Book Conservation: A 19th Century Carte de Visite Photograph Album

19th century carte de visite photograph album - conservation treatment

At Book and Paper Conservation Services the variety of objects we treat is broad, but they all have one thing in common - the owners or stewards of the objects have deemed them important enough to be preserved. We often receive objects of fascinating historical significance, and learning about the provenance of the item is one of the thrills of the job for an art conservator. 

An intriguing item came through our studio recently - a 19th century carte de visit photo album with an interesting theme and provenance. The album is from the collection of The Bishop Farrell Library & Archives at the Diocese of Hamilton, in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.

 The Bishop Crinnon carte de visite photograph album, during conservation treatment.

The Bishop Crinnon carte de visite photograph album, during conservation treatment.

History & Context

Although it was most recently part of the library of Bishop Ryan, the album originally belonged to Bishop Crinnon, who was the 2nd Bishop of the Diocese of Hamilton from 1874 - 1882. An inscription on the front free end paper indicates it was a gift presented to Crinnon in London, Ontario, in September 1864, when he was a dean of the Diocese of London. It was gifted by Fr. Joseph A. Kelly, a Dominican Friar serving at the time as the prior of St. Peter’s Church in London. Crinnon obviously brought the album with him when he transferred to Hamilton, where it eventually joined the collection of the Diocese.

 The Bishop Crinnon carte de visite album before conservation treatment.

The Bishop Crinnon carte de visite album before conservation treatment.

The album contains 89 cartes de visite displayed in specially made pages, inserted through slots in the bottom of two stiff sheets of cardboard and visible through die cut portrait openings. A large number of the photographs depict ecclesiastical figures, some identifiable and some not. Several of the cards have the sitter's name included, either printed on the card or inscribed by hand. It is an intriguing portrait collection of clergy from the early 19th century.

 Bishop Crinnon carte de visite album, showing a spread of pages featuring portraits of clergy.

Bishop Crinnon carte de visite album, showing a spread of pages featuring portraits of clergy.

Cartes des Visite

The album is an example of a popular collecting trend of the second half of the 19th century, but with an important twist of theme and local significance. The carte des visite, a photograph mounted on a piece of card the size of a formal visiting card, was a common way to immortalize both celebrities and ordinary people, and they were produced by photographic studios around the world. Sitters would have cards produced for friends and family, and purchase or trade images of important personalities including royalty, politicians and men of arts and letters. 

 Carte de visite from the Bishop Crinnon Album of Rev. Edward Gordon, first Vicar General for the Diocese of Hamilton

Carte de visite from the Bishop Crinnon Album of Rev. Edward Gordon, first Vicar General for the Diocese of Hamilton

 Verso of carte de visite, with inscription in graphite and logo of the Notman Studio, Montreal, Canada.

Verso of carte de visite, with inscription in graphite and logo of the Notman Studio, Montreal, Canada.

In the case of this album, the collector has compiled a group of photographs featuring ecclesiastical figures, along with some other notable heros of the day. The portraits may have been commercially distributed - much the way postcards are bought in souvenir shops today - or may have been gifts from personal acquaintances of the collector, especially if he was involved in the Roman Catholic community. Many have logos of photography studios in Canada printed on the verso, including ones from London, Hamilton and Toronto. There is at least one from the well-known Notman Studio in Montreal. The album is rich with historical context and provides an interesting opportunity for a study of Roman Catholic clergy in Canada in the late 19th century; the Archives of the Diocese of Hamilton are currently exploring the album's history. 

Carte de visite - Canadian photography studio logo on verso
Carte de visite - Canadian photography studio logo on verso
Carte de visite - Canadian photography studio logo on verso
Page 6 - Photo 2 - Verso.JPG

Conservation Treatment

The album arrived in our studio in rough condition. The main issue was damage to the binding, caused by years of handling of the inherently delicate materials; there was also a fine layer of grime on all of the materials, dulling the vibrancy of the pages and photographs.

 Facing paper lifting from a page with the weight of the album.

Facing paper lifting from a page with the weight of the album.

 Delicate cloth lining has broken at joint of the final page. 

Delicate cloth lining has broken at joint of the final page. 

Photograph albums were manufactured in a variety formats in the 19th century, and a careful study was made of the mechanics of this particular album in order to understand the structure and to design an appropriate repair solution. The fabric lining attaching the thick card pages together had torn at the joint of the final page, a location which received a lot of strain whenever the album was accessed. As well, the weight and motion of the pages had caused delamination of the facing paper at several locations throughout the album. Repairs needed to be sympathetic to the original binding, while providing strength and stability, and still maintaining the mechanical action originally intended. 

 New endbands were applied, in a style that matched the fragments of the originals.

New endbands were applied, in a style that matched the fragments of the originals.

Japanese tissue adhered with wheat starch paste was used to line the spine and repair the joint, the spine was strengthened with a new card stiffener, and new endbands were applied, in a style matching the remnants of the original materials. The binding and pages were surface cleaned to remove the grime, and each photograph was carefully removed from its slot, cleaned, documented on both recto and verso, and replaced. 

 Each photograph was carefully cleaned, on both recto and verso, before being documented and replaced in the album.

Each photograph was carefully cleaned, on both recto and verso, before being documented and replaced in the album.

 The binding was cleaned to remove surface grime. 

The binding was cleaned to remove surface grime. 

 Before and after surface cleaning of the pages and gilding around the edge of the album.

Before and after surface cleaning of the pages and gilding around the edge of the album.

The end result allows the album to be opened, carefully and with proper support, so that the cartes des visite can be viewed by researchers at the archives. The repairs have restored the original function of the album, and the cleaning has rejuvenated the portraits. Preservation of the photograph album will allow it to remain in the best possible condition for future study and appreciation, and we are very pleased to have worked with the Bishop Farrell Library & Archives at the Diocese of Hamilton to preserve this interesting artifact. 

 After conservation treatment, the Bishop Crinnon carte de visite photograph album is clean and stable. 

After conservation treatment, the Bishop Crinnon carte de visite photograph album is clean and stable. 

If you are interested in conservation for archival materials in your own collection, don't hesitate to get in touch with us. We provide conservation and restoration for documents, photographs and rare books, and we'll work with you to devise a preservation strategy to meet the needs of your object. Check out our portfolio of treatments and contact information below.

Choosing a Conservator: The Canadian Association of Professional Conservators Can Help

 Conserving a 19th century photograph album.

Conserving a 19th century photograph album.

If you are considering having an artwork or document restored, whether it is a valuable collection piece or a sentimental memento, it's important to choose a properly trained professional to undertake the work. 

Art conservation is a highly skilled and specialized profession which aims to preserve and restore cultural objects. Conservators examine, research, clean and repair artworks, while also taking action to prevent future deterioration. A trained and experienced conservator will also adhere to a set of ethical work standards designed to protect artworks and owners from damage or misrepresentation. 

But how can you find an art conservator with the right training and skills ? The Canadian Association of Professional Conservators (CAPC) can help. 

 Watercolour painting before and after conservation treatment; brown stains have been removed with washing and bleaching.

Watercolour painting before and after conservation treatment; brown stains have been removed with washing and bleaching.

The Canadian Association of Professional Conservators (CAPC) is a non-profit corporation established in 1971 with the aim of raising the standards of competence, integrity, and ethics in conservation in Canada. CAPC has established criteria and a peer-review process for the accreditation of conservators and conservation scientists and maintains a list of practitioners accredited through the organization. Membership in CAPC is voluntary and it does not represent all qualified conservators working in Canada, however if you want to engage the services of a professional art conservator, the CAPC directory is a good place to start.

CAPC accredited conservators have:

The directory lists art conservators accredited by the organization, and is searchable by name, province, and speciality (such as works on paper, objects, or paintings). A short biography and credentials are included for each conservator, as well as contact information.

 Jennifer Robertson of Book and Paper Conservation Services, repairing a rare book. 

Jennifer Robertson of Book and Paper Conservation Services, repairing a rare book. 

Jennifer Robertson, BFA, MAC, the owner and principal conservator at Book and Paper Conservation Services is accredited by the CAPC in the fields of book conservation and conservation of works on paper, including both fine art and archival documents. She has over 10 years experience in art conservation. She obtained her Masters degree in Art Conservation from Queens University in 2011 and spent years furthering her training at institutions including Library and Archives Canada, The Smithsonian Institution, and The British Library, among others. She opened Book and Paper Conservation Services in 2016 to specialize in her area of expertise, the conservation of fine art on paper, archival materials and rare books. 

 Conservation grade materials for paper repair. 

Conservation grade materials for paper repair. 

Book and Paper Conservation Services works with private collectors and public institutions to conserve and preserve important cultural heritage objects. Adhering to the CAPC Code of Ethics in all our treatments, we provide full written and photographic documentation, use only conservation quality materials and reversible treatment procedures, and include recommendations for future preservation strategies for all work conserved at our studio. We are passionate about art conservation and we strive to offer the best quality services for our clients and their objects.

 Surface cleaning a newspaper.

Surface cleaning a newspaper.

 Inpainting losses in a gelatin photograph.

Inpainting losses in a gelatin photograph.

We invite you to read more about the process of having an artwork conserved by us, view our treatment portfolios for fine art on paper, archival materials and rare books, and contact us directly with any questions. If we can't help you with your object and it's needs, we will direct you to another experienced conservator who can.

We look forward to hearing from you!

Fine Art Conservation: The Agricultural Art of Ross Butler

 Ross Butler -  Ayrshire Bull  - Before Conservation

Ross Butler - Ayrshire Bull - Before Conservation

 Ross Butler -  Ayrshire Cow  - Before Conservation

Ross Butler - Ayrshire Cow - Before Conservation

Ross Butler was a self-taught artist who made a lasting impression on the agricultural and art communities in Canada and the United States. Working in Woodstock, Ontario, Canada in the mid-20th century, Butler created striking idealized portraits of various breeds of livestock, and his renditions became the standard of measurement for evaluating prize animals. 

 The Ross Butler Gallery, in the Butler family barn, Woodstock, Ontario, Canada.

The Ross Butler Gallery, in the Butler family barn, Woodstock, Ontario, Canada.

His works hang in many public and private collections in Canada, but the largest collection of them remains in the possession of the Butler family; his son David maintains the Ross Butler Gallery on the family farm in Woodstock, housed in the barn his father used as a studio during the later part of his lifetime. Being primarily depictions of agricultural life, it is fitting for the works to be displayed in this setting; however, over time the fluctuating environmental conditions in the building have caused some deterioration of the artworks.

The Woodstock Art Gallery recently mounted an exhibition of Butler's work titled Ross Butler: Branding, Butter and Bulls, celebrating the artist's contribution to the community. In advance of the exhibition, Book and Paper Conservation Services was asked to treat several of the major pieces to be displayed.

  Ayrshire Cow  before conservation - raking light showing planar deformation of paper.

Ayrshire Cow before conservation - raking light showing planar deformation of paper.

These two large pastel drawings on paper, titled Ayrshire Bull and Ayrshire Cow, are prime examples of Butler's skill and precision, and were to be featured prominently in the exhibition. However, the paper was suffering severe planar deformation and a sprinkling of mould spots was scattered across the surface of both pieces. 

 Detail of  Ayrshire Cow  before conservation, showing mould spots on pastel surface.

Detail of Ayrshire Cow before conservation, showing mould spots on pastel surface.

 Detail of  Ayrshire Cow  after conservation, mould spots have been removed.

Detail of Ayrshire Cow after conservation, mould spots have been removed.

The paper supports had been adhered with wide swaths of adhesive around the edges of the verso to thick masonite backer boards; the tension of this constraint had caused the paper to ripple with the dramatic changes in relative humidity in the barn gallery. To address this the acidic masonite boards were removed from each piece, as well as the adhesive residue on the paper; the artworks were humidified in a controlled humidity chamber and flattened under weight. 

The mould spots on the surface of the pastel media were carefully removed by mechanical means, being careful not to disturb the delicate friable media. Accretions and other debris that had become trapped in the frame were gently removed as well. 

 Removing mould spots from  Ayrshire Cow .

Removing mould spots from Ayrshire Cow.

 Biological remains of the barn's other inhabitants were also removed from the artworks.

Biological remains of the barn's other inhabitants were also removed from the artworks.

The artworks had been framed with care, however the powdery surface of the pastels had been placed directly against the glass, and combined with the rippling of the paper this had caused transfer of the media to the glass.

 Artworks had been framed directly against the glass, causing the pastel to transfer.

Artworks had been framed directly against the glass, causing the pastel to transfer.

The final stage of treatment was to clean the original frames and reinstall the artworks with acid-free backer boards, UV filtering glass and spacers to separate the art from the glass and prevent further damage to the media. We do not generally recommend a fixative for pastel media, as the solution can dull the vibrancy of the colour and affect the stability of the piece in the future. 

 Cleaning surface dirt and grime off the original frames.

Cleaning surface dirt and grime off the original frames.

 Ross Butler -  Ayrshire Bull , Pastel on Paper - After Conservation

Ross Butler - Ayrshire Bull, Pastel on Paper - After Conservation

 Ross Butler -  Ayrshire Cow , Pastel on Paper - After Conservation

Ross Butler - Ayrshire Cow, Pastel on Paper - After Conservation

Conservation treatment has stabilized these two important works by Ross Butler, ensuring their continued safety and stability. The works were installed in the Woodstock Art Gallery for the exhibition Ross Butler: Branding, Butter and Bulls, which runs from February 17th to June 30th, 2018. Curated by Samantha Purvis-Johnston, the exhibit explore's Butler's contribution to the agricultural and art communities in Ontario and across Canada. 

  Ayrshire Bull  and  Ayrshire Cow  on display in the exhibition  Ross Butler: Branding, Butter and Bulls , Woodstock Art Gallery.

Ayrshire Bull and Ayrshire Cow on display in the exhibition Ross Butler: Branding, Butter and Bulls, Woodstock Art Gallery.

 Curatorial and Collections Assistant Samantha Purvis-Johnston address visitors at the opening reception of  Ross Butler: Branding, Butter and Bulls , at the Woodstock Art Gallery. 

Curatorial and Collections Assistant Samantha Purvis-Johnston address visitors at the opening reception of Ross Butler: Branding, Butter and Bulls, at the Woodstock Art Gallery. 

Book and Paper Conservation Services was pleased to work with the Woodstock Art Gallery and David Butler to restore these remarkable artworks. We encourage you to visit the exhibition this spring, and also to check out the Ross Butler Gallery in Woodstock, Ontario, which tells the story of Butler's life and work in his own environment. 

If you are interested in having works from your own collection conserved and restored, please contact us for more information. We invite you to browse our portfolio pages for other examples of successful conservation treatments.