It is quite common for vellum and parchment documents to be folded, which is often the case with land indentures, for instance. Storing vellum documents in a rolled format was also a common convention, especially for diplomas, certificates and illuminated manuscripts.
The problem arises eventually when, many years later, the vellum has aged and become less flexible, and it falls into the hands of someone who wants to view the document in its entirety.
In this case, the client’s artifact is an oversize illuminated vellum manuscript with many soluble inks. The vellum itself is quite thick. It required several rounds of careful and intensive humidification and flattening.
Care was taken to preserve the sensitive media. After fine-tuning the treatment approach and successfully flattening the manuscript, the client now has a beautiful, artistically rendered document he can have framed and placed on display.
If you have a vellum or parchment document that requires repair, feel free to submit an inquiry via the contact form on my website:
I am delighted to announce that I am now a Preferred Partner of the Illinois Historic League Directory. As a Preferred Partner, I am available to provide preservation advice and consultations to historical groups based in Illinois. In April, the Northern Illinois Historic League took custodial responsibility of the Illinois Historic Group Directory. I look forward to collaborating with the NIHL and helping to preserve historical artifacts in the state of Illinois.
This video is a free online symposium on the topic of special collections in the cultural heritage sector, and how best to care for them. If you are a museum or library professional, it is well worth the watch.
This article is the second in a series of posts about the conservation treatment of Eliza Breckinridge Watt’s recipe book, which is part of the Historical Society of Western Virginia’s (https://roanokehistory.org/ ) collection. Eliza was a member of two prominent families with history in Botetourt County dating back to the Revolutionary War era. The Historical Society of Western Virginia was awarded grant funds to cover a portion of the costs of conservation treatment when their recipe book was declared one of the State of Virginia’s Top Ten Endangered Artifacts of 2019. https://www.vamuseums.org/virginias-top-10-endangered-artifacts. The General James Breckinridge Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution very generously helped fund part of the conservation treatment as well.
After the pages were treated to reduce staining and acidity, as well as ink corrosion, the treated pages needed to be resewn in order to reback and restore them to their original covers. The original sewing structure involved a variation of overcast sewing of single sheets. After discussing their institutional needs with Ashley Webb, Curator of Collections and Exhibitions, I learned that the volume will be placed on exhibit in celebration of Botetourt County’s 250th anniversary. The ability to turn the book open to a particular page and highlight a specific recipe was desired for exhibition in a glass case.
Knowing this, I was aware that the original overcast sewing structure would limit the ability of anyone handling the book to be able to open the pages wide without risk of tearing the pages and damaging the sewing structure. Overcast sewing evolved out of a need for economy and brevity when sewing the pages of books together. Although it was faster than many other methods, it did make it difficult to open books completely without posing a danger to the paper and book structure, as doing so would encourage tears to develop along the gutter edges of the pages, and weaken the sewing structure.
As a conservator, I usually make every effort to employ the original methods used for sewing historical volumes together. However, I have made exceptions in cases where I know that recreating the original structure will cause harm to the book over time.
Knowing about the book’s intended use and care, I decided to guard the pages into signatures and sew the signatures together. This allows an attachment at the center of each page with Japanese tissue. This attachment and sewing method makes it possible to open the book up and view the individual pages more completely and safely. Following are some images of the original overcast sewing structure and the new resewn structure with Japanese tissue guarding:
After resewing, the book was rebacked with a toned Japanese tissue laminate, and the original boards and spine were restored. The end result is a volume that can be safely handled with care and will be preserved for future generations. It was truly an honor and delight to conserve this unusual historical book. I look forward to the opportunity to view it on display at the exhibit this spring!
Another wonderful video from the Metropolitan Museum of Art on the work of Jan Gossart, a Renaissance painter. They have created quite a few really wonderful behind-the-scenes videos about different works of art in their collection. I enjoyed this immensely.
A really helpful and informative Power Point presentation by Stephanie Hornbeck about ivory artifacts. This presentation includes plenty of excellent photographic examples detailing the various types of ivory (mammoth, whale, narwhal, wart hog, etc) and the different kinds of damage that can occur in ivory artifacts. Some of these are related to inherent vice, such as concentric circles, and others can be related to how the environments they have been stored in over the years. Be sure to read all the way to the end, where you will find some good advice regarding the basic care of ivory objects.
It is truly amazing the variety of conditions and previous repairs I encounter in my conservation practice. Clients often bring art work and documents in that have suffered damage due to mishandling or previous well-intentioned repairs over the years.
One example would be a lithograph by Marc Chagall, an early Modernist whose work embodied the Cubist and Expressionist movements. This breathtaking lithograph was folded into quarters for easier storage in an envelope.
Given the breathtaking beauty of the image, and the fact that it was so clearly created by one of the great masters of fine art, it is difficult to imagine what the person responsible was thinking. It is clear they did not know what they were looking at when they made the decision to fold it up and store it in an acidic envelope. Treatment will involve washing to swell the fibers, as well as lining and drying under tension to work out the fold lines as much as possible.
Sometimes, a previous owner has applied repairs with good intentions, attempting to prevent further damage to a historical artifact. However, often the materials used to make the repair will cause damage over time. For instance, this Jefferson Davis flier has had tape repairs applied generously to tears along fold lines.
Over time, the tape will degrade and become acidic, causing stains and embrittlement to the document. The areas where the tape has been applied will deteriorate rapidly in comparison with the rest of the flier. Part of my job as a conservator will be to remove the previous tape repairs & associated adhesive residue, and mend the losses with archival tissue to make the paper whole again.
Often, the enclosures or framing packages crafted to house and protect a document or artwork will cause damage over time. Consider this letter written by Robert E. Lee:
This historical document was placed between two pieces of glass that were taped together. At some point, the tape was exposed to water, and the moisture reactivated the tape adhesive along the edges of the glass. The adhesive then migrated in between the pieces of glass, bleeding into the document and adhering the letter to both glass plates. Then, at a later date, the glass package was dropped accidentally and it cracked, causing further damage to the document. Treatment to remove the broken glass and adhesives will involve the careful application of humidity and organic solvents.
It is also not uncommon to encounter damage in framed pieces. One example is this beauty school certificate, which suffered water damage from the back due to a water leak on the wall it was hanging on.
It will need to be treated to reduce staining and discoloration.
Finally, many times inherent vice is an issue encountered in aging artwork. One example of inherent vice is this architectural illustration, which was drafted on watercolor paper which had been mounted to an acidic backing board.
Ultimately, the backing board must be removed if possible to allow washing & stain reduction of the artwork.
If you have a document or work of art on paper that requires the care of a trained conservator, feel free to submit an inquiry via the Contact form on my website: