Local Archival Delivery Mystery Solved!

legal document cases archival university productsOn Monday, April 20, University Products received a rush request from Rare Book & Manuscript Library at Duke University. They needed 35 legal size document cases, 200 legal size folders with reinforced tabs, and 65 spacers, and they needed them by Wednesday.  They had ordered it from another vendor last Thursday and had expected the shipment to arrive, but were told that it won’t arrive until Thursday. It was actually for an acquisition project going on in Leeds, Massachusetts.

We had everything in stock, and even offered to drive it to the destination to make the deadline.  The purchase order arrived Tuesday morning, and John Dunphy, University Products’ Vice President and General Manager set off to deliver the products that day.  He soon found himself in the country, in a residential area, and pulled into a driveway surrounded by a large number of sculptures.  It was then that it dawned on him that the person he was bringing the order to, Lisa Baskin, was the widow of famed artist Leonard Baskin.

Why was Duke University purchasing archival storage supplies and shipping them to a little town in Western Massachusetts?  Turns out, it acquired one of the largest and most significant private collections on women’s history!  Read more about Lisa Unger Baskin Collection: https://today.duke.edu/2015/04/baskinrelease

Preserving Pension Records in Ireland

Images courtesy of The Military Archives
Images courtesy of The Military Archives

In June 1923, the Oireachtas of Saorstát Éireann (Irish Free State) decided to recognize and compensate the wounded members, and the widows, children and dependents of deceased members of the Irish National Army, the Irish Volunteers, and the Irish Citizen Army that had active service during the Easter Week of 1916, the War of Independence, and the Civil War.

An early recruitment poster, c. 1925. Image courtesy of the Military Archives
An early recruitment poster, c. 1925. Image courtesy of the Military Archives

Various pieces of legislation allowed applicants to consider themselves eligible for gratuities, allowances, or pensions. In determining the accuracy of these applications, supporting material was gathered by a committee. These materials included membership rolls, reports of activities carried out by the military formations, detailed information on the course of events during the time period, and about 68,896 military medals.

Today, the Military Service Pensions Collection is being made available online through a series of releases ending in Easter week 2016. Project leaders want to enable the long term preservation of the original records, and allow the public to access the complex collection of about 270,000 to 300,000 individual files. The materials have suffered from poor storage conditions, use of poor quality paper, rusting of the pins, staples and fasteners used, and bad handling.

The preservation process began with the documents being physically cleaned, including the removal of metal, treasury tags and other ties. Files were then reorganized using acid free archival standard supplies. A lab was established on-site for the conservation of badly damaged material. Due to their poor physical state, some files were microfilmed and digitized in order to minimize the handling of the material. Other sources were scanned in color directly as TIFF files and backed up and stored. To allow the public and relatives of former participants in the 1916-1923 period to obtain high quality copies of relevant files in the collection, PDF files were created, and photographs taken of the very fragile material.

One of the Pension Documents, image courtesy of the Military Archives
One of the Pension Documents. Image courtesy of the Military Archives

Next, an online database was created with the digitized original documents through a Military Archives website to maximize the access to the collection. A suitable collections management software package was identified, and then customized to suit the military nature of the files and records. The entire collection was divided into searchable databases, reflecting the vast bulk of the individual applicant’s files in the collection. All files relating to an individual are co-located to fit the various reference codes and have a unique file code as a primary key for reference and sourcing.

The release of the Military Service Pensions Collection comes at a critical time. In 2016, Ireland will celebrate the 100th anniversary of the 1916 Easter rebellion in Dublin. This marks the most significant uprising in Ireland, and the start to the independence movement. Following the rebellion, the Irish Republican Army launched a war against the British government that ended in a July 1921 cease-fire and an eventual treaty that established the Irish Free State. The fully independent Republic of Ireland was formally proclaimed on Easter Monday in 1949. With the release of the pension records over the next two years, Ireland can continue to celebrate its independence and remember those who fought to gain it.

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.

We Are Crazy About These Collections!

Stirling District Asylum’s 50 volumes of meticulous medical records, detailing the care and treatment of mental health patients in Central Scotland in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were transferred for treatment and preservation to the University of Stirling Archives. They are undergoing thorough cleaning, and after being cataloged will provide wealth of historical, social and medical information for genealogical and historical researchers at the archive.

1446 items removed from patients' stomachs. Photo from the Glore Psychiatric Museum.

Glore Psychiatric Museum, part of St. Joseph, Missouri Museum Group, boasts probably the largest collection showing the evolution of mental health care in the United States. Appropriately located in one of the buildings of ‘State Lunatic Asylum No. 2’ which opened in November of 1874 with 25 patients, the museum hosts multiple full-sized replicas, interactive displays, audio-visuals, artifacts, and documents to illustrate the history of the treatment of mental illness.

Last but not least, Mütter Museum at The College of Physicians of Philadelphia is celebrating it’s 150th anniversary and is working on restoring it’s Hyrtl Skull Collection, consisting of 139 fine specimens, all of which are now up for “adoption”. During the SOS (Save Our Sculls) Campaign, the $200 price of your contribution would assist with initial cost of cleaning, repair, and remounting of your chosen artifact and your (or somebody else’s) name will be permanently included on the the skull mount!

Asian Museum of Art Performs Conservation Treatment on Samurai Armor

San Francisco’s Asian Art Museum is home to a world-renowned collection of over 18,000 pieces spanning more than 6,000 years of Asia’s history. Included in this collection is a Japanese Gusoku-type armor that dates back to the 19th century. In the spring of 2011, this armor underwent an extensive conservation treatment. Their finished product was recently revealed, and the armor now sits prominently in the museum’s display cases.

This armor probably never actually saw action on the battlefield and was likely used for ceremony or even display. Prior to conservation, the armor, made of a wide variety of materials including iron, silk, bronze, animal hair and leather, was in serious disrepair. The museum’s team of conservators used high-powered microscopes and x-ray technology to reveal the damaged areas.  For instance, the shin guards on the armor are made out of a fine steel chain-link material and tied off with cotton silk straps. Repairs to these straps were done using invisible hair silk and cotton patches. Other metal components of the armor, including the helmet crest were cleaned for corrosion using a proper cleaning solution and fiber-tipped applicators.

A conservator from the Asian Art Museum repairs a part of the samurai armor's shin guards. (photo courtesy of American Art Museum)

Other losses needed to be mended, including those to the leather thigh guards. Tears and holes were mended using a long-fibered Japanese paper called tengujo. Tengujo, like many other Japanese papers is flexible and strong, enabling it to move with the piece without adding bulk to it. This paper helped fill a large hole in the intricately printed bands in the armor. Conservators also utilized adhesives to secure flaking areas on the face mask. Using a syringe, an adhesive was applied to fill in the tiny cracks on the mask’s surface. Traditionally, samurai armor rests on a specific type of mount made of various-sized, tiered wooden hangers holding true to a minimalist aesthetic. The museum’s textile conservator built a custom form made from starched cotton buckram, that was later cut down to fit on the traditional wooden mount.

Conservators use tengujo, a Japanese paper to mend a loss in the samurai armor. (photo from the Asian Art Museum's flickr page)

How University Products can help you

University Products carries a diverse product line that includes many items similar to what the Asian Art Museum’s conservators used during this conservation treatment. Our fiber-tipped applicators and cleaning swabs are ideal for conservation and restoration use, especially for cleaning. For getting a closer look at individual fibers in your textile pieces, try our PortaScope Digital Microscope.  Both our plastic syringes and adhesive applicators can help you apply adhesives to small crevices. We also offer various sized chest mounts in addition to suit and dress forms, if creating your own custom mount is not preferable.

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.