Preserving New Hampshire’s Past for the Future

One of America’s earliest and most successful operetta composers, George W. Stratton (1830-1901), was one of the few to compose and self-publish operettas entirely for children. He and his wife never had children, but instead brought joy to youth through their widely performed showpieces with chimerical plots and advanced choruses, solos, duets, and even recitative. Mrs. Stratton worked with her husband to write lyrics and draw cover artwork. In 1885, they sought a final resting place for their legacy, and gave to their native town of West Swanzey, New Hampshire, the “Stratton Free Library and Art Gallery.”

Stratton provided the library some 2,000 of the best books in the English language, over 200 pictures selected in Europe to be educational in the lines of art, history, or architecture, and music volumes by the finest classical composers to that date. His family trust maintained the library until 1914, when it was given to the town. Alas, much of the artwork was sold in the 1920s to raise funds for the library. At the moment, library has 5 of Lucy Stratton’s oil paintings, and as it happens, they have just heard from someone, whose parents bought one of the paintings by Lucy and he is going to return it to the library.

Upon visiting the Stratton Free Library, one would find only two rooms with minimal belongings. A marble bust of Stratton stands in the main hallway along with neat rows of brown leather-bound books arranged in glass cases. The once-filled gallery is now left with only two landscape paintings. An old trunk contains various operettas and sheet music with exquisite detail. Every booklet includes specific stage directions, costume descriptions, and previews of new operetta releases. One of Stratton’s most notable works, Fairy Grotto, written in 1872, has a plot reminiscent of Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream with a whimsical musical overtone.

Anne Meyer, a “generalist” conservator with a wealth of knowledge, works in the library taking care of the remaining artifacts of the library’s benefactor and his wife. She began as a curious child with an interest in antiques and personal history, and now focuses mostly on restoring textiles, costumes, and period pieces. Her work at the library includes removing over a century worth of dust, finger oils, improper storage damage, and mold with Groom-Sticks, Hydrophilic Sponges, and Wishab Dry Cleaning Sponges. She also spends a lot of time advising visitors on how to preserve their own historical treasures.

Along with the collection of operettas found in the library, many works have also been donated or purchased by the town or Stratton trust. The music that once brought joy to countless children and adults is now being restored in hopes of continuing Stratton’s legacy of great American children’s music.

For more information on the life and works of G.W. Stratton please call (603) 352-9391 or visit the Stratton Free Library, 9 Main St, Swanzey, NH

Surprising Finds

A surprising treasure trove of artifacts from the early 19th century sat patiently behind a college building, waiting to be discovered under only a few inches of dirt.

Alison Bell, associate professor of archaeology, with a sampling of artifacts from the Robinson Hall site. Photo courtesy of W&L University

Alison Bell, alumni, associate professor of archaeology and chair of Historic Preservation & Archaeological Conservation Advisory Committee, paid a visit to the site before the construction crews began working on renovations of the historic Robinson Hall at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia. She was shocked to find numerous artifacts simply scattered in the lawn behind the building. Bell returned in a few days with more help and organized a full blown archeological dig. What they unearthed during 3 days of digging, were literally hundreds of artifacts which, Bell believes constitute only about a third of the site. Some objects date from the early 1800s, with some later ones that date to the Civil War. Household and personal items, school lab supplies and much, much more, which allowed a good glimpse at the academic experience in one of the earliest colleges in the country. Negotiations are underway to continue digging in hopes to add to the already impressive collection.

A complete penknife from the early 1800s was among the items uncovered on the site. Images courtesy of W&I University.

After thorough cleaning and sorting (same grid on a smaller scale was used for temporarily storing the artifacts as was for digging them out), archeologists concerned themselves with a proper way to preserve found treasures. We totally approve of their choice of archival quality Top View Artifact Boxes, which allow convenience of being able to view and display collections while avoiding the necessity of extra handling.

How to Hold it Together in the Archival World

Keeping it TogetherRead the article Keeping It All Together: Paper Fasteners at the National Archives in the Prologue Magazine Blog about the dangers brought upon archived documents by the little (or large) clips and other common office supplies of this nature. But what are the archivally acceptable means of  “keeping it together”?

• First of all, make sure to carefully extract any and all of the existing clips and staples or remove rubber bands and threads. Smooth out the indentations and holes left by them and make sure there’s no  left over “debris”.Brass paper clips

• Although some Stainless Steel, Brass, Plastic and Binder Clips are perfectly ok for short term storage and handling, long term use of any of them might lead to contamination and/or physical damage to the important paper artifacts, ephemera and documents.adjustable rare book storage box

• For permanent archival storage of larger items, especially the more fragile ones, we recommend housing them individually rather than in groups. For example, Adjustable Rare Book Storage Boxes give you flexibility in terms of size and they do keep the item together by applying gentle but firm pressure on all sides. These kinds of items are best stored vertically, fully supported all around.

• Items of various materials, age and damage level should not be combined inside the same enclosure to avoid cross-contamination. However, individual documents can be contained and preserved by putting them into clear enclosures and then grouped together inside folders or envelopes

• The smaller groups of items should be placed inside strong, archivally safe boxes to preserve them from physical damage, dust, dirt and light, the archenemies of the aging paper. Moisture-resistant options are also available and provide an extra layer of protection, especially for natural disaster-prone areas.

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.

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!

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.

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: 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.

 

Stereographs and the Stereogranimator

stereo card viewerA current and popular trend in film-making is shooting films in eye-popping 3-D format. Throughout history, 3-D technology has evolved from the simple red-blue anaglyphs of the mid-20th century, to big-budget effects that are displayed on the cinema screens today. But the fascination with 3-D and special effects is certainly not a new phenomenon, and a new project from the New York Public Library has rekindled interest in stereographs, a precursor to 3-D, with their Stereogranimator. This new page puts the NYPL’s large collection of over 40,000 stereographs at your fingertips where they can be instantly converted, viewed and shared as either animated GIFs, or 3-D anaglyphs. This initiative was loosely based on the works of artist Joshua Heineman on his site, Cursive Buildings, that he created in 2008.

stereo card archival storage boxStereographs were a popular form of entertainment over a nine-decade period spanning from the 1850’s to the 1930’s. Queen Victoria praised stereographs and consequently popularized them after they were displayed at London’s famed Great Exhibition in 1851. Oliver Wendell popularized this medium in America with his invention of the hand-held stereoscope and promotion of stereograph libraries. The first of these types of images were printed on copper (daguerreotypes) or glass (ambrotypes). It wasn’t until the printing of stereographs on card stock that their popularity truly skyrocketed. Eventually, companies like the London Stereoscopic Company started to establish and sell millions of stereoscopes and stereographs in the mid-1800’s.

four flap stereo negative storage envelopeThese images gave viewers a glimpse of a very early variation of 3-D possibilities that we see in movies today. While peering through a stereoscope at two seemingly identical photos, the viewer’s brain tricked them into thinking that they were looking at one three-dimensional image. However, unlike the animated GIFs made through the Stereogranimator, original stereographs were motionless.

Do you own or care for a special collection of stereo cards? University Products offers products to both view your images and keep them archivally safe. Our stereo card viewer is an economical option for viewing your prized stereo cards. We also provide enclosures for your stereo cards and stereo card negatives as well as stereo storage boxes to house both.