Japanese Paper

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.

Conservation of a WWI-Era Newspaper

Archival materials are valued for the information they convey, but often poor condition and deterioration hinders access to the text or images on old paper and documents. We frequently conserve these kinds of items for libraries and archives who's primary objective is to preserve and study the history they contain. 

This 1916 newspaper was been creased and soiled when it came in to the studio.

This 1916 newspaper was been creased and soiled when it came in to the studio.

This project recently came to our studio from the Lambton Heritage Museum in Grand Bend, Ontario, Canada. The 1916 Sarnia Canadian newspaper was part of their research collection, but had never received proper cataloguing or storage. It was the only known copy of this particular issue, and featured names and profiles of the soldiers in the 149 Battalion of the Canadian Expeditionary Forces (popularly known as "Lambton's Own") about to depart for battle in World War One. 

Damage prevented access to the text of the newspaper.

Damage prevented access to the text of the newspaper.

A researcher using the Museum's collections wanted to read the content of the articles, but poor condition prevented access. The paper was soiled and creased, with folds obscuring text down the centre of paper, and the brittleness of the acidic newsprint had caused many breaks and losses in the sheet. Even gentle handling caused further deterioration, and conservation treatment was needed in order to restore the pages so they could be used safely.

Surface cleaning the paper to remove grime.

Surface cleaning the paper to remove grime.

First, the front page was surface cleaned to remove the dirt and grime that was ground into the paper.

The creases gently unfolded, with the aid of moisture.

The creases gently unfolded, with the aid of moisture.

Next, the creases and folds were humidified with locally applied moisture and carefully unfolded, then flattened with a tacking iron, in order to open the sheets fully.

Tear repairs performed with extremely thin Japanese tissue.

Tear repairs performed with extremely thin Japanese tissue.

Long tears along the creases and smaller ones radiating from the outer edges were repaired and strengthened with an extremely thin Japanese repair tissue, adhered with wheat starch paste. The thin tissue is almost transparent, a necessity in order for the text to remain readable through the repairs, and the adhesive is stable and reversible and won't become yellow or brittle with age.

The newspaper spread after repair and restoration.

The newspaper spread after repair and restoration.

Losses in the margins were filled with a slightly thicker Japanese paper to lend strength to the edges. Finally, the sheets were humidified overall and flattened so the paper is readable once more.

The front page of the conserved paper is now fully accessible.

The front page of the conserved paper is now fully accessible.

The newspaper is now stable and able to be safely handled by Museum staff and visitors, and all the information is accessible to researchers. The stories of these brave men from Lambton County will once more be known and appreciated by today's citizens. 

Lambton Heritage Museum plans to exhibit the restored newspaper in an upcoming exhibit telling the story of Lambton County's participation in WWI. It will be held at the Judith and Norman Alix Art Gallery in Sarnia, Ontario, in fall 2017, and is to run concurrently with the national traveling exhibition Witness: Fields of Battle Through Canadian Eyes, on loan from the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa. Book and Paper Conservation Services is pleased to have worked on this project and to have contributed to the exhibition in a small way.

If you have historic items you are interested in having preserved, don't hesitate to get in touch with us!

Art Conservation and Custom Framing

Archival materials arrive at our conservation studio needing anything from a few minor paper repairs to full scale cleaning.  As much as we love the dramatic treatments, it's also nice to see items that just need a little TLC and custom framing in order to appear to their best advantage. 

The large illustrated newspaper sheet in raking light, showing vertical ripples.

The large illustrated newspaper sheet in raking light, showing vertical ripples.

This 1918 newspaper sheet from the Montreal Telegraph is a perfect example. The page is a rare item showing North American Polish army recruits training at a camp at Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, Canada, in preparation for fighting in WWI. The piece is to be displayed next fall at the Niagara Historical Society Museum's exhibition Kosciuszko Camp: The Polish Army at Niagara Camp, 1917-1919opening in November 2017.

The page was in fairly good condition, but had a few small tears around the edges and was lightly rippled from being stored folded. The owner also wanted it framed for display in the exhibition, but with an option for long-term flat storage at the Museum after the exhibition ends. 

Repairing a tear in the margin with wheat starch paste and Japanese tissue.

Repairing a tear in the margin with wheat starch paste and Japanese tissue.

The minor treatment included repairing the small tears in the margins with wheat starch paste and Japanese tissue, and humidifying and flattening the sheet overall to eliminate the rippling.

The piece was then custom framed for display in acid-free materials and behind Conservation Clear® UV filtering glass. An acid-free folder was included in the frame package for safe, flat storage once the piece is removed from the frame. 

Applying a Japanese tissue hinge to the artwork, part of the framing process.

Applying a Japanese tissue hinge to the artwork, part of the framing process.

Proper framing is an important consideration for works of art on paper. Poor framing materials and methods are often the cause of serious damage that conservators are tasked with undoing, such as mat burn or discolouration caused by acidic mats and backer boards, or staining and brittleness from poor quality tape hinges attached to the piece.

At BPCS we always use custom Japanese tissue hinges adhered to the artwork with wheat starch paste when framing works on paper. These hinges are stable and reversible and do not cause any damage to artworks, unlike many commercial framing tapes and adhesives. This is the safest method for mounting paper, and ensures that 20 or 100 years from now, when the artwork is next removed from its frame, there will be no unexpected staining or brittleness as we often find in artworks framed throughout the 20th century.

The finished piece, framed for display.

The finished piece, framed for display.

The owner chose a simple black wooden frame from our samples and a black mat to offset and highlight the black and white images. The result is a striking piece which will grab viewers' attention in the exhibition, as well as ensuring the safety of this rare piece. 

If you are in the area, check out the Niagara Historical Society Museum in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, and watch for this piece in next fall's exhibition!

Do you have an old newspaper article or other archival items you'd like to display? Contact us to discuss conservation and framing of your piece, or check out our services to see what we offer.