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.

Bridgeport’s Barnum Museum Comes Back From The Brink

In the spirit of their namesake, the Barnum Museum in Bridgport, Conn., has made the effort to ensure that the show will go on after sustaining heavy damage when an EF1 tornado ripped through the city on June 24, 2010. The museum, named after famed Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey circus showman P.T. Barnum, has been a landmark in the Southern Connecticut city since 1893. The museum’s over 25,000 artifacts reflect both Barnum’s life and personal items in addition to artifacts focusing on the history of the Greater Bridgeport area.

The Barnum Museum, pre-tornado.

Last month, The Barnum Museum reopened on a two-day-a-week schedule. Upon re-opening, the museum started a new and unique exhibition called Recovery in Action. This exhibition is presented on Thursdays and Fridays from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., and allows visitors an opportunity to see the challenges of disaster recovery. The museum will showcase a unique array of artifacts including Tom Thumb’s miniature carriages and very ornate furniture owned by Barnum. However, these items will not be displayed traditionally. Instead, these pieces will be shown in their “evacuation” spaces. They were transfered from the museum and housed temporarily in the People’s United Bank Gallery. The museum’s visitors will see conservators work on artifacts while the recovery is in process. “The historic building itself is a work of art and the collection it contains is part of the overall restoration process,” Barnum Museum Executive Director and Curator Kathy Maher said about what’s taking place at her museum. “It’s now time to let everyone witness this tremendous effort as it unfolds,” she added.

The 2010 tornado caused millions of dollars in damage to the museum. A portion of the repair costs will focus solely on the museum’s collections. The American Institute of Conservation Collections Emergency Response Team in concert with both FEMA and the Institute of Museums and Library Services assessed the damage to these artifacts. The museum’s biggest problem has been elevated moisture levels that threaten pieces housed on the museum’s first floor and in basement level archival storage area. Amazingly, just one artifact was completely lost from the museum’s collection, a Barnum autobiography from 1870’s. Maher explained to New England Cable News that the tome was completely saturated and quickly molded over in the wake of the tornado.

According to initial estimates, well over 800 items in the museum’s collection will be reviewed, and many from that number will require some sort of conservation treatment. Included in the items that underwent this process was one of the museum’s pair of carriages built for Tom Thumb. The paint on the carriage had been stripped away by tornadic winds and debris as if it were scraped off by sandpaper. In fact, many of the painted surfaces in the museum experienced hydrothermal shock due to the drastic humidity and temperature changes from the storm. Conservator Chris Augerson coated the carriage with a thin layer of varnish before applying infill painting. Keeping with the tenets of conservation, these measures were taken so that this process can easily be reversed in the future. The fabric elements of the carriage are currently awaiting treatment.

In addition to the damage incurred by the museum’s collections, many structural deficiencies were spotted even before the tornado hit the building in 2010, including faulty support structures that hoist the museum’s famous dome. Due to the high speed of the tornadic winds and the compromised support structures, the domed roof actually shifted counterclockwise. To repair this, the dome will have to be supported by load-bearing columns placed on the museum’s third floor.  After the tornado, a historic buildings engineer also inspected the building’s structural integrity. The repairs to the museum are expected to be completed in another two years.

Natural disasters, like the tornado that hit the Barnum Museum, are largely unexpected weather phenomena. The key for a quick recovery from any natural disaster is preparedness. Both the National Park Service and Kansas Cultural Emergency Resources Network can provide you with numerous resources to help you formulate a plan in the event of a natural disa?ter. Once your disaster plan is finalized, University Products carries the necessary tools and equipment to protect your collections, as well as products to restore them if damage should occur.

 

Reversing Water and Moisture Damage in Traditional Photographs

Photographs are the most common way to hold onto memories. However, water damage can both distort your photos and cause them to adhere to one another.

archival method for separating stuck photosThe gelatinous emulsion of a photograph acts like an adhesive when it becomes moist. As a result, pictures may adhere to one another when they are exposed to moisture or high levels of humidity. Trying to separate them can result in tearing and loss of portions of the image.

A photographic conservator will be able to separate most photos without damage. However, there is a technique that can be used to separate most photographs that doesn’t require a professional conservator. There is risk of further damage involved in the process, so it should only be used as a last resort – and never with any one-of-a-kind, valuable, or irreplaceable photos.

Place the stuck photographs image side up in a bath of room temperature distilled water (which can be purchased at most grocery stores or pharmacies) for a period of 15 to 30 minutes (longer exposure to water can result in distortion).

Remove and gently pull apart the photos with your fingers. A thin, silicone coated spatula inserted between may be required for stubborn cases.

Finally, shake off any excess water and place the photos image side up on paper towels or blotting paper to dry. Weight down the edges to minimize curling as they dry. This process can also be effective for photos that become stuck to glass while framed.

Though there are several ways to repair water-damaged photographs, the Image Permanence Institute recommends both blotting and air-drying in a very comprehensive guide on the subject. Blotting is the most widely recommended practice in drying wet photographs. Placing the wet prints in between sheets of blotting paper, while also applying constant pressure, ensures drying and consistent flattening of the photos. Air-drying can also be used, but be aware that this method has the potential to show cockling, wrinkling, and distortion.

For stuck photographs of high historical, sentimental, or monetary value, it is highly recommended that a photographic conservator be consulted.

University Products offers a wide variety of photo products that are sure to help you with your photo restoration and preservation projects.