washing

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.

Family Heirlooms Restored

Lord's Prayer  drawing before and after conservation treatment.

Lord's Prayer drawing before and after conservation treatment.

Treasured family heirlooms often come to us for restoration, and these projects are some of the most gratifying to work on. Paper-based items like family bibles, marriage certificates, portraits and photographs of ancestors can suffer damage over time that make them fragile and difficult to access. Whether you're doing genealogy research or passing things along to your children, its important to consider the condition of the object and treat it gently and safely.

We can restore your heirlooms and bring items back to their original glory by repairing and cleaning the materials, stabilizing them so that they can be safely handled, and provide advice on proper storage. Through conservation treatment, your objects can be preserved for your family to treasure for many more generations.

Lord's Prayer, hand drawn and lettered by the owner's grandfather, dated 1837.

Lord's Prayer, hand drawn and lettered by the owner's grandfather, dated 1837.

This beautiful piece came to us recently for restoration. The hand-drawn and lettered image was executed by the owner's grandfather in 1837; the delicate penmanship had been obscured by heavy brown discolouration, caused by adhesive and the acidic backer backer board. 

The acidic backing must be removed carefully from the verso to protect the piece.

The acidic backing must be removed carefully from the verso to protect the piece.

Spot testing the brown discolouration.

Spot testing the brown discolouration.

Preparing the drawing for bleaching.

Preparing the drawing for bleaching.

The treatment was a multi-step process, beginning with the removal of the backer board. This acidic wood-pulp material had caused much of the discolouration, and needed to be removed before any cleaning could be undertaken. 

Once the backer was removed, the piece underwent testing to determine its response to washing and bleaching. Both processes were successful and the staining was significantly reduced over the course of several applications. 

Three washes removed much of the brown.

Three washes removed much of the brown.

The drawing was washed and bleached in stages; the progression is shown here.

The drawing was washed and bleached in stages; the progression is shown here.

The drawing after conservation treatment, in it's original period frame.

The drawing after conservation treatment, in it's original period frame.

After treatment, the piece is restored to a relatively bright and clean state. Some evidence of age is retained - it doesn't look like it was made yesterday - but the paper is clean enough that the delicate ink and penmanship can be appreciated once again. It was reinstalled in its lovely original wooden frame, but with acid-free backer and UV-filtering glass to protect it in the future. The family can now treasure this artwork for many years to come. 

If you have family heirlooms that could benefit from restoration, we are always available to discuss treatment options. Get in touch with us for a consultation and we will be pleased to help you preserve your family's history. Or, check out our portfolio of conservation of archival materials for more examples of our work.

Conservation of a 19th century Hunt Print

The High-Mettled Racer - Death , 1820, before treatment, showing overall discolouration of the paper.

The High-Mettled Racer - Death, 1820, before treatment, showing overall discolouration of the paper.

This hand-coloured lithograph print of a 19th century hunting scene, dated 1820, came in to the studio suffering overall discolouration and acidity. The print was one of a set of four in a series titled The High Mettled Racer, but it was the only print of the set to be so badly discoloured. 

The image below shows two prints from the set with very different paper tones.

Before conservation: two prints from the same set, the top print significantly darker.

Before conservation: two prints from the same set, the top print significantly darker.

This type of overall discolouration can be caused by acidic framing materials or light exposure; the darker print has been exposed to different conditions than the lighter one, causing it to age differently and more drastically.

The challenge in this conservation treatment was to improve the top print just enough that it would match the others in the set. The other three prints were not perfectly clean either, so restoring the print to an original state was not what we were looking for - rather achieving a matching, moderate off-white paper tone was the goal. 

Dry cleaning to remove grime.

Dry cleaning to remove grime.

First the print was dry cleaned to remove accumulated dirt and grime. Then, after extensive testing to establish that the watercolour paint was not water soluble, the print was subjected to washing and light bleaching to brighten the paper tone. 

The lithograph in a pH adjusted RO water bath.

The lithograph in a pH adjusted RO water bath.

Washing art on paper may seem terrifying and impossible, but in fact, as long as it is done in a properly controlled process by a trained art conservator, washing is very beneficial to works on paper. In the image above you can see the discolouration products washing out of the paper, turning the wash water a tea-coloured brown. Removing harmful chemical products that cause the darkening of the cellulose, and sometimes also deacidifying the paper by the addition of pH raising chemicals, can improve the condition and extend the life of the artwork significantly. 

Inpainting abrasions on the surface of the print.

Inpainting abrasions on the surface of the print.

After aqueous treatment, the final step was inpainting to disguise abraded losses to the surface of the print. 

After conservation, the two lithographs match in paper tone.

After conservation, the two lithographs match in paper tone.

The restoration of the lithograph print was very successful; washing and bleaching brightened the paper tone just the right amount to match the other prints in the set. The prints can now be displayed together in a satisfying group, without any distraction to the images. 

If you have antique prints that are suffering from similar damage, conservation treatment like this can restore them to their original glory. Check out our portfolio page to see other conservation projects, and get in touch with us today to discuss options for restoration of your art on paper.