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.

Recovering Wet Photographs

Recovering Wet Photographs

When you are faced with disaster scenarios that threaten your book and paper-based collections, it is helpful to know how to respond and minimize the damage incurred to your precious artifacts.  The following is a primer I have put together with instructions regarding how to handle water-damaged photographs.  If you have questions, feel free to submit an inquiry via the contact page!

  1. Retrieve photos from the disaster scene
  2. Set up an area to salvage the photographs. This will require ventilation, fans, flat surfaces to dry photos on, clotheslines to hang flexible film from, as well as  appropriate protective gear (respirators, nitrile gloves, etc.)and newsprint.  Washing photos will require a water source and plastic trays.
  3. Examine the photos.  To remove dirt and debris, clean them while they are wet.  Set up a series of plastic trays, rinsing the photos in each tray before drying.  Gentle agitation with a soft brush can be helpful, but take care, as you do not want to disturb the emulsion surface.  Handle the images from the edges rather than the center.  If possible, only touch the verso.
  4. Keep materials wet until you’ve determined a course of action for their salvage. Don’t allow them to dry in contact with one another, or other surfaces, as they are likely to stick.  You have 48 hours from the onset of water damage before mold growth will set in.  In many instances, you can submerge photos for a week or more.  There are exceptions (collodion and digital photographs, for instance.)  Change the water daily if possible.
  5. Set priorities: Which photos need to be salvaged first?  What has already been digitized?
    1. Types of objects damaged:
      1. Negatives are generally more stable than prints, and black & white prints are generally more stable than color photos.
        1. Salvage priorities:
          1. Color photos first
          2. Black & white photos 2nd
          3. Negatives 3rd
            1. Exceptions to this rule include safety or nitrate film that was already in a deteriorated state to begin with.
          4. Air drying immediately is the first preference for salvage, with freezing being the second but acceptable choice in most instances.
            1. Exceptions include tin types, ambrotypes and dageurreotypes which should not be frozen.
            2. If your damaged collection includes audiovisual tapes, get outside processing assistance with these items.
          5. Drain off excess moisture before freezing or while air drying. Blotters/paper towels can disturb emulsions, so use with care.
          6. Air dry or freeze. If you choose to air dry, hanging the photos from clotheslines is preferable, though less practical.  Laying flat and gently blotting away moisture works well.  If freezing, place photos in small bags divided by wax paper, to prevent clumping.  Frozen photos are best dried by thawing, followed by air drying.  When thawing, do not allow the stack to dry out, or the photos will stick together.
          7. Vacuum freeze drying – if you don’t have time to freeze photos, you can use this method. However, gelatin photos can get a mottled look, though they won’t stick together.
          8. Vacuum thermal drying – don’t use it! The items get heated up, causing the gelatin emulsions to stick together & mottle severely.
          9. Don’t freeze collodions if you can avoid it. This goes for tin types, ambrotypes, daguerrotypes & any other cased objects
          10. For help with surface cleaning, flattening and repairing damaged photos, contact a conservator.

Epidemiological Concepts Applied to Cultural Heritage

In June 2015, the Getty Conservation Institute convened a meeting at the Rothschild Foundation at Windmill Hill Archive on the Waddesdon Manor and Estate in Aylesbury, UK, to explore the possibilities of adapting an epidemiological approach to cultural heritage. Epidemiology is the study of the distribution of a disease or a specific adverse condition in a targeted population. Applied to cultural heritage, epidemiological methods may investigate the causal relationships between objects’ mechanical damage and their environment.

Leading researchers active in the study of materials’ behavior in fluctuating climatic conditions, as well as those working with collections, were brought together to explore ways in which this approach can help in the investigation of the causal relationships between objects’ mechanical damage and their environment. The objectives of the meeting were to identify the methodology and assess the feasibility of an epidemiology study, to discuss its scope, and to identify areas for potential subsequent collaboration.

This report includes a discussion paper that explores the terminology and essential concepts of epidemiology and how these may be applied to cultural heritage. It is followed by a summary of the meeting’s discussions and outcomes.

Removing the Backing Board From a Work of Art on Paper

Do you have a drawing, painting or print that has been adhered to matte board?  Over time, matte board and other backing boards can become acidic, and the adhesive used to marry the art and backing board together can begin to cross-link and embrittle.  The adhesives applied to the verso of the artwork will, in most instances, cause harm to your paper-based work of art.  Here, MoMA conservator Erika Mosier prepares a set of ink and pencil drawings by Adrian Piper for exhibition by separating the original drawings from their matte boards. An unusual adhesive prompts a closer look by MoMA conservation scientists. Take a closer look at Adrian Piper’s “The Barbie Doll Drawings”:

Ink From Ancient Egyptian Papyri Contains Copper

Does your collection include papyrus artifacts?  Until recently, the inks used to write on ancient papyrus were assumed to be carbon-based.  Researchers have discovered that the inks in this papyrus manuscript actually contain copper, which will affect the methods of handling and repairing the artifact.  The conservation and repair of paper-based collections (manuscripts, documents, books, works of art on paper) is widely understood within the conservation community, but the repair and conservation of papyrus presents specific concerns and requires skilled care.

Conservation, Restoration and Repair of Circus Posters

The history of circus posters is a fascinating one.  The vast majority of the time, these posters were intended to be ephemeral, posted on building walls and in windows as an advertisement.  About a week before the performance, the circus would send out crews to plaster posters around town.  Many times, the posters were so large that they were printed in multiple pieces, then oriented together as they were pasted into place on a wall.  The conservation and repair of this art genre presents its own unique considerations and challenges.  Below is an engaging video featuring conservator M.J. Davis and a collection of circus posters she is conserving.

Cleaning Stained and Yellowed Works of Art On Paper

Cleaning Stained and Yellowed Works of Art On Paper

A Charles Hamilton Smith engraved illustrated print prior to washing and stain reduction.

The same work of art on paper after treatment, which involved washing, deacidification and treatment with stain reducing agents.

Do you own a work of art on paper that is yellowing, acidic, foxed or stained?  Over time, paper can become yellowed, stained and acidic.  The causes of staining and discoloration vary from item to item.  In many instances, there were impurities present when the paper was originally produced.  These impurities, such as metal ions, chemical constituents and fungi/microorganisms can create foxing, staining and discoloration over time.  Printmaking methods may also introduce stains and discoloration.  Oils from the inks and environmental pollutants introduced during the printmaking process or during storage can cause yellowing and discoloration.  Many times, what was thought lost can be saved and restored to its former beauty.  The conservation treatments we offer can provide you with a variety of approaches and levels of care to preserve your artwork for many more years of enjoyment.  Visit the contact page to arrange a complimentary evaluation of your artwork.

Bible Repair & Restoration

Bible Repair & Restoration

Do you have a family bible that has become worn or tattered over the years?  Are there loose or torn pages?  Is the sewing structure or cover coming apart?  Most people don’t realize that in many instances, these treasured family volumes can be restored to their former glory.

Submit an inquiry via the contact page to arrange a complimentary consultation.