New Possibilities for DNA Research Found

Those book worms may prove useful after all!

The Repair or Restoration of Brittle Transparency Papers

The Repair or Restoration of Brittle Transparency Papers

Do you have brittle transparent papers in your collection that require conservation treatment?  Because of the way they were manufactured, the preservation of transparency papers usually poses specific challenges.  The fibers within the paper have typically been beaten to very short lengths during the process of the paper’s creation.  This is what allowed the paper to be both transparent and thin.  In many instances, a variety of chemical constituents were used to break down the fiber for manufacture into paper.  Over the years, due to their thin and fragile nature, these papers have many times been repaired with non-archival tapes, which end up damaging the paper as well.  In our studio, we take special care to repair and restore transparent papers to their former glory.  The following is also an interesting article on the survey of transparency papers at the United Kingdom National Archives:

Surveying our transparent papers: volunteers in Collection Care


The Creation of Parchment and Vellum

I discovered this nicely produced video on the manufacture of parchment.  Parchment and vellum are paper’s predecessors.  After stone tablets, they were a much more portable mode to record the written word.  As you can see from this documentary, the creation of parchment was a very labor-intensive process.  Eventually, when paper was invented, it became a less expensive substitute for parchment and vellum in many instances.  Parchment and vellum can become warped and cockled over time, due to the material’s sensitivity to fluctuations in humidity and temperature.  In many instances, the parchment must be restretched in a manner imitating its original manufacture, in order to flatten it again.

Thank You to everyone who viewed this video.If I can find more like this I will be happy to share them with you.We thought you might like this.In my day, a high speed copier, was a very fast monk.

Posted by Jim McIntosh on Monday, December 18, 2017

Conserving a Water Damaged Book

Conserving a Water Damaged Book

The following is a very interesting article from IIC regarding shipwrecked documents:

“On 5th December 1940, the British India Steam Navigation Co. Ltd.’s SS Gairsoppa left from the port of Calcutta, India to sail toward Britain. The cargo ship was carrying important war supplies including 2,817 Bombay Mint silver bars, tea and Royal Mail letters. On 16 February, just as the ship was nearing the end of its journey, a German U-boat torpedoed it and the ship sunk just off the coast of Ireland. The Gairsoppa went down in just five and a half minutes and remained at the bottom of the sea bed for the next 73 years.
At a depth of 4,700 metres, a cache of 700 letters, representing the largest collection ever found at sea, remained preserved until an expedition organised by the American company Odyssey
Marine Exploration began the salvage operations to bring the content of the ship back to land. The shipwreck revealed hundreds of letters never delivered to their destinations.
In 2017, the British Postal Museum and Archive (now Postal Museum) was approached to explore a possible interest in acquiring the collection of letters and other paper items. The organisation was at a crucial stage in its development as it was going from being an archive and a museum collection without a permanent home to become a new museum and attraction including the Postal Museum and Mail Rail. The historical value of the collection was immediately apparent, and the acquisition was agreed after fundraising secured the necessary funds to complete the operation. The collection will be used in an exhibition that will tell the story of this amazing find, how these objects survived and most importantly the stories behind some of these letters.

We were informed that after the salvage operations, the collection had been transported to Scotland to an archaeological conservation facility to receive initial treatment.
The collection of letters arrived in the conservation studio stored in boxes, arranged in folders, divided into batches contained within polyester sleeves. The identification numbers were the ones assigned by the archaeological conservation studio that had first worked on the letters, prior to acquisition by the Postal Museum. The first task, after visual examination, was to decide together with curators and the Head of Collections which numbering system to adopt to catalogue the collection. Given the limited time we had before conservation work had to begin and be ready in the for the exhibition opening, it was decided to keep the numbering system used by the Scotland’s conservators and thus keeping also the single batches in the same order as they arrived. Digitising the whole collection was desirable and doing so both before and after conservation will help keeping high quality accurate records of the collection. Fortunately, the Postal Museum has an in-house digitisation studio, so this was easily achieved.
Communication with the conservation studio that first worked on the items was vital to established previous interventions and to be aware of any potential issues with the collection.
Although the collection had survived remarkably well, given it had been at the bottom of the sea for over 70 years, unsurprisingly the letters were still very fragile and to be safely exhibited the main conservation issues had to be addressed. From handling the letters, it was obvious that the paper had lost all internal size resulting in a feathery absorbent texture very prone to breakage. Brown staining, due to proximity with metal components was evident on almost all items. Some photographs had survived well but most of them were nearly illegible and in some cases image transfer to other items had occurred making the identification of the photo difficult.
The other issue was that the fragmentary state of most of the items required a jigsaw-puzzle approach as in the case of letters of several pages that although luckily kept in the same polyester sleeve needed to be re-assembled before repair could take place. With ink almost completely faded in some sections, assemblage of these letters required a concerted effort with curators and a good eye for old fashion handwriting
As it was immediately clear that we could not conserve all of the items in time for the opening of the exhibition, the first step involved the identification of the items to select for display. The criteria had to take into consideration both the physical state of the items and the relevance to the story that curators wanted to present. Working with the Postal Museum exhibition officer and the head of collections, a first selection was presented to the studio and from this initial pool the final items were decided.
To keep the workflow as fluid as possible, a selection of items was sent to digitisation while others that had already been digitised received treatment. The main aim in treating the objects was stabilisation; we were not looking at ‘beautifying’ these items especially given their history, but rather to prevent them from receiving further damage and be safely exhibited. Paradoxically, in some instance letters were immersed in water as floating allowed sheets to be safely separated compared to doing it mechanically. Washing was done only when necessary to remove larger debris and primarily by floating.
When first examined, some of the stains on the letters had the appearance of mould. Multi-coloured patches radiating from a darker central point in a circular fashion could have been caused by mould spores, but we did not possess the capabilities to identify this with certainty, given that at the time of receiving the collection we were in the process of moving to the Postal Museum new building. Basic examination under magnification reassured us that although mould presence could not be excluded, we couldn’t detect any dry powdery spores that could be picked up with a brush. Although there still was a smell on the papers, this was most likely due to their permanence in deep sea, rather than to active mould. We also knew that the papers were going to be kept in a controlled environment with low lighting and optimal relative humidity and temperature, unlikely to present the optimal condition for spores to go from dormant to active.
Methylcellulose in a 0.25% solution was used as a re-sizing agent and was applied by brushing. This imparted the items with strength and flexibility with the coating providing much needed surface protection against abrasion and soiling.
Repairs took the longest time given the fragmentary state of most of the items. Reconstructing some of the envelops was particularly satisfying given that in some lucky instance we were able to match them with their respective stamps and letter. Repairs were carried out using Japanese hand-made papers of various thickness, applied with Jin Shofu wheat starch paste.
Preliminary work done in Scotland involved the removal of salt deposits through desalination by soaking the objects in fresh water and the removal of a black slime deposit that had formed on the bundles from the deep sea. However, there was a bundle that arrived to us separately that had not gone through the same process, so desalinisation was performed at the museum using the same methods. This bundle had a very pungent smell that did not wash away with subsequent baths in water. A final bath of 50/50 water and IMS was successful in removing the smell.

Voices from the Deep
Working on this collection was an intense experience and I don’t think a more appropriate title for the exhibition that will tell these stories could have been found. These objects do represent voices coming from a not so distant past, from a period that is one of the most tragic in modern history. It was not unusual for ships to carry letters, mail has been carried this way for centuries and it was certainly not unusual for a ship to be sunk and not making it to destination. What is most amazing is that these objects survived to tell the stories of people from all works of life, in their own words. To make the story more poignant is that Christmas was only weeks away when the cargo, with 86 crew members sunk. These letters cover the full spectrum of human emotions – from love to fear to joy and longing – and provide an insight into life and death at the time of WWII.

The letters from the SS Gairsoppa and many other items recovered from the shipwreck can be seen as part of the exhibition Voices from the Deep opening in March 2018 at the Postal Museum, London.”


See the original article at:

Strands of George Washington’s Hair Found in Book

Strands of George Washington’s Hair Found in Book

It was a hair-raising historical discovery.

A shabby, leather-bound almanac from 1793 sat long forgotten on a shelf at Union College’s library in upstate Schenectady — until an ­archivist surveying some of the school’s collections plucked it from obscurity in December.

The book was noteworthy in itself, as it belonged to Philip J. Schuyler, the son of Gen. Philip Schuyler, a wealthy New York senator who served in the Revolutionary War and was the father-in-law of Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton.

But there was something else hidden away inside an envelope tucked between the book’s pages: a lock of hair belonging to George Washington.

“You had to actually open the book and see it there,” marveled India Spartz, head of Special Collections and Archives at Union’s Schaffer ­Library.

“I just think it’s a testament to the deep history of Union College and its connection to the earliest founders of this country. It’s a real honor to have these kinds of things and be able to share them.”

Washington’s iconic hairdo is plastered on every $1 bill and quarter — but contrary to popular belief, he never wore a wig.

He was a redhead growing up and powdered his hair white, a fashionable color in the 18th century.

By the time he became president in 1789, Washington’s locks had faded to a grayish white.

Inside the 1793 almanac, researchers found several strands of the Founding Father’s white hair, which had been held together by a delicate string.

“Washington’s hair, L.S.S. & (scratched out) GBS from James A. Hamilton given him by his mother, Aug. 10, 1871,” the envelope reads.

James A. Hamilton is the third son of Alexander Hamilton and Elizabeth Schuyler.

“As an archivist, we come across interesting material all of the time,” Spartz said.

“But this is such a treasure for the campus.”

So how did this prominent family come to possess a lock of Washington’s hair?

It was likely a gift. “This is something that people in that time period did,” Spartz ­explained.

“He was President Washington, so it wasn’t uncommon for his colleagues and close friends to be given [locks of hair] as a remembrance.”

Union College enlisted the help of a experts to help determine from where the lock might have come.

The family’s connections to Washington were plentiful.

Philip J. Schuyler — whose father served under Washington during the war — owned the almanac itself, titled “Gaines Universial Register or American and British Kalendar for the year 1793.”

His sister, Eliza Schuyler, married Hamilton, who was Washington’s lieutenant colonel before joining the cabinet.

Washington and his wife, Martha, were close to the younger couple.

“In an era when people frequently exchanged hair as a keepsake, it’s quite probable that Martha had given Eliza some of George’s hair, which in turn was given to their son, James, who later distributed it, strand by strand, as a precious memento to close friends and family members,” said scholar Susan Holloway Scott, according to a press release provided by the college.

John Reznikoff, a manuscripts and documents dealer in Connecticut who’s listed in Guinness World Records for having the “Largest Collection of Hair from Historical Figures,” looked at photos of the college’s find — and said he believes the strands are “100 percent authentic.”

He has collected locks from Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Beethoven and Napoleon.

“It’s not hugely valuable, maybe two to three thousand dollars for the strands you have, but it’s undoubtedly George Washington’s,” Reznikoff told college officials.

In 2009, two of Washington’s locks went for a few thousand dollars at auction, according to The New York Times.

Hair from Lincoln’s head sold for $38,837 at a 2012 auction in Dallas.

One remaining question is just how the old almanac hiding Washington’s hair ended up in Union College’s collection.

“We don’t have the true piece of paper that says ‘I’m giving you this book,’ ” Spartz said. “That’s not uncommon.”

That’s one of the reasons why the college has funded a survey of the library’s archival collections — to uncover “hidden treasures” that may be collecting dust, she said.

College officials believe that a member of the Schuyler family probably donated the book at some point, given their close connections to the college.

The elder Philip Schuyler was one of Union’s founders and advocated for establishing the school in Schenectady instead of Albany. His portrait hangs in a campus dining hall, according to school officials.

“We think there could’ve been a Schuyler relative who gave this along the way,” Spartz said.

The almanac was inscribed “Philip Schuyler’s a present from his friend Mr. Philip Ten Eycke New York April 20, 1793.” It includes handwritten notes from Philip J. Schuyler, such as a description of how to “preserve beef for summer’s use.”

Heidi Hill, site manager of the Schuyler Mansion in Albany, told the Times Union newspaper that the book may have been donated for the college’s first Founders Day in 1937.

“A lot of these objects were donated around that time because the families of the Founding Fathers were feeling squeezed out by nouveau riche American society,” Hill told the newspaper, which first reported the college’s discovery.

Spartz is working with a local conservator to figure out how best to preserve the precious lock of hair — and then she wants to display it with the almanac for the public to enjoy.

“Our goal is to make it accessible for people to look at,” she said. “There’s a balance between how we preserve things and how we display them.”

See the original article at the link below:

Conservation of the Executive Papers of Thomas Jefferson

The following is another interesting video created by the conservation staff at the Library of Virginia.  A collection of Thomas Jefferson’s executive papers had been laminated.  Many of the documents contained wax seals, which required special care.  The video details some of the basics of the labor-intensive delamination process.