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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. 

Restoration of Natural History Prints

These natural history prints were originally illustrations in a book, published in 1835. The steel engravings show shell and fossil specimens in exquisite detail, and are printed on thin, delicate paper.  

The four prints came to the studio in very poor condition. They had suffered water damage causing multiple stains, as well as mould growth and surface dirt, and were badly creased. 

Before treatment, set of four steel engravings, 1835

Before treatment, set of four steel engravings, 1835

Not all damaged items can be restored back to a pristine state, and this set is a perfect example. The dark stains were very set in the prints, the damage having occurred long ago, and the paper was thin and fragile. However, while conservation treatment may not always be able to restore a piece completely, it can produce dramatic improvement. 

Dry cleaning to remove surface dirt.

Dry cleaning to remove surface dirt.

First, the prints were dry cleaned to remove surface dirt and loose debris. Next, they were washed and light bleached in RO water. This process removed much of the acidity and discolouration from the prints, and brightened the paper tone overall.

After washing, showing the discolouration in the wash water.

After washing, showing the discolouration in the wash water.

Then, a chemical bleach was applied locally to further reduce the stains and tidelines. Finally the prints were rinsed and deacidified to finish the process. 

Spot bleaching through suction to reduce local stains.

Spot bleaching through suction to reduce local stains.

After treatment, the set of 4 prints is much improved. The paper tone is brighter and the stains are no longer dramatically disfiguring. The prints will never be new again, but aesthetically the set is much more acceptable now, and once properly matted and framed, will be suitable for display. Most importantly, the paper has been stabilized by the removal of dirt and acidity, and will remain in good condition for many years to come. 

After treatment, the prints are brighter, the stains reduced, and the paper stabilized.

After treatment, the prints are brighter, the stains reduced, and the paper stabilized.