Robert Fulton’s Birthday

Robert Fulton , who was born on November 14, 1765, in Little Britain, PA, was an American engineer and inventor who is widely credited with developing the first commercially successful steamboat. In 1800, he was commissioned by Napoleon Bonaparte to design the Nautilus, which was the first practical submarine in history. He is also credited with inventing some of the world’s earliest naval torpedoes for use by the British Navy.

University Products’ founder, Dave Magoon, is quite a collector of paper ephemera and we were able to get our hands (and cameras) on some of the pieces from his collection related to Robert Fulton and his amazing inventions. The best way to protect paper artifacts such as these is to ensure they are stored in a dry cool place. Archival encapsulation (to shield it from dust, dirt and other dangers) as well as appropriate box storage solution (to protect from light and other hazardous elements) can greatly extend the life of even most fragile paper treasures.

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.

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.