Wednesday, 16 September 2015

Exhibiting And Storing Baskets - Septmber 14, 2015

September 14, 2015

The Kings County Museum in Kentville, Nova Scotia recently received a collection of woven baskets from a donor.  These are in various conditions from pristine to poor, some with colouring, and some with elaborate designs.  This is an exceptional collection with some currently on display at the museum.  They have a place of pride along with our existing baskets which are in a locked case.

I consulted with the Senior Conservator at the Nova Scotia Museum in Halifax to determine what, if any, conservation treatments or considerations apply to collections of this type.  Note that the discussion centred around simple things that can be done not full conservation and stabilization treatment.  Full conservation treatment implies cleaning both mechanical and chemical, use of adhesives for basic structural repairs, use of chemicals for stabilization, as well as fabricating storage materials for each artifact. I have provided a link at the end of this post to examples of this detailed conservation work.  This work is normally beyond the scope and budget of community museums where funding is always a challenge.  The following simple considerations apply to any artifacts of this type in a community museum whether in long term storage or put out for display in exhibits:

  • always display and store baskets in their normal upright position.  That is, never on their side or edge since this will put unnatural strain on their structure.
  • leave the cover or tops or any other pieces in their natural position so that they age together rather than separately perhaps at different rates or environmental conditions.
  • baskets with colouring will likely fade over time due to natural or artificial light conditions.  Reduce light exposure to minimize fading.  Cases that are shaded with or without a switch to turn on a light if needed is best.  Glass with UV protection for cases is also recommended.
  • baskets made of one material only will not be so adversely affected by changes in environmental conditions such as fluctuations in temperature or humidity.  However, stable environmental conditions are always best for mixed collections.
  • baskets made of more than one material (wood, leather, beads, metal, etc.) require stable environmental conditions.  Different materials may expand and contract differently with changes in humidity or temperature which puts strain on their structure.
The following link is provided as an example of the type of detailed conservation and stabilization treatments that can be done on First Nations baskets.  It starts with a general overview and provides links at the bottom to two examples of detailed work.  Thanks to the Langley Centennial Museum in Fort Langley, BC for this very informative discussion.

Conservation of the Langley Centennial Museum's Basket Collection

Wednesday, 3 June 2015

Second Time Capsule Contents - Continued June 2, 2015

June 2, 2015

Besides the surprise discovery of 9 coins in soggy newspaper in this second time capsule from 1933 there were two type-written paper documents rolled up and folded inside.  Uncovering these proved to be challenging but rewarding when it resulted in the contents being readable, for the most part, and also presenting a bit of a puzzle.  The soggy mass of paper found was made up of three newspapers: The Halifax Chronicle, The Halifax Herald, and The Kentville Advertiser.  These newspapers are available in digital form or as micro-fiche so can be referenced by researchers at local archives.  This meant that their preservation in this soggy state is not necessary.  However, carefully unwrapping them was critical to free up the coins and the type-written pages.  Once this was done most of the soggy newspaper was discarded.

Single, white page "in situ"
One of the documents found was a single page with a few general comments about education and the apple harvest.  There are some missing words, patches of missing paper and more than a few tears and folds.  Since it is very fragile and very wet the decision was made to leave it embedded in the surrounding pages and stored in a plastic, sealed bag to preserve it in its original state as best we can.  This photograph shows the document revealed before it was folded back up, sandwiched between two thick layers of soggy, brown newspaper.  Is there anything on the back of this page?  Unlikely, given that none of the other typewritten pages in this or the other time capsule are double sided.

First of Two Pages
The second document was two type-written pages pinned together by a metal clasp in the upper left corner.  Freeing up these pages to minimise damage was time consuming but well worth the effort.  The paper is very thin but quite pliable in a wet state.  The pages rapidly dried out and became brittle but by that time they were carefully placed in acid free envelopes for long term preservation.  We also can use clear Mylar envelopes (archival grade, inert) to be able to show these in an exhibit.  The first page (as shown in the photograph labeled First of Two Pages) lists the dignitaries present at the dedication of the property at the time which extended to a second page plus the contents of this time capsule as follows:
  • the three newspapers mentioned above; 
  • nails;
  • cent.
Not sure why the writer said "cent" given that there are 9 coins in total with 7 pennies (cents), 1 nickel (5 cents), and 1 dime (10 cents).  But, perhaps the most curious statement is "nails".  There is no evidence of any nails found anywhere in the capsule.  In fact, I ran a magnet over all the soggy newspaper after all the coins and the two typewritten pages were removed (there was a metal clasp in the corner) and nothing reacted to the magnet.  Could it be that the nails corroded away over the years?  From research we know that there have been time capsules opened in New England with nails from heritage buildings so it was plausible that nails could have been included.

I have included below a short video clip of how I separated the two wet pages.   It is two minutes but the whole effort took about 10 minutes.  All the text is readable in the final form.

Sunday, 31 May 2015

Second Time Capsule Contents - May 17, 2015

May 17, 2015

The Kings County Museum in Kentville, Nova Scotia received two time capsules during the demolition of the Kings County Academy.  In June of 2014 we opened one of the time capsules dated from 1928 that was part of the school's original foundation.  I documented the results in detail in previous posts:

Time Capsule Opened - June 19, 2014

Time Capsule Contents - July 2, 2014

Time Capsule Contents (Continued) - July 19, 2014

Time Capsule Contents (Continued) - December 9, 2014

The other time capsule dating from the addition to the academy in 1933 had been turned into the museum at an earlier date and when opened was a mass of brown, soggy paper.  It was closed up and stored away at the museum for future work.  Both capsules containers are very similar in design and appearance with iron content as evidenced by a strong reaction to a magnet and evidence of both red and green corrosion products on the surface.  I recently started work on this second capsule which had much more green corrosion implying the likelihood of copper contents.  I have included a photograph here to show you what we were first presented with.  The bottom of the capsule and the soggy brown mass inside had considerable patches of vibrant green corrosion products.
Time Capsule 2 - Three Coins
Time Capsule 2 - First View


When turned over it came as quite a surprise to find three coins embedded in the brown mass as shown in the second photograph.  It is likely that the  green corrosion can be attributed to the several copper 1 cent coins found inside being exposed to water over a lengthy period of time.  But this was not all, over the course of the next few hours of unravelling the brown mass of soggy newspapers, I came across a total of nine coins dating from 1907 to 1933.  There were seven coins with copper content, a sliver 10 cent coin, and a nickel 5 cent coin.  Here is a list of what was found with the dates determined after cleaning:

  • 1907 1 Cent large, Newfoundland, medium corrosion
  • 1913 1 Cent large, Canada, medium corrosion
  • 1907 10 Cent, Canada, light black tarnish removed on about 95%
  • 1924 5 Cent, Canada, light corrosion
  • 1933 1 Cent small, Canada, light corrosion
  • 1933 1 Cent small, Canada, light corrosion
  • 1930 1 Cent small, Canada, light corrosion
  • Unknown 1 Cent small, Canada, heavy corrosion, size and edge same as other 1 cent Canada
  • Unknown 1 Cent small, US, heavy corrosion, phrase "WE TRUST" visible, possibly US 1 Cent, different size and edge as 1 cent Canada

All the coins were cleaned in the following steps.  Keep in mind that the goal was to reveal the date or any other identifying marks:

  1. use a soft bristled toothbrush to remove any loose material such as paper and corrosion products.
  2. use a sharpened wooden skewer to carefully pry loose any material more firmly stuck on the surface.
  3. use calcium carbonate paste made with distilled water (a mild abrasive) to remove any additional material.  This easily removed the black tarnish on the silver 10 cent coin.
  4. use distilled water to remove any left over paste rubbing with a soft cotton cloth.
  5. if necessary, use a glass fibre brush gently to expose enough of the date to make it readable.  NOTE: this is much more abrasive and is only done with the risks inherent (such as minor scratching) clearly understood by owner.
Below is an example of the effect of cleaning on one of the coins which clearly shows the value in doing at least some limited form of mechanical cleaning.  There are other cleaning methods that can be used such as chemical baths but those are outside the budget of a community museum due to the cost required for both the chemicals and the laboratory environment required for safety reasons when following this process.  These are before and after photographs of a 1913 1 Cent large Canada coin.

1913 1 Cent Reverse - After
1913 1 Cent Reverse - Before

The gentle mechanical cleaning  was able to reveal some of the scroll design around the outside edges and the date 1913.  As with using glass fibres for more aggressive cleaning you can see that some of the bright, shiny coppery patina is revealed (centre left).

Thursday, 1 January 2015

Drug Store Ledgers - December, 2014

December 21, 2014

Porter House Register
Example of prescription page

Recently, three large, heavy ledgers were donated to the Kings County Museum in Kentville Nova Scotia from a local family.  Inside are literally hundreds of prescriptions filled by the earliest drug stores in the town and pasted on the pages.  The prescriptions date from 1868 to 1899.  One ledger is labelled Porter House Register as shown in the photograph but inside is prescriptions written by Dr. W. S. Woodworth a "specialist in women's diseases".  There are also a few pages near the end that list names and dates of visitors at the Porter House.  Another is from the L. J. Cogswell drug store,  the first in Kentville opened on Main Street in September 1868.  The third is from the R. S. Masters drug store also opened on Main Street and active from 1884 until 1899.  These ledgers represent an important record of medical practise at the time which was much different from modern times.

All of these ledgers have condition issues particularly with the covers.  Only the Porter House Register ledger has a relatively good cover.  The others are loose and very worn.  An assessment found the following condition issues:
  • white mould and dust (mould is no longer active)
    Insect holes in ledger binding
  • insect holes (insects are no longer active and none were found)
  • debris such as cement and solder in between some pages!
  • small leaves and branches in several pages
  • tears and folds
  • water staining and ink smearing therefrom
  • rust coloured patches
  • black dust
  • writing on inside cover
  • torn binding
  • dried, loose adhesive
  • mouldy, musty smell
These ledgers represent a considerable challenge in conservation.  There are a few basic things that we can do with a limited budget but the best course of action would be to contract a paper conservator to rebind and stabilise all three ledgers.   Essentially restructuring each ledger to handle the weight and fragility.   Given that we are a small community museum with a very limited budget this work would be outside our budget.  The challenge for us will be to find an organisation that would be willing to fund this work.  Perhaps a pharmacy or a medical organisation?  However, I was able to vacuum each page with a soft brush attachment using a vacuum with a HEPA filter.  There was a considerable amount of dust removed and all this work was done with a mask and gloves.  Several researchers have looked at these and needed to wear this protective gear.  Once it was vacuumed the mask is not necessary unless the individual has allergy issues but I do recommend it in all cases.  Secondly, we can put a sheet of acid free paper in between each page to facilitate long term storage by isolating each page from the other.  This reduces the influence of acids used in the paper making process from leaching into other pages.

These ledgers are a fascinating read of the drug store dispensing practises of the time.  I leave you with a photograph of my favourite thus far.  A recipe for a
liver pill using widely available ingredients dated from 1891 made up of rhubarb, dandelion and Podophelium (extract from the fruit of the Mayapple plant).  All parts of this latter is poisonous except for the fruit which can cause "unpleasant digestion".  Please don't try this at home!!!!

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Time Capsule Contents (Continued) - December 9, 2014

December 9, 2014

In June of 2014 we opened a time capsule that held three newspapers, two business cards and seven handwritten pages.  These handwritten pages found in the Kings County Academy (Kentville, Nova Scotia) time capsule from 1929 have been transcribed by a volunteer at the museum.  Most pages have faded or missing letters or words.  In some cases these can be inferred via context but the transcription author acknowledges it does introduce the possibility of errors in transcription.  As you will see he has marked in red those places where he had to make a judgement call on what was written.  Sadly there are a few passages where it is unknown.  On the other hand, this document is a priceless record of the state of the school district from 1888 until 1927 (earliest and latest dates mentioned).

The original author is unknown since it was not signed.  But by not signing we can infer the intent was to give an overview rather than a personal account.  Certainly, it does give an overview of the changes to the school including the names and terms of the Principals, changes to curriculum, classes offered, library initiatives, staffing changes and so on.

We are grateful for the considerable time and effort on the part of our transcriber who continues to selflessly devote many hours to all things historical.  It is just such volunteers who are the mainstay of our community museum.

Previous posts related to the Time Capsule in this blog have had photographs of some of the handwritten pages which show the faded lettering and water staining.  All of these entries and additional related information may yet become part of an exhibit on the history of education in Kings County.

I have attached a link to the transcription in PDF form below.  Anyone who may have additional information on this important educational history can let us know at the museum.  See our website Kings County Museum for contact details.

NOTE: the abbreviation ms in this document refers to the handwritten pages as manuscript.

KCA Time Capsule Handwriting Transcription

Sunday, 24 August 2014

Teapot Repaired - Randall House Museum

August 19, 2014

I was asked to repair a broken teapot at Randall House museum after it had been broken in transit on a flight from Alberta.  A set of china had been carefully wrapped in bubble wrap and placed in a hard shell carry-on bag but, sadly, the teapot split into two large pieces.  The good news is that the break was relatively clean and given that they were larger pieces were easier to handle for repair.

I would recommend that china and other fragile artifacts be packaged in layers of foam and tightly secured in a hard shell case to avoid movement while being transported.   Foam can be carved to the shape of the artifact both on a bottom and top layer which can then be wrapped to prevent movement.

Firstly, a general statement - conservators are not restorers.  Restoring is a very specialized field requiring considerable training and experience.  For example, ceramics restoration would require a solid grounding in chemistry to understand glazing, painting, firing, and general analysis of the many materials used in creating a ceramic piece.  A restorer would fill cracks and do colour matching for the plain parts of the repair and the coloured parts.  Their work can usually produce results that would be able to render the break (fracture) invisible to the naked eye.  As you can imagine, this is a time consuming and expensive process and therefore is normally only undertaken where budget permits.

Secondly, conservators can do minor repairs such as putting this teapot back together without the crack filling and colour matching.  Conservation work is normally done with the caveat that the repairs are reversible and at least visible under a microscope.  These are ethical considerations in all conservation work.

Here is a photograph of the teapot prior to the repair work.

Randall House Teapot - before repair

Tools and materials used in this repair....exacto-knife, wooden skewer (sanded to a fine point), small soft brush, and HMG B72 adhesive.

Here are the steps I took in the repair of the teapot....
  • photographs are taken before and after the work
  • using a small, soft brush I carefully brushed along the break on both pieces over a sheet of paper to see if any smaller fragments came loose....none did....and to make sure no loose pieces would hamper fitting the larger pieces together,
  • apply a minimum amount of conservation grade adhesive along the break,
  • hold the pieces together for at least two minutes by hand in this case but larger clamps can be used in some cases.  The adhesive used is flexible for two minutes and then hardens allowing for minor adjustments.
  • carefully remove excess adhesive with an exacto-knife all along the join, inside and out.  The knife is held at a very flat angle to just pick away without doing further damage.
  • examine the join by moving the exacto-knife from side to side at various points along the break to determine the evenness of the join.  If necessary, the join can be reversed and redone if not satisfactory.  The adhesive used can be softened with a hairdryer at a low setting.
Here is a photograph of the teapot with the excess adhesive and a gap showing.  The break did have a very few of the gaps and was otherwise a very clean break.  The small and minimal bits of adhesive were carefully removed with the exacto-knife.

Randall House Teapot - before clean-up

With this repair done the teapot can be put in a display with proper lighting and placed in such a way that the break would be either not visible or essentially invisible.  The break and repair along with this description now become part of the history of the artifact.

Monday, 21 July 2014

Time Capsule Contents (Continued) - July 19, 2014

July 19, 2014

Handwritten Page 1 - enhanced
Perhaps the most important artifact in the Time Capsule from June 19, 1929 is the seven handwritten pages discussing the Kings County school at the time.  The title on the first page is Kentville Schools and there is no signature at the end which likely signifies it is a short history of the school rather than a personal account.  From the first paragraph mentioning a report from 1888 it captures our attention considering it may hold information from that time until 1929.  I have a photograph of the first page which will help to set the tone for future transcription and exhibit.  Our intent is to show these pages sealed in mylar envelopes to prevent deterioration.  Mylar is used because it is inert and has been proven to be safe for longer term storage and display.  Mylar is one of several choices (polypropylene bags being another) in comic book storage particularly for Golden or Silver Age comics but also for any truly valuable comics.  Either types of bags are clear so can be used for display purposes. However, polypropylene bags may yellow over a longer period of time so is not the best choice.  Additionally, we can keep each page in the mylar envelope with an acid free backing board to ensure that it will not bend.   It is best for these pages to be unfolded once only and stored flat which we have now done.  Repeated unfolding may damage them.  Think of them as fibrous material which may break from repeated bending.  These pages are currently stored unfolded, flattened and in acid free folders pending purchase of mylar envelopes (on order).  Displaying them in an exhibit in mylar envelopes can allow for viewing of the pages which will show the public the handwriting, fading, staining, etc. of the original.  These are all important parts of the history of the artifact. 

Handwritten Page 7 - enhanced
Transcription of all seven pages will be done.  As you can see by the photographs there is some fading along the right side and water damage in a few spots.  This next photograph shows the last page which will be a challenge to transcribe due to more serious fading from water damage.  However, with the use of image enhancement software we can attempt to bring out the more faded writing.  You can also see that there is no signature at the bottom.  This begs the question, who is the author?   

Inks used in writing from the time period as with many other inks will fade over time.  Direct sunlight is particularly damaging so these pages will be displayed and stored away in a carefully controlled low light setting for exhibit and stored in acid free boxes for longer term storage in a humidity and temperature controlled environment.

I mentioned in the last post that there are techniques to bring out faded writing.  There are two worth mentioning: ultraviolet light (UV-A light or black light) and infrared light.  Both are light at a longer wavelength and depending on the ink used each may work better.  Since ultraviolet is the easiest and lower cost we would normally try it first.  It is commonly used to authenticate oil paintings, antiques, and bank notes.  Infrared light is more challenging because it uses more expensive equipment in a special setting.  The phrase "infrared reflectography" is used for a technique that will show underlying layers in oil paintings such as drawings used as a guide by the artist.  I mention these for use with the handwriting on the inside corner of the time capsule lid and possibly for some of the faded writing in the handwritten pages if it is necessary.

Conservation Tips:

Use mylar envelopes for storage of fragile paper, pamphlets, etc.  You can purchase these in various sizes from comic book stores or on-line.  Although more expensive than polypropyline it is well worth the extra expense.  Measure your artifact first to determine the best size to use.  Note: modern comics are smaller than 8.5 by 11 standard page size so be sure to order the correct size.  Most comic stores (at least in my area) stock the modern comic size only.

Always keep fragile papers away from direct sunlight and strong lighting of any kind.   Light is particularly damaging to inks and some papers.  You can bring these artifacts out from time to time to look at them but minimize light exposure.  In a museum environment lighting may be set to come on when someone enters a room to view them or limited to only a few hours of viewing.