Tape Removal and the Archives War

TSLAC Conservation recently completed a challenging treatment on the House Journals of the Republic of Texas, 1842.  This volume features a rare, contemporaneous account of the Archives War, a colorful incident in Texas history with special significance to the Texas State Library and Archives Commission.

The volume’s pages have become unusually brown and fragile over time, likely a result of the materials used to make the paper.  Tape has been extensively applied on the many resulting cracks and tears.  This tape has caused further staining. Institutional goals for this treatment were to reduce tape staining only in the Archives War section, leaving other stains and paper issues for another day.  This established three major treatment challenges: 1) removing tape from very fragile paper; 2) working in situ, inside the bound volume; 3) avoiding tidelines and paper discoloration that would create a mismatch with the rest of the book.

Tape and staining on pp 262-263 before treatment.

Tape and staining on pp 262-263 before treatment.

Extensive testing was undertaken to devise a treatment method.  Testing focused on a variety of solvents, solvent mixtures, and application methods.  The final strategy for most of the tape was:

  1. Remove the plastic carrier by applying ethyl acetate with Tek Wipe fabric through the non-taped side of the paper;
  2. Soften the adhesive by applying ethyl acetate with cotton swabs, then gently remove it with a microspatula;
  3. Reduce the staining with ethyl acetate applied with a Fuller’s earth poultice, which slowly wicks discoloration out of the paper; 
  4. Mend with heat-set tissue.
Reducing staining with a Fuller’s earth poultice. Seen here, half the leaf detached after tape removal and had to be mended back in place.

Reducing staining with a Fuller’s earth poultice. Seen here, half the leaf detached after tape removal and had to be mended back in place.

Tek Wipe is a non-woven blend of cellulose and polyester used for cleaning, washing, and drying in conservation treatments.  It is more flexible than traditional blotter, so it follows the contours of the book’s pages and reduces the risk of tears.  Working with solvent in small areas over Tek Wipe minimized tidelines.  Other treatment strategies for occasionally-used tapes included applying water-based gel, heat, and mechanical action.

At last, the tape is gone!

Pp 262-263 after treatment.

Pp 262-263 after treatment.

Repair Considerations for Sheepskin Leather

TSLAC Conservation frequently works on 19th-century federal and state volumes bound in sheepskin leather.  These volumes often develop similar condition issues: detached or damaged spine coverings and detached boards.  Aged sheepskin leather is uniquely prone to discolor when exposed to adhesives, even those that might normally be safe for use with other types of leather.

Conservators typically try to limit intervention as possible, but for these volumes, a fuller intervention offers many advantages.  Here, a fuller intervention involves removing and stabilizing the spine covering and boards, and rebuilding the underlying structure with archival paper and tissue.  This procedure solves a variety of common condition problems and allows losses to be discreetly filled beneath the leather with toned tissue.  Leather discoloration issues are minimized because adhesive need not be applied over the top of most of the leather.

This volume (during treatment) receives a fuller intervention, in which toned tissue can be applied underneath the sensitive leather.

This volume (during treatment) receives a fuller intervention, in which toned tissue can be applied underneath the sensitive leather.

Smaller repairs actually present a larger challenge.  For example, damage at the head or tail of the spine covering doesn’t warrant a fuller intervention, but it does pose many risks for leather discoloration.  TSLAC Conservation has in recent years used a 40-gram weight toned tissue pre-prepared in-house with Lascaux adhesive and applied with heat in order to work over the top of the sensitive sheepskin leather.  Heat application minimizes the leather discoloration that would likely appear with brush application, even though Lascaux is typically safer for leather.  The need for this level of caution demonstrates just how delicate sheepskin leather can become over time.

This volume (during treatment) undergoes fills and repairs over the top of the spine covering.

This volume (during treatment) undergoes fills and repairs over the top of the spine covering.

Conservation of Texas Supreme Court Dockets

TSLAC Conservation has recently been working on a collection of 89 19th century Texas Supreme Court dockets.  These volumes document state Supreme Court proceedings and are frequently accessed by staff and patrons. The large number of items requires a blend of collections conservation and single-item treatment strategies.  Prioritizing collections issues has quickly improved access while freeing subsequent time for single-item treatment.

Texas Supreme Court dockets (foreground.) The yellow color in these photographs comes from ultraviolet filtering in collections storage.

First, a preliminary survey was conducted to characterize the oversize ledgers and classify them by severity of condition issues.  Then, collections stabilization procedures were streamlined to take place primarily within collections storage.  Once this is complete, severely damaged items will be targeted for full treatment in the conservation lab.  This workflow has enabled efficient treatment of the greatest number of items and flexible accommodation of other ongoing lab projects.

The project has presented several challenges.  The time-intensive demands of conservation documentation must be balanced with the pace of work required in a collections-level project.  This highlights the tension between product and process in an archives setting.  Further, efficiency-minded, single-item treatment techniques must be developed for oversize account books. TSLAC Conservation hopes to discuss the project’s challenges, techniques, and successes at the 2017 American Institute of Conservation annual meeting next year.

Binding with Stubs

Periodically, TSLAC Conservation receives a volume for evaluation that looks something like this:

Executive Documents of the House of Representatives, First Session, 52nd Congress, 1890

Executive Documents of the House of Representatives, First Session, 52nd Congress, 1890

This book presents an example of a binding with stubs. This example is unusually large, but its design serves an important purpose. When a book contains fold-out maps, the maps attach to the binding with a single paper hinge at the spine. However, the folded map creates much more bulk than the hinge. Many bound, folded maps can create a book that is thicker on one side than the other. The resulting book is not square; in storage, uneven pressure will cause the boards to detach and the sewing to break.

To compensate for this problem, a binder can create a series of paper or board stubs between each map hinge to bulk up the spine. These stubs keep the book in square and reduce the risk of future damage. Higher-quality modern scrapbooks also feature similar bulking devices at the spine to accommodate photographs, clippings, and other ephemera.

Stubbed bindings such as the one pictured above are sometimes flagged for conservation treatment simply because of their unusual appearance. Actually, their structure is a promising indication that the binder planned ahead with the book’s longevity in mind. The book pictured above has no major structural issues, despite its size. The visible damage to the spine covering is primarily cosmetic rather than structural.

One possible conservation challenge for this type of book pertains to the maps inside rather than the binding. Repeatedly opening and re-folding these maps will cause tears over time, especially in brittle paper. In a high-use volume, a conservator might consider removing and flattening the maps for safer access. This decision would balance researcher access with the rarity, condition, and artifactual value of the binding.

Our Indian Summer in the Far West

TSLAC Conservation recently completed treatment on a fascinating travelogue, Our Indian Summer in the Far West. Published in 1880, this book chronicles the adventures of a British family on holiday in Texas and the western United States. The volume highlights two central questions in conservation treatment:

  1. How do we justify major treatment?
  2. When is it acceptable to make a major structural change?

Our Indian Summer is visually striking, with the decorative textile and gold-stamped designs typical of a publisher’s binding. It is exceptionally illustrated with 62 original albumen photographs! The original photographs, the item’s unique nature, and researcher interest justified the time required for major treatment.

The volume is illustrated throughout with original albumen photographs.

The volume is illustrated throughout with original albumen photographs.

Unfortunately, the book had serious condition problems, partly resulting from previous rebinding. Many of its pages had cracked and detached. The title page featured a poor-condition Photostat reproduction, and the endsheets were made of acidic, brown kraft paper. It was unclear how much of the book’s original structure remained as a template for the conservation treatment. Accordingly, other copies were studied at the University of Texas Briscoe Center for American History and Baylor University.

Before treatment: restrictive sewing caused pages to crack and detach.

Before treatment: restrictive sewing caused pages to crack and detach.

After treatment: repaired and resewn leaves.

After treatment: repaired and resewn leaves.

From early observations, we presumed that non-original, restrictive side-sewing had caused the pages to crack and detach. However, the same sewing and cracking was observed in the comparison volumes. This indicated that the problematic sewing was likely original. The damaging nature of the original sewing justified making a major structural change: choosing a new sewing pattern.

Before treatment, remaining pages were detached and the volume was scanned for digital access. Then, every page fold in the book was reconstructed with flexible, toned Japanese tissue to allow non-destructive opening. The book was re-sewn through the reconstructed folds on three support cords. Additional steps added bulk to the sewing in order to yield a stable, square book. These steps included using thick thread (12/3), using packed sewing (with extra loops for bulk), and sewing on a thick paper support called a concertina guard.

Sewing on concertina guard.

Sewing on concertina guard

The Photostat title page was replaced with a color image from the University of Texas volume, printed on dove grey endsheet paper. Toned, canary yellow endsheets, as observed in the comparison volumes, replaced the rough kraft paper. Finally, the text was returned to its original case.

After treatment, structural modification has allowed the volume to function as a book again. The original albumen photographs are secured from ongoing damage and will also be available digitally for future researchers.

Volume after treatment.

Volume after treatment.

Thanks: Amie Oliver, Librarian/Curator of Print Materials, Texas Collection, Baylor University; Suzanne Holman, TSLAC Graphics Designer (title page reproduction.)

 

Discussing and Treating Iron Gall Ink

This summer, TSLAC Conservation participated in an informal learning series called Thinkery21. Hosted at the Thinkery (formerly the Austin Children’s Museum,) Thinkery21 invites adults to visit the museum after hours to explore a variety of science- and arts-related programming. The evening, titled “Inkery,” offered talks and demonstrations about ink and printing.

While participants made iron gall ink a few feet away, TSLAC Conservation discussed the prevalence and challenges of iron gall ink in archives. We examined photographs of famous Texas documents written with iron gall ink, including the Travis Letter and the Texas Declaration of Independence. We also tested visitors’ newly made ink with indicator paper to look for excess iron ions. These ions point to accelerated future degradation. At this point, many concerned participants asked, “But what can you do?”

This excellent question has driven significant conservation research for many years. Left untreated, iron ions from iron gall ink will break the chains of cellulose that compose paper. This causes the paper to become brown, brittle, and prone to break. In extreme cases, inked areas can completely drop out of the paper.

This treaty on Texas Comanche affairs shows advanced iron gall corrosion.  Large sections of the “G” have completely dropped out of the paper.

This treaty on Texas Comanche affairs shows advanced iron gall corrosion. Large sections of the “G” have completely dropped out of the paper.

One response increasingly used by our lab is to treat the document with calcium phytate. This treatment employs a principle called chelation. During chelation, the calcium phytate locks up the dangerous iron ions so they can’t attack the paper. This is much the same process as when a person takes antioxidants to block free radicals in his or her body. Although the iron ions are still present, they no longer threaten continuing damage to the treated document.

TSLAC Conservation was pleasantly surprised that the Thinkery21 merrymakers were so receptive to a (brief) lecture on paper chemistry! We hope the event provided a useful window onto the surprising complexities of ink on paper.

A Historical Book-like Box

The phase box is a standard conservation housing that provides physical and environmental protection. In June, TSLAC Conservation modified a phase box to approximate an original protective structure.

House Documents v.112, 58th Congress, 2nd Session, 1903-04 is a collection of soil maps published by the US Government Printing Office (GPO.) Rather than bind the maps into an atlas structure, GPO chose instead to box them as loose, folded leaves. Unique care was then taken to make the box look like a book:

House Documents v 112, 58th Congress, 2nd Session, 1903-1904

The box’s outer wrapper was covered in brown sheep leather. Spine labels are consistent with the look of GPO bindings.

House Documents v 112, 58th Congress, 2nd Session, 1903-1904

The box’s inner wrapper featured textile hinges and a printed map list.

It seems likely that this unusual structure originally protected the folded maps on its top and bottom, but these components are now missing. The back, covered board is missing, as well.

These maps receive relatively light patron use, so it was acceptable to leave them folded and boxed rather than flattened in a folder. Though the quickest treatment would be simply creating a new box, a bit of extra planning and time allowed preservation of the original housing’s careful aesthetic design.

First, a new inner wrapper was constructed of lightweight cardstock. The list of maps was lifted from the original inner wrapper and adhered in the same position in the new structure. Then, an outer phase box was constructed and the covering boards adhered. A new back board was made and covered in toned Japanese tissue.

House Documents v 112, 58th Congress, 2nd Session, 1903-1904

Existing and new boards are adhered to the flattened phase box. Here, the replacement board has not yet been toned to match the leather.

The result is a more robustly protective structure that retains the look and labeling of the original. This box better protects the maps inside and retains its unusual, carefully-designed appearance.

House Documents v 112, 58th Congress, 2nd Session, 1903-1904

New phase box with covering boards.

Testing Tek-Wipe

Tek-Wipe is a new treatment material that has been much discussed by conservators during the annual meeting of the American Institute for Conservation and beyond. TekWipe is a reusable substitute for the blotter paper typically used in washing treatments. Conservators have used Tek-Wipe to dramatically reduce stains and tidelines in paper, as recently discussed in an Iowa State University Library blog.

TSLAC Conservation was curious whether the detailed methodology of the ISU blog could be successfully repeated. In February, one sheet of a Confederate muster roll exhibited unusually pervasive staining and tidelines. A Tek-Wipe washing component was added to our ongoing muster roll treatment procedures in order to observe its effect on the staining.

Muster roll sheet before treatment.

Muster roll sheet before treatment.

The treatment began typically for our muster roll project. The item was humidified and sprayed with a 50/50 water/ethanol mixture due to iron gall ink corrosion. It was then placed in two successive 10-minute water baths, the second one conditioned to pH 8.5 with calcium hydroxide. The treatment procedure was then adjusted to incorporate Tek-Wipe. The item was sandwiched between damp blotter, Tek-Wipe, and spun polyester for two hours, as detailed in the ISU blog. After the first hour, the pre-existing silk lining was removed from the document. The item was then dried in open air and with blotters. Japanese tissue fills and mends were applied with wheat starch paste, and the item was stored in an archival plastic sleeve.

Muster roll sheet after washing with TekWipe and water baths.

Muster roll sheet after washing with TekWipe and water baths.

This after-washing photograph shows that the Tek-Wipe treatment had a negligible impact on stains and tidelines. Why might this be? Many of the stains in this collection are oil-based and ink-based, rather than water-based as seen in the ISU methodology. It’s possible, then, that stains of this nature remain unaffected by water-based TekWipe washing. Further testing might identify a different solvent that has a greater impact than water. Such solvents would require careful testing to ensure media stability.

Until more formal, repeatable studies occur, informal observations like these can add to the conservation field’s growing knowledge of Tek-Wipe treatment procedures. With further testing, documentation, and information sharing, methodologies can evolve to meet treatment needs.

Conservation Treatment of the Travis Bible

In preparation for our upcoming exhibit of treasured Texas icons, TSLAC Conservation completed treatment on the Travis Bible. This 1823 Bible may have been with Commander William Travis during the siege on the Alamo. At some past time, the Travis Bible sustained significant water damage, which caused its pages to swell. Major components of the outer binding had broken to accommodate the extra thickness of the paper.

One treatment goal was to stabilize the Bible’s spine and broken hinges with new leather. This process requires significant preparation, as the repair leather must first be dyed, burnished, and pared to match the binding. The leather was then shaped to the spine and adhered under the original leather on the boards, or covers. Stylistic elements of the headcaps and joints were fashioned according to typical 19th century binding aesthetics. Finally, the original spine covering was re-adhered.

Dyeing repair leather

Dyeing repair leather

Reattaching boards

Reattaching boards

A second goal was to stabilize eight silked leaves. Silking is a previous preservation strategy that reinforced fragile paper with a thin silk lining. Today, we know that silk’s acidity hastens paper’s degradation, and modern conservators instead work with pH-neutral Japanese tissue. During this treatment, the silk was removed and the leaves were mended with tissue as needed. However, three leaves of hand-written family history were especially brittle. Their ongoing use in the binding risked further chipping and loss. These leaves were removed, washed, desilked, deacidified, and housed in window mats. A custom enclosure was then created for the Bible and its removed components.

 

Silked leaves removed from binding

Silked leaves removed from binding

De-silked leaf in window mat

De-silked leaf in window mat

The Travis Bible and other treasures will be on exhibit beginning January 27. Travis’ famous “Victory or Death” letter from the Alamo joins the exhibit February 23. A few before and after images summarize the Bible’s conservation treatment:

Before

After

Before

After

 

Legislation in Progress, 1879

TSLAC Conservation recently worked on a remarkable volume called the Revised Statutes of the State of Texas, 1879. While most of TSLAC’s state House and Senate publications share the same format – legal-style print publications bound in brown sheepskin leather with one red and one black spine label – this volume had an unusual, custom cover label that indicated something special.

The custom label on the volume’s front cover says “Senate Bill No. 54”

Inside is the text of an omnibus bill, plus a surprise – extra, tipped-in sheets throughout the volume that feature hand-written annotations and revisions. The additional sheets are either unnumbered or hand-numbered to match the neighboring, printed pages, which are often correspondingly marked with edits.

Manuscript edits on the left page correspond with the crossed-out text at the top of the right page.

Manuscript signatures are present throughout the volume, indicating approval of the proposed textual changes by relevant authors and staff. A final sheet near the end of the volume features signatures of Senate President Joseph D. Sayers, Speaker of the House John H. Cochran, Secretary of State John D. Templeton, and Governor Oran M. Roberts, among others.

Signatures shown: Wm. A. Fields, 1st Asst., Secretary of Senate; Will Lambert, Chief Clerk, House of Representatives; O.M. Roberts, Governor.

Treatment for this volume focused primarily on reattaching the back board, or cover. Additionally, two manuscript leaves were found to be attached with brads instead of tipped in with glue. Typical preservation strategy would be to remove these brads. However, inspection revealed that the brads are not rusting or tearing the paper. Given current archival storage conditions and the item’s non-circulating status, the brads were left in place as part of this volume’s one-of-a-kind structure and as evidence of its authors’ working methods.

This unusual hybrid print/manuscript volume captures legislation as a work in progress. Additionally, it has now become an autograph album of 19th century Texas politics.