Preservation of the Battleship Texas Schematic Prints

by Heather Hamilton, Conservator for the Texas State Library and Archives Commission

The Battleship Texas (USS Texas BB35) was built in 1911 by Newport News Shipbuilding and commissioned in 1914. The battleship was active in both world wars, finishing her duties in 1945 with transport runs to Pearl Harbor, to return service members home. In 1948, she was brought to Texas and placed out of commission at San Jacinto Battleground. USS Texas is now a state historic site and is undergoing restoration.

TSLAC holds more than 3,000 schematic prints of the Battleship Texas and its mechanical systems. The prints have various creation dates, including 1911, 1914, 1927, and 1931, indicating the schematics were made for the original ship designs as well as for several modernizations the ship underwent.

The Battleship Texas print collection consists of a number of photoreproduction processes in use for schematics at the time the battleship was built and modernized, including blueprints, diazo prints, and VanDyke prints. VanDykes are similar to blueprints, but the process creates a brown, rather than blue, image. VanDykes were most often produced as an interim printing step, allowing a negative image to be reversed to a positive, and they were often disposed of after the positive was created. However, TSLAC archivists have not found evidence of positives made from the Battleship Texas VanDyke negative prints.

Within the collection are 20 oversized prints. Each is around 2 ½ x 6 feet, but the largest is 10 feet long. Most of these large prints are VanDykes, though a few are blueprints. The chemistry used in the printing process leaves VanDykes vulnerable to deterioration and damage. The paper and fabric supports become brittle and they tear and crack easily. Contact with other schematics produced through different chemical processes, or contact with some housing materials, can discolor the brown prints. The very large size of these items exacerbates the challenges, so that it is extremely difficult to handle the prints safely.

The 20 large battleship prints were brought to the Summerlee Conservation Lab with extensive damages. They had been stored folded into boxes and were brittle and torn with many losses. Tears in the prints were repaired in the past with a commercially available pressure-sensitive tape (peel-and-stick tape). This is not the familiar “Scotch” tape, but an archival paper tape, which is more stable than Scotch tape, since it does not discolor or desiccate as Scotch tapes can.

Past mends made with mending tapes

Still, pressure-sesitive tapes are not preferred for the conservation of historic documents. They are too strong for brittle papers, which are prone to breaking along the edge of heavy mends. The commercial tapes are also too wide, in most cases, producing an unnecessarily large repair. Tapes are also difficult to reverse once they are stuck in place. Removing them is time-consuming and can cause more tears. Because of this risk, we did not to remove the many archival mending tapes, but opted, instead, to support the prints in Mylar sleeves, which will limit future damage.

An example of the older mending tapes (the wider tapes seen here) and the more narrow tissue mends

Many more tears had also occurred since the tape mends were applied. We repaired these more recent tears with a thin mending tissue. The tissue is thinner than the print paper and can flex without stressing it. Once the large prints were repaired, they were placed on a paper support and into Mylar sleeves. The sleeves make handling the prints much safer, since the fragile paper is supported overall. The long, narrow prints were then rolled onto tubes for storage in the TSLAC stacks.

Two prints rolled for storage

The next step for the oversized Battleship Texas blueprints and VanDykes will be imaging in the TSLAC imaging lab. Reformatting will allow for viewing the schematics without needing to access the original prints. But when the prints are needed, we can access them with much less risk of damage.