tear repair

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.

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.