Conservation Lab at the National Archives at College Park

Conservation Lab at the National Archives at College Park


This book was severely water-damaged as part
of the flood and you can sort of see the way that the covering cloth on the book is warped
and no longer attached. So what we’re going to do for exhibit is to very carefully take
it apart. These original sewing threads are going to stay in the box with the book. We
were very fortunate to be able to hire two conservators and two conservation technicians
to carry out the treatments and all of the aspects of the documentation that needs to
be done. This is a ring binder from the Frank Iny School. There’s about 200 of these ring
binders. Almost all of them got wet during the flooding. So we have to remove them from
what’s left of the ring binder, which is not much. Most of our collection has a lot
of mold on it, this actually appears to be caked-on soil. One of the most unique things
about this book are the hand-drawn illustrations in the front of what appears to be mythical
creatures, a griffin. And luckily we found what appears to be the missing section of
this illustration that the conservators will then reattach. There is a librarian on the
team and her role is critical because she has language skills and also the bibliographic
knowledge that others on the team don’t have. This is the oldest book that we found
in the collection. The Book of Writings or, in Hebrew, the Book of Ketuvim. It’s just
a really lovely book. It’s held up really well for being over 400 years old. This is
the text of the Book of Psalms, and then surrounding it on this side is the commentary of the medieval
rabbi Ibn Ezra. We’ve already done mold removal with a HEPA filter vacuum but there’s
still some more deeply embedded surface grime on the paper that I’d like to clean up before
we start washing. What I’m using for surface cleaning is a kind of a sponge called a soot
sponge or a chemical sponge. It was developed for cleaning soot or ash off of fire-damaged
materials. The title page is currently in three pieces. So with this book we’re going
to vacuum it to get the mold off of it, disassemble it. It’ll look much more complete when it’s
finished. You can really see the water damage, possibly from the flood in Baghdad. I’m
hoping that the bath will reduce or eliminate this tide line. We only have four or five
sections in the bath already but you can see that the discoloration is coming out into
the water. I have never washed a book this gross before. The easiest way to get all of
the pieces to unfold, lay flat and fit together is to line it with a very thin Japanese tissue
and paste. You have to test the media, all the different inks on the page to make sure
that they aren’t going to run or get damaged. So the first test is to take a very thin piece
of blotter, wet it up with a dot of water and blot against the ink. And as you progressively
get a larger and larger area with solvent you’ll see if the ink is reactive. There
are a lot of revenue stamps in the collection that got loose when the water event happened.
If we can figure out where they are we replace them with methyl cellulose as we go so that
we don’t lose them. Then we do mold remediation, flatten them, put them in doc boxes and folders
and then they get scanned. The first step to doing a wet lining is spraying up the paper
so that everything is very relaxed. So that I can align all of the tears and get all of
the pieces to fit back where they originally were. This is a precipitated wheat starch
paste. The next step is brushing this very thin tissue out. I lay the tissue paper down
on the object and then I squeeze out all of the air bubbles and most of the excess water.
After I turn it over I can remove the Hollytex that I had been using as a support. And then
I bring a blotter over to remove the excess moisture and start the drying process. The
entire book went through five baths and the final bath had almost no yellow so I knew
that most of the acidic contamination had been washed out of the book. I can already
see that the very dramatic tide line that was there when we started the bath is gone.
After washing it and mending it and repairing all the folds it’s finally strong enough
to be rebuilt as it was originally. This is a traditional sewing frame and it’s a way
of holding the linen cords in perfectly straight lines so that you can sew each gathering of
the book onto them. When a book is sewn of course the threads are up inside the fold
of each gathering. And so a book is fatter at the spine than it is in the rest of the
text block. And what that does is it makes the book kind of wedge shaped. So in traditional
book binding the text block is further shaped in what’s called a job backer, this machine.
I’m looking to make certain that the book is swelling evenly from both sides. I’m
not going to do that much shaping on the book because my book is old and fragile. After
mold remediation we took the illustrated frontispiece. These pieces will be moved back into their
location based on the lines of the illustration, mended on the back side. We have numerous
bags of fragments containing everything imaginable in this
collection. And we sifted through all of the fragments but unfortunately we didn’t find
any more of the illustration. But it took us about 20 hours just to go through them.
Now it’s dry and the tissue is holding all of the three pieces together. I’m going
to go in and fill these losses, here and here and the holes here. In order to get all of
the custom fills for these losses we make what we call a map. And it’s on mylar and
that is what we use to put tissue on top of and cut out all of these tiny fibers. On exhibit
this will look like it is a whole piece of paper. So this is the book almost completely
done the last stage will be to put on the title. And it’s been cased in to a new case
with new end papers. And this is the page that will be exhibited, the title page. The
National Archives has truly devoted years to this project. It’s really been a labor
of love for a lot of people who have wanted to see this material transformed and made
widely available.

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