art conservation

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.

Restoration of a Steinbeck First Edition Dust Jacket

Restoration of the dust jacket of a 1st edition Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck.

Restoration of the dust jacket of a 1st edition Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck.

The Grapes of Wrath, 1st edition, front cover before restoration.

The Grapes of Wrath, 1st edition, front cover before restoration.

To collectors of modern first editions, condition of the dust jacket is of the utmost importance. The flimsy paper sheath takes the brunt of handling and exposure and is always the first to suffer. However, when a copy can’t be found (or afforded) in good condition, there is always the option of restoration.

Background

Several months ago a collector brought to us his recently acquired copy of the first edition of Steinbeck’s classic The Grapes of Wrath. The book had special meaning to him; it was the first novel he had read as a young adult and had opened his eyes to the world beyond his immediate experience, and inspired in him a civic responsibility to his local community. He felt he had made a good purchase with this copy of the first edition, but there was some damage to the dust jacket that he wanted to see improved.

restoration & ethics

Restoration work goes hand in hand with conservation, and as long as the methods used follow the Code of Ethics of the Canadian Association for Conservation of Cultural Property (CAC) and the Canadian Association of Professional Conservators (CAPC), it can be effectively applied when suitable to the situation of the artifact. In the case of rare books, if the work is done by a professional, and is properly documented and reversible, it can bring satisfaction to collectors as well as increase the value of a volume.

The Grapes of Wrath, 1st edition, front cover and spine before restoration.

The Grapes of Wrath, 1st edition, front cover and spine before restoration.

The Grapes of Wrath, 1st edition, dust jacket in raking light before restoration.

The Grapes of Wrath, 1st edition, dust jacket in raking light before restoration.

Book and Paper Conservation Services was thrilled at the chance to work on this project, being fans of Steinbeck ourselves, and we knew that a little repair and inpainting would go a long way on the ratty pictorial dust jacket of the book.

TREATMENT process

An infill paper was selected that matched the weight and texture of the original, and fills were created with chamfered edges to exactly fit the jagged losses. Tears were repaired with Japanese tissue adhered with Jin Shofu wheat starch paste, and abrasions on the paper where printed colour had flaked off were sealed with a barrier layer of methyl cellulose. Working from a scale reproduction of the intact cover art, losses were traced in and then inpainted to match the original material. Abrasions and flaked areas were also inpainted to restore unity to the image, and the dust jacket was humidified to gently return it to the shape of being wrapped around the covers of the book.

Preparing for inpainting of damaged areas.

Preparing for inpainting of damaged areas.

A scale copy of an intact dust jacket was used to recreate the lost areas.

A scale copy of an intact dust jacket was used to recreate the lost areas.

Careful inpainting of losses matches the original material.

Careful inpainting of losses matches the original material.

After Treatment

This type of repair works with the original materials of the specific volume to recreate an aged, but intact dust jacket, in keeping with the history of the book. A full reproduction of the jacket by mechanical means would appear brand new, and that is not the object of the collector. Instead, we restored the obvious damage but kept the patina of age of the paper, and the finished volume looks warm and authentic. The repairs however, are evident under careful examination, so there is no chance of mistaking it for an undamaged copy and faking its condition, and the thorough Conservation Treatment Report and documentation photographs will stay with the volume as a record of its restoration. If necessary, the nature of the methods and materials used means the restoration can be reversed.

After restoration, losses are filled and matched to the original material, and the dust jacket looks warm and authentic.

After restoration, losses are filled and matched to the original material, and the dust jacket looks warm and authentic.

After restoration, losses are filled and matched to the original material, and the dust jacket looks warm and authentic.

After restoration, losses are filled and matched to the original material, and the dust jacket looks warm and authentic.

Before and after restoration, showing the spine and front cover of 1st edition of The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck.

Before and after restoration, showing the spine and front cover of 1st edition of The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck.

The restored dust jacket was encapsulated in an archival mylar sleeve and fitted back around the book. The book can now be displayed and enjoyed by the collector as it was meant to appear. It has rejoined his collection where it enjoys a position of importance and is appreciated daily!

Rare Book Restoration

If you are interested in conservation or restoration of rare books in your own collection, you can contact us for further information or a cost estimate at no charge. You can also view a portfolio of our other treatments on rare books belonging to both public and private collections.

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!