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Preserving The Writings of a Presbyterian Religious Martyr

It is an honor to perform the work of a conservator: preserving history and cultural heritage. The objects that cross my path all bear their own characteristics and personality. The marks of the people who made them as well as those who have handled them over the centuries are often apparent. I just recently completed the treatment of a very special document, a letter written by a Presbyterian religious martyr from Scotland named James Renwick.

A historical letter written by Presbyterian James Renwick. Note the acidic mat board housing, and deteriorating previous repairs.

For lack of a better way of describing it, there was a special feeling about this letter. James’ penmanship was beautiful and quite legible. The paper was clearly cotton, and well made. It was an object that felt good to hold and interact with. I really enjoyed spending time with it.

Detail shot of the mat board housing.

I did some research and educated myself about who James was: a man before his time who stood up for his beliefs and spiritual convictions, to the death. His views in many ways served as a harbinger for coming changes in Scotland.

The letter had been placed in a double-sided mat board housing, which had become acidic over the years. Previous repairs were present, but they were failing, and there were fractures present within the paper. The document needed to be removed from its previous housing, for starters.

Removal of an acidic double-sided mat board housing.

Once the majority of the acidic mat board was detached, the remaining adhesive residue and mat board were removed by washing the document. This also helped reduce staining, acidic degradation products, and old repairs.

Washing of the document facilitated the removal of previous repairs and the mat board housing.

The letter was then mended with Japanese tissue and wheat starch paste. The treated document was humidified and flattened.

The document responded well to treatment. It is now ready for archival framing and headed to its new home, where it will be well cared for and preserved for many more generations to come.

It is a great gift to be able to help preserve and restore historical artifacts of such significance. I think both this letter and myself are better for having crossed paths.

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