historical Society.  Here you can see the fourth volume of a set of Revolutionary-era Boston newspapers collected, annotated, and indexed by Harbottle Dorr, Jr., a Boston shopkeeper, from 1765 to 1776. After the pages were dry-cleaned and the ink tested for solubility, the MHS conservator washed and de-acidified the pages in purified water.

Restored artifact. Photos by Laura Wulf for the Massachusetts Historical Society.

After a gentle wash, pages were dried, and then, the conservator used Japanese tissue paper and wheat starch paste to repair them. You can see a close-up of the restored bottom of the page in the photograph on the left. This project took place in the conservation lab of the Massachusetts Historical Society. You can also read more about MHS conservator and her work on the project in this post on the society’s official blog, The Beehive.

Letter from Abigail Adams to John Adams, 31 March - 5 April 1776
Letter from Abigail Adams to John Adams

The Massachusetts Historical Society is an independent research library and manuscript repository founded in 1791. Its holdings encompass millions of rare and unique documents and artifacts vital to the study of American history, many of them irreplaceable national treasures. Among them is correspondence between John Adams, who’s birthday will be celebrated tomorrow, and his wife Abigail. You can even view some of their letters right on your computer, in amazing high resolution, including her famous “Remember the ladies.

Preserving the Old Glory

Archival Quality Flag Box from University ProductsMemorial Day was established for remembering the men and women who died while serving in the United States Armed Forces and naturally, the American Flag takes center stage in this somber celebration. There are very particular rules and procedures, called collectively The Flag Code for everything from carrying and hanging to folding and disposal of Old Glory (which are actually part of U.S. legal code). Although “flag etiquette” is not particularly enforced, taking good care of your cherished symbol will exponentially increase it’s life span, whether it’s brand new or an old family heirloom!

Conservation – As with any textile, make sure to conduct all necessary cleaning and repair before attempting to store or display the flag. Checking for possible insect infestation/ damage is always a good idea with textiles, especially if previous storage conditions were not ideal. Once it is deemed clean of unwanted visitors, conservators start by carefully removing dust, dirt and other environmental debris, treating stains with appropriate cleaning products and, if required, mending rips and/or signs of wear and tear. Old Flag conservation, repair and mounting at the Museum Textile ServicesWe always recommend contacting a professional conservator if you are dealing with an especially fragile item of high monetary or sentimental value. Our friends at Museum Textile Services specialize in treating all sorts of fabric treasures, including flags. Click on the image to read just one of their flag-restoration stories.

Cleaning – Minimize washing or cleaning of older flags. You should not wash or dry clean them except with the advice of a professional conservator. However, vacuuming gently (on low suction) using a brush attachment covered by a clean piece of cheesecloth is usually a safe and effective cleaning method. New flags, depending on the type of material, can usually be washed by hand using a mild soap.clear view flag storage box

Special Storage – triangular-shaped archival quality boxes are designed specifically for storing properly folded flags. Acid-Free Tissue or Polyester Batting may be used for stuffing and support, if needed. University Products offers 2 kinds of ready-to-assemble flag boxes: the Archival Quality Flag Box in Blue/Gray Corrugated Board and the Clear-View Flag Box in 20pt. inert Polyester.

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.

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.

His Songs are Our Songs: NEDCC Conserves Woody Guthrie Scrapbooks

In anticipation of this summer’s 100th birthday celebration of Woody Guthrie, the Northeast Document Conservation Center, in concert with the Woody Guthrie Archives, (curated by Guthrie’s daughter Nora) began the process of conserving and digitizing (made possible though a grant by the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS)) six of Guthrie’s scrapbooks and notebooks. The process of conservation included cleaning, digitizing and encapsulation.

Woody Guthrie publicity photograph for his 1943 autobiography, Bound For Glory. New York, 1942.
Woody Guthrie publicity photograph for his 1943 autobiography, Bound For Glory. New York, 1942. Photograph by Robin Carson. Encapsulation of photographs and fragile scrapbook pages in polyester film provides excellent protection during handling.
One of Woody Guthrie’s notebooks from 1952.
One of Woody Guthrie’s notebooks from 1952. Nora Guthrie, Woody Guthrie’s daughter and Archives Director, personally delivered materials from the Woody Guthrie Archives to the Northeast Document Conservation Center in Andover, MA, for conservation treatment and digitization.

These materials showcase the ideas, illustrations, and songwriting techniques of one of America’s musical treasures. All of these items are in Guthrie’s own handwriting and include lyrics, poetry, artwork, and photographs with handwritten captions. These books captured road trips that Guthrie and his family took through Oklahoma, Texas, California, Florida, and New York. The scrapbooks date back to the 1940’s and 1950’s and even include rejection letters from major record labels.

NEDCC’s process for conserving the scrapbooks included the removal of photographs for cleaning. Found on the back side of these were handwritten captions that shed light on the setting and subjects of the photos. “It has changed the way we research,” says Guthrie Archivist Tiffany Colannino. “And solved more than a few mysteries,” she added. The condition of some of the volumes was so poor that researchers at the Guthrie Archives had not been able to fully examine them. Through conserving these scrapbooks, NEDCC conservators were able to introduce new resources to the Guthrie Archives’ collection.

Included in this set was a 230-page book that contained details about Guthrie’s 27-year stay in New York City and his friends, associates, and collaborators there including Leadbelly, Pete Seeger, Allan Lomax, and Sonny Terry. This scrapbook is now a cornerstone of a book project from Nora Guthrie and the Woody Guthrie Archives entitled My Name is New York: Ramblin’ Around Woody Guthrie’s New York Town; A Walking Guide that is slated to be published by PowerHouse Books in May, 2012.

With Woody Guthrie’s indelible influence on making music to bring about change, successors like Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, and Bruce Springsteen have kept his message alive and with this conservation project and the resulting archival discoveries, more artists will continue to follow in Woody Guthrie’s footsteps.

If you have a special collection of photographs or documents, see University Products’ selection of photo products and archival storage folders & enclosures.

Museum Textile Services Conserves and Mounts A Star-Spangled Banner

With this past December’s commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, our friends at Museum Textile Services in Andover, Mass., took on the task of conserving an American flag from the US Coast Guard ship the USS Centaurus earlier in 2011. The USS Centaurus served as an attack cargo ship in WWII’s Pacific Theater including the Battle of Guadalcanal (in the Solomon Islands) in June 1944. The ship’s career also included being involved in the Battle of Okinawa and servicing Pearl Harbor.

American Flag from US Coast Guard ship USS Centaurus
The USS Centaurus flag prior to conservation, Courtesy of Coast Guard Historic Collection

Museum Textile Services’ conservation process required multiple steps and extreme care. With an additional flag that also served at Guadalcanal, the flag from the Centaurus was removed from its old backing fabric and vacuumed and humidified to remove particulates, folds, and wrinkles. Also, upon arrival to MTS, the Guadalcanal flag had such severe fraying that servicemen tied knots in the strands on the fly end. Not every knot was able to be untied prior to mounting.

Both the Centaurus and Guadalcanal flags were pressure mounted in an effort to cut down on the amount of required stitching. MTS used our quarter-inch archival Polyfelt to make a soft surface for the flags. This padding was placed on a solid support panel made by our friends Small Corp, Inc., in nearby Greenfield, Mass. MTS also used a UV-filtering acrylic box to complete the project.

If you require specialized archival materials for your textile conservation project, see University Products’ selection of textile conservation products.