archival materials

Conservation Treatment of Early Canadian Abolitionist Newspapers

Two issues of a rare early Canadian Abolitionist newspaper,  The Voice of the Bondsman,  published in 1856, recently received conservation treatment at our studio.

Two issues of a rare early Canadian Abolitionist newspaper, The Voice of the Bondsman, published in 1856, recently received conservation treatment at our studio.

Historic documents allow us to learn from the past in a way that feels visceral and compelling, and the stewards of these materials have an important role to play in preserving and making them accessible for future generations. Western University Archives and Special Collections in London, Ontario, Canada holds many such unique artifacts, and we are privileged to work with them to conserve and preserve their artifacts.

The Voice of the Bondsman , Issue 1, an early Canadian Abolitionist newspaper, before conservation treatment. Shown in raking light.

The Voice of the Bondsman, Issue 1, an early Canadian Abolitionist newspaper, before conservation treatment. Shown in raking light.

The Voice of the Bondsman , Issue 2, an early Canadian Abolitionist newspaper, before conservation treatment. Shown in raking light.

The Voice of the Bondsman, Issue 2, an early Canadian Abolitionist newspaper, before conservation treatment. Shown in raking light.

We recently treated two important newspapers from Western’s collections with a special significance to the field of Canadian Black History: two rare issues of The Voice of the Bondsman, an early Canadian abolitionist newspaper printed and distributed by John James Linton. Linton, a Scottish-born settler of Stratford, Ontario, was active in the Canadian Abolitionist movement, and wrote several tracts and other publications supporting the abolition of slavery in the south. These two papers are believed to be the only extant copies of The Voice of the Bondsman, issues one and two, and were printed in 1856 and 1857 and distributed for free by Linton in the Stratford area.

The newspapers had been in Western’s archives for many years but recent interest in Abolitionist history had led to their “rediscovery” in the collections. The significance and research potential of the papers prompted Special Collections Librarian Debbie Meert-Williston to contact Book and Paper Conservation Services about having them conserved.

The Voice of the Bondsman  newspaper viewed in transmitted light shows previous damage and tape repair.

The Voice of the Bondsman newspaper viewed in transmitted light shows previous damage and tape repair.

When they arrived at our studio, the papers were suffering from damages and deterioration typical of artifacts of the period. At some time in their past the papers had been stored folded, and heavy creasing marred the sheets; there were a number of tears and breaks in the paper along the fold lines, and previous repairs with pressure sensitive adhesive tape were causing staining and degradation of the paper. The paper itself, although relatively good quality, was brittle and yellowed with age and some soiling had darkened the surface. We knew that with the heavy usage expected of such interesting items in the University collections, the papers would need to be in their best possible condition, so a conservation treatment was proposed that would address all of these issues.

The first step was removal of the previous pressure sensitive adhesive tape repairs.

The first step was removal of the previous pressure sensitive adhesive tape repairs.

Solvents were used to remove adhesive residue from old tape repairs on  The Voice of the Bondsman , Issue 2.

Solvents were used to remove adhesive residue from old tape repairs on The Voice of the Bondsman, Issue 2.

After a light surface dry cleaning to remove dirt and grime, the previous pressure sensitive adhesive tape repairs were removed using a combination of solvents to release the adhesive embedded in the paper fibres.

Before and after tape and adhesive removal. Pressure sensitive tape repairs can cause damage and staining to delicate paper and must be removed.

Before and after tape and adhesive removal. Pressure sensitive tape repairs can cause damage and staining to delicate paper and must be removed.

The paper was of good quality rag as handmade papers of the 1850’s generally were, and it had held up well for over 150 years, but there was some brittleness and discolouration evident. In order to restore strength and flexibility as well as address any acid degradation, an immersion wash and deacidification treatment were performed on both newspaper issues.

Immersion wash and deacidification of the brittle paper.

Immersion wash and deacidification of the brittle paper.

The paper was resized with a gelatin solution after washing.

The paper was resized with a gelatin solution after washing.

Finally, new repairs were made to the tears in the paper using stable and reversible Japanese tissue adhered with Jin Shofu wheat starch paste, and the documents were humidified and flattened to remove the creasing.

Stable and reversible repairs were made with Japanese tissue and Jin Shofu wheat starch paste.

Stable and reversible repairs were made with Japanese tissue and Jin Shofu wheat starch paste.

The Voice of the Bondsman , Issues 1 & 2, after conservation treatment.

The Voice of the Bondsman, Issues 1 & 2, after conservation treatment.

Custom archival enclosures were made to house the items, including mylar encapsulation sleeves and an acid-free folder for each newspaper. These will provide safe storage for the papers and make them easier to handle when accessed by researchers and students.

Voice of the Bondsman Abolitionist Newspapers housed in Archival Enclosures

The Western University Archives and Research Collections Centre anticipates much interest in these items and others in their growing collection of early Black Canadian History. The documents are freely accessible to anyone at Western or in the broader research community, and will be digitized for online access. Events are being planned to discuss the papers this fall and to celebrate Black History month in February 2020; check back for more information as these are confirmed.

Book and Paper Conservation Services is pleased to have partnered with Western University to help preserve these important documents of Canadian history.

We provide conservation services for works of art on paper, archival materials and rare books for both private and institutional clients. If you are interested in having works in your collection conserved, don’t hesitate to contact us. You can also view examples of other projects we have completed below.

Mat-Cutting and Mounting Workshop with the Canadian Bookbinders and Book Artists Guild (CBBAG)

Mat Cutting and Mounting Workshop

Art conservator Jennifer Robertson will once again be teaching a one-day workshop on mat-cutting and mounting for works on paper, this time through the Canadian Bookbinders and Book Artists Guild (CBBAG).

Mat-Cutting and Mounting

Hosted by CBBAG Southwestern Ontario Chapter

Wednesday May 8th, 2019

9:30 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.

Lee Valley Tools, 2100 Oxford Street, London, ON, N5V 4A4

Cost: $75.00 plus $30 Materials Fee

This workshop will demonstrate archival methods for mat cutting and mounting of works on paper. It will combine practical demonstration and hands-on activity with discussion of the role of the mat and mount in protecting an artwork, the importance of acid free materials, and the potential damages to paper without these precautions.

The design and function of mats in various formats and the benefits and drawbacks of each will be examined:  types of mat, hinging, hinging materials, hinging formats, framing.

Participants will go through the steps demonstrated to measure, cut, and mount 2 small prints (provided). Assistance and advice will be provided, as participants rotate through the steps.  (Practical time will be interspersed with lecture to allow time for participants to work through the steps with time for paste to dry and for all to take a turn with the mat cutter).

The workshop is open to the public - you don’t have to be a member of CBBAG to sign up, but registration is through the group. Learn more at the CBBAG Southwestern Ontario website.

https://www.cbbag.ca/cbbag-regional-chapters/sw-ontario

Sign up early to ensure a spot in this course!

Conservation Treatment of a Hand-Drawn Map of Sarnia, Ontario, 1848

A watermark from the notable papermaker J Whatman is visible in transmitted light. The map is drawn on hand-made laid rag paper.

A watermark from the notable papermaker J Whatman is visible in transmitted light. The map is drawn on hand-made laid rag paper.

Archival materials see some of the hardest use and wear of all paper objects, because their original purpose was usually utilitarian. Sometimes ephemeral, often consulted, maps are no exception. The maps that come in to Book and Paper Conservation Services for treatment show damages typical of handling and haphazard storage, such as tears, breaks, creases, soiling, and evidence of previous restoration as owners have performed DIY repairs in order to return functionality to an item in frequent use.

1848 Map of Sarnia, Ontario, Canada. Before conservation treatment, the map suffers surface dirt, tears and losses, as well as previous repairs with damaging adhesive tape on the verso.

1848 Map of Sarnia, Ontario, Canada. Before conservation treatment, the map suffers surface dirt, tears and losses, as well as previous repairs with damaging adhesive tape on the verso.

An 1848 map of the town of Sarnia, Ontario that we conserved last year is a perfect example. The map, now part of the collections of the Lambton County Archives, shows several streets close to the shore of the St. Clair River, with specific lots carefully laid out and numbered and buildings and geological features marked.

The map is an original, and has been hand drawn with pen and ink, with roads and waterways highlighted in watercolour. It’s a utilitarian, yet beautiful object, with elegant penmanship and a green silk ribbon folded and sewn around the perimeter of the paper. It may be a thoughtfully designed piece, but it was meant foremost to convey information, and the handling and use it has seen are evident in the damages it now presents.

Lambton County Archives brought the map in for conservation treatment in order to preserve a delicate piece of Sarnia’s history, and make it safe for researchers to access and study.

Map in raking light, showing severe planar deformation.

Map in raking light, showing severe planar deformation.

The map suffered a variety of condition and damage issues caused by use and age, dating from it’s lifetime before entering the Archives. A heavy layer of surface dirt, tears and losses, and adhesive tape residue on the verso were present and needed to be addressed. After thorough condition reporting and photo-documentation, an essential step in all our conservation projects, the treatment began.

Surface cleaning using a smoke sponge is a slow and tedious process, but one which in this case yielded dramatic results. The time lapse images of the cleaning show the grime coming off section by section, brightening the paper beneath.

Surface cleaning the verso of the map.

Surface cleaning the verso of the map.

Time lapse video showing the process of surface cleaning the map.

Next, the remains of the repair tape applied by a well-intentioned soul was addressed. The tape carrier had long since flaked off, but the adhesive residue remained, brittle and yellowed and crosslinking with the paper fibres on a microscopic level. Some solvent tests revealed a match, and by careful swab application, over suction to draw out the dissolved residue, we were successful in removing the disfiguring material. Luckily there was not much staining left in the paper after this was removed, and more stable repairs could now be applied.

Solvent removal of adhesive tape residue.

Solvent removal of adhesive tape residue.

In keeping with conservation aims and ethics, a new, stable and reversible repair method was chosen, that of Japanese tissue adhered with wheat starch paste. Wheat starch paste is a clear, strong and flexible adhesive that will not fail, discolour or become brittle with time. It is used by paper conservators to attach thin strips of handmade Japanese tissue to paper objects, to repair tears and breaks. The long-fibred, acid-free tissue holds together the breaks and can be selected to match the colour and thickness of the artifact, being nearly invisible after application so that it won’t disturb the aesthetics of a piece. These repairs were performed on the verso of the map, and fills were added to the losses with a similar process, completing the repair of the mechanical damages on the map.

Japanese tissue repairs applied to the verso of the map, with LED light pad underneath.

Japanese tissue repairs applied to the verso of the map, with LED light pad underneath.

After conservation treatment, the map is clean and stable.

After conservation treatment, the map is clean and stable.

After treatment the map is bright and clean, the damages are repaired and damaging materials have been removed so as not to cause further long-term deterioration. Conservation treatment has restored stability and aesthetic integrity to the map.

It was returned to Lambton County Archives as good as new, and is now kept in their newly renovated storage facility, ready to serve researchers interested in Sarnia’s early history. Please visit the Archives in person or online to learn more about their collections and the preservation strategies they undertake for artifacts in their care.

To learn more about archival conservation at Book and Paper Conservation Services, check out our portfolio section or read about our process.