A wonderful article on historic cleaning techniques

This New York Times article covers some of the cleaning methods used in Victorian England, including using bread to clean wallpaper. Stone floors were also cleaned with skim milk, and laundry with fresh urine (cringing here!). It is interesting to note that the advent of the practice of using bread as a sponge on dirty wallpaper came after the shift from wood stove use to coal heat. It makes sense that the walls would become covered in soot that could easily be removed with bread. I can easily pick items out on my workbench that were stored in environments heated with coal. They are covered in an oily soot that resembles a thick grey coating of dust. Anyway, this is an informative and entertaining article, well worth the read!


The Magic of black inks

The Office for International Academic Projects is offering a great course on the history of black inks & their various formulations, including iron gall, sepia, bistre and logwood inks. This class will also cover chemical composition, manufacture and conservation issues.


Preserving a Stained Diploma

Repairing and restoring diplomas and certificates is a familiar task in my conservation practice.  Diplomas come in a wide variety of sizes and formats.  They may be made of parchment or paper, and the inks used vary from printing inks to iron gall inks, India ink and even felt tip pen ink.  

When a client brings their family diploma in for treatment, my first objective is to evaluate the inks and paper/parchment substrate to see how well they will respond to treatment.  Performing conservation treatment on a diploma may be as simple as surface cleaning it to reduce grime and debris, and deacidifying it to reduce its acidity (this last treatment is for paper diplomas only).

Above, before & after images of a diploma that required surface cleaning.

If the diploma has suffered water damage, tears or previous tape repairs, the conservation treatment plan may be more complex and involve tape removal, washing to reduce staining & acidic components in the paper, as well as humidifying and flattening.  

I recently completed a project for a client whose grandmother’s diploma had been stored in a basement for many years and had suffered water damage, as well as yellowing due to age and acidic framing materials. This diploma is very significant to my client as she was quite close to her grandmother. The diploma represents a huge achievement, as her grandmother was the first woman in her family to complete a degree in higher education. After reviewing the diploma in detail, I determined that it required washing to reduce the acidity of the paper and the staining in the bottom left corner. It also needed to be humidified and flattened to reduce the bends and distortions in the paper’s surface.

Above, a diploma with hand-drawn calligraphic inks that has suffered water damage.

Care had to be taken to protect the soluble inks during the washing treatment, which involved a series of baths in pH adjusted waters on a thick cotton blotter.

Above, the same diploma after it has been treated to reduce staining and acidic degradation in the paper.

This was a fun and rewarding project. In the end, I was pretty pleased with the results, as the staining was greatly reduced. The diploma is now ready for archival framing and display!

No matter what condition your family diploma is in, I am here to help you preserve it.  Feel free to submit an inquiry via the contact form on my website for a complimentary evaluation and estimate.


Pergamena: The ancient craft of parchment making

This is a wonderfully informative video on the process of making vellum/parchment, which dates back to 2450 B.C. Jesse Meyer has revived this craft and distilled it down to an art! The process of making parchment involves soaking animal skins in calcium hydroxide, then stretching, scraping and sanding them to a super fine finish as they are stretched. I’m making it sound incredibly simple, but I know the process is highly involved and requires an incredible degree of skill. It’s quite fortunate for the conservation community that Pergamena exists and can provide us with a supply of high quality vellum for restoring and repairing vellum artifacts. In the field of conservation, we mimic the process of vellum’s creation by humidifying and re-stretching it under tension. It’s also an inspirational story about how a family business (over 400 years old!) was saved by developing a niche market. A really fun watch.


The conservation of a pre-civil war lithographic print of a military encampment

I recently completed treatment of a severely stained, discolored and brittle color lithograph of a military encampment at Camp Robinson in Ashland, Virginia. This treatment was performed for the Ashland Museum. Treating this lithograph posed some challenges, as it was extremely discolored due to water damage, and the deterioration of the alum sized paper. The treatment involved a series of several baths on a bed of agarose gel imbued with chelators to reduce staining and degradation products. Once the staining and discoloration were removed, a much brighter and more detailed image was revealed. The transformation was very rewarding to witness. The following is an article written by Diann Benti of the American Historical Print Collectors Society:

Saving an Endangered Lithograph

Posted on  by Diann Benti

On May 15, 1858, Colonel Thomas Pearson August ordered the First Regiment of Virginia Volunteers to assemble on May 22nd for a four-day encampment in Ashland, Virginia. This 1858 meeting was notable as the last peaceful encampment of the militia before the start of the Civil War.

The event was memorialized in a hand-colored lithograph by Richmond printers Ritchie & Dunnavant: First Regt. Va. Volunteers: Col T P August – Camp Robinson. Hanover Co. May 22, 1858. 

Today only two copies of this print are known to exist.

One of these, owned by the Ashland Museum, was in such bad condition that, in 2016, it landed on a top-ten list of Virginia’s most endangered artifacts. The heavily stained, deteriorating print was so vulnerable that it could not be handled or exhibited.

First Regt. Va. Volunteers: Col T P August – Camp Robinson. Hanover Co. May 22, 1858 before conservation
First Regt. Va. Volunteers: Col T P August – Camp Robinson. Hanover Co. May 22, 1858 before conservation treatment. Photo courtesy of the Ashland Museum.

AHPCS’s Shadwell Conservation Grant was created for just such conservation emergencies. Thanks to the generosity of former AHPCS president Wendy Shadwell (1942-2007), institutional members without in-house print conservation facilities can apply for funding to preserve their important American historical prints.

In 2017, AHPCS awarded a Shadwell Grant to the Ashland Museum to save their lithograph. And this past year, the print underwent an amazing transformation thanks to Marianne Kelsey, a book and paper conservator in Greensboro, North Carolina.

Kelsey determined that the lithograph’s 1850s cotton paper had been treated with alum sizing, which breaks down over time and contributed to its extreme fragility.

On November 20th, the conserved 162-year-old print was unveiled at the museum. During the unveiling, Kelsey described her fascinating process.

To treat the print, Kelsey put it through eleven washing sessions—double what she would normally do, and she mended the paper with archival materials. Before-and-after photographs of the lithograph reveal the dramatic difference.

The Wendy Shadwell Conservation Grant program offers a great opportunity for AHPCS institutional members to help ensure the longevity of their significant historical prints. Learn more about how to apply!


Chicken Soup for the Conservator’s Soul: the 2021 SERCA ANNUAL MEETING

It is rare to get the opportunity to gather with other conservators in a large group, especially these days. This week I am attending the annual Southeastern Regional Conservation Association’s annual meeting online via Zoom. There have been a variety of interesting sessions and talks, covering topics that include disaster relief, self-care during the COVID crisis, treatment considerations, tips sessions and studio tours. The presenters have done an excellent job of providing both engaging and relevant materials. I very much look forward to attending the SERCA annual meeting in person next year!