newspaper

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.

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.