Restoration of Natural History Prints

These natural history prints were originally illustrations in a book, published in 1835. The steel engravings show shell and fossil specimens in exquisite detail, and are printed on thin, delicate paper.  

The four prints came to the studio in very poor condition. They had suffered water damage causing multiple stains, as well as mould growth and surface dirt, and were badly creased. 

Before treatment, set of four steel engravings, 1835

Before treatment, set of four steel engravings, 1835

Not all damaged items can be restored back to a pristine state, and this set is a perfect example. The dark stains were very set in the prints, the damage having occurred long ago, and the paper was thin and fragile. However, while conservation treatment may not always be able to restore a piece completely, it can produce dramatic improvement. 

Dry cleaning to remove surface dirt.

Dry cleaning to remove surface dirt.

First, the prints were dry cleaned to remove surface dirt and loose debris. Next, they were washed and light bleached in RO water. This process removed much of the acidity and discolouration from the prints, and brightened the paper tone overall.

After washing, showing the discolouration in the wash water.

After washing, showing the discolouration in the wash water.

Then, a chemical bleach was applied locally to further reduce the stains and tidelines. Finally the prints were rinsed and deacidified to finish the process. 

Spot bleaching through suction to reduce local stains.

Spot bleaching through suction to reduce local stains.

After treatment, the set of 4 prints is much improved. The paper tone is brighter and the stains are no longer dramatically disfiguring. The prints will never be new again, but aesthetically the set is much more acceptable now, and once properly matted and framed, will be suitable for display. Most importantly, the paper has been stabilized by the removal of dirt and acidity, and will remain in good condition for many years to come. 

After treatment, the prints are brighter, the stains reduced, and the paper stabilized.

After treatment, the prints are brighter, the stains reduced, and the paper stabilized.