Sunday, 29 December 2013

Broken Bottle Reassembled - December 23, 2013

December 23, 2013

This year I participated in a class at Acadia University (Wolfville, NS CANADA) that did a fall archaeological dig at Prescott House.  I have been commissioned to do conservation work on some of the finds from this important dig and will document that effort over the next few blog entries.  The dig was on a very small area alongside a gravel driveway near the maintenance shed.  We know from historical records that there were several outbuildings and our archaeologist/instructor chose an easily accessible area that had some ceramics and metals poking through the ground.  One of the hopes was that an outbuilding wall would be found which could prompt additional archaeological digs.  We uncovered thousands of pieces of ceramics, bottle and window glass, hand made nails and various other metals, and bricks.  And we did find what appears to be a structure's wall which was a combination of brick and stone.

All 18 pieces of bottle found at Prescott House.
The first object I chose to work on was a bottle that was broken into 18 pieces of various sizes (see first photograph) yet enough of it was recovered to attempt to put it back together with conservation grade adhesive.  Why go to the bother of putting it back together?  It will allow us to take measurements, study its shape, and clues for its usage which will all help in identifying manufacturer, dating, and identifying contents.  In some cases bottles of the same contents underwent changes over time such as addition of markings.  This bottle has embossed lettering along both narrow sides which will become clearer when put together.

Tools used: scalpel, toothbrush, magnifying glass
Materials used: distilled water, B72 Restoration Adhesive

Careful washing and brushing of the pieces in distilled water will assist in reconstruction because it will remove loose dirt and other material buildup that would interfere with fitting the pieces together.  After careful drying it is best to do a "mock up" of putting the pieces together to determine the correct order.  I used very small pieces of scotch tape to hold the pieces together temporarily to see how they look when fitted together.  It is best to put some smaller pieces together first and then fit onto larger pieces.  Sometimes we actually draw out the shapes and number the actual pieces (using a non-permanent very fine marker) in the order in which they are to be reassembled.  This was not necessary in this instance since the 18 pieces were relatively easy to reassemble with only one exception.  I had a very small piece with no special markings that I was not able to fit anywhere.

I used a toothbrush to clean up the pieces, a scalpel to carefully remove excess adhesive and test connections, and a magnifying glass to verify connections.  By testing connections I mean that I used the scalpel to run along the fitted pieces to mark sure they were as close fitting as possible.  There were a few instances were I had to reset pieces so the scalpel was used to careful scrape away any excess adhesive.  One of the benefits of the B72 Restoration Adhesive is that it remains tacky for two minutes to allow for minor adjustment of fitting the pieces.  It is also reversible by applying heat greater than 100 degrees F.  It will not yellow and is relatively non-toxic although should not be used in a confined space and avoid skin contact.  It is widely used in conservation work for most materials except leather.

Of particular interest is the embossed lettering on the two narrow sides which have only one letter missing on one and a partial letter on the the other: one can be interpreted as "MOTHER GRAVES" and the other as "WORM EXTERMINATOR".  This is a known medicine from the 1880's to early 1920's manufactured by Northrup & Lymon in Toronto and used in the treatment of worms in humans, particularly children.  This series of  photographs show the reassembled bottle from all sides.

Reassembled bottle - front
Reassembled bottle - back

Embossed letters  "OTHER GRAVES"
Embossed  letters "ORM EXTERMINATOR"

Historical Note and Family Connection

Charles Prescott completed the building of Prescott House, a magnificent Georgian style house in 1815 and proceeded to make a serious contribution to horticulture and specifically the apple industry in the province.  He introduced over 100 varieties of apples among other endeavours.  But, for me, this has a family connection due to one variety he established called the Bourassa apple.  Unfortunately, we have not found any more information beyond the fact it was grown in Quebec from 1750 and up to 1880 when no more information is available.  We have not found the family connection yet either but, we will continue to search for it.  If anyone has information that would help us locate this apple variety (is it still grown?) or any of its history please leave a comment.

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Locks of Hair - December 10, 2013

December 10, 2013

Locks of human hair have been kept as keepsakes for thousands of years.  This was usually practiced for several reasons: superstition, religious or sentimental.  Certainly it was much more common a hundred or more years ago but is virtually unknown in present times.  

Recently someone came into the museum to show me locks of hair that a female relative had put together of her children, herself, and husband as a keepsake dated from 1868. The locks were tied together with thread and sown along a sheet of paper to keep them all together.  The top of the paper is in two pieces that were sewn together when the locks of hair were attached to the paper as a group.  The bottom part of the paper is in two loose pieces.  The shapes suggest that they were torn apart as it was folded and unfolded over time.  Several types and colours of thread were used.  Near each cluster of hair was the person's first name in very fine ink writing.  It was likely done using a nib pen and ink well.  The handwriting was somewhat difficult to read due to the fading, creases, missing paper, and penmanship of the time.  The penmanship in my view is very beautiful but not something we are so familiar with in current times so a little more difficult to read.  However with the use of a magnifying glass and careful unfolding we were able to make out all the names.  Fortunately, the date 1868 is clearly shown which also coincided with the owner's family information on birth dates of the children whose hair was collected.  For example, one child was not included because they weren't born until after 1868 but all those born in that year and before were included so we could verify the date was correct.  It was also exciting to see that some of the writing on the back clearly was practice in forming some elaborate letters of the alphabet and words.  The author obviously was very concerned with penmanship which was an important part of education at the time.

Locks of hair - front
Locks of hair - back
Above are two photographs of the locks of hair as it was presented to me - front and back.  The hair appears to be in very good condition but I noticed that hair strands will come loose so any handling introduces a risk of loosing a few strands each time...not a good thing!  The paper is brittle and writing is faded.  Faded writing is common with the types of ink used in 1868 as is brittle paper from that time.  Having photographs will preserve the writing as of the date of the photograph.  One can try adjusting the contrast and brightness in the photographs with photo processing software to get the writing to be easier to read.

From a conservation point of view, here is what I recommend:

  • try to avoid handling it as much as possible.  It is brittle and might break apart further and loose hair strands or bits of the paper.
  • store it in a location where it will not be exposed to higher humidity or increased or constant exposure to light.  Both will hasten deterioration over time.  If storing in a mylar envelope keep it in a dark location when not being shown such as a drawer.
  • store it in an acid free envelope if you wish to keep it without showing or handling OR use a mylar envelope which allows others to see it.
  • if it is a larger piece, use an acid free backing board in the mylar envelope to eliminate the chance of it getting bent or folded .  This means only one side is visible (pick the best side!) but a photograph of the other side can be kept nearby but not in the envelope.
  • mylar envelopes can be cut down to the size of each of the pieces so that it will not slide around.   Although this stores each of the pieces separately it means you don't need the backing board.   Otherwise you might have to attach it to the acid free backing board which is a challenge to avoid damage so don't recommend it.  Since this example comes in three pieces I suggest cutting the envelopes and backing paper down to size rather than trying to attach the pieces to the backing board.  Ordinary tape, perhaps see-through, on the outside can be used to close off any edges cut open.
  • do not store it with any other objects such as other sheets of paper unless they are acid free materials.

It is possible to get mylar envelopes and acid free backing board from comic shops locally.  Contact the shop owner and ask them if they are willing to sell you a few of each.  I think getting two or three mylar envelopes and two or three acid free backing boards which will be not so much money is a good idea then you can cut them down in size or work with them to show off the hair locks in the best condition.  Whatever is left over can be used to store other important, older family documents.

Conservation Tips
Mylar envelopes are used to store papers and other flat objects because mylar is less likely to react to the materials stored in them.  Some plastics are not chemically inert.  That is, they may give off gases that mixed with moisture produce varying levels of acid or react negatively to some materials.  Mylar is certainly much more chemically stable and prevent odours and other gasses from penetrating to the interior.  Acid free paper for storage of most objects is useful again for the same reason that it will not give off harmful gases.  Avoid excessive handling of brittle objects of this type.  The less handling the better.

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

How To Identify A Powder Post Beetle Infestation - November 13, 2013

November 13, 2013

I spent an afternoon helping the Northville Farm Heritage Centre with identifying and isolating wooden artifacts infested with Powder Post Beetles.  I wrote about steps to take when dealing with an infestation and about infestation in general in the two previous posts so won't repeat that here.  This post has more pictures to help you search your own wooden artifacts.

Our objectives with the work at the farm centre was to:
  • identify anything infected and remove it,
  • place smaller artifacts in garbage bags to isolate them,
  • place the smaller artifacts for a minimum of two weeks in a freezer,
  • place larger artifacts that could safely be moved into a holding area,
  • identify areas of significantly larger objects and structural infestation for future spraying.
We searched three buildings for the evidence of sawdust laying about or holes in the wooden artifacts.  Some of the holes look recent with lighter colours and sawdust others look older with darker colours and no sawdust.  These photographs show what we found for recent activity and what you can look for:

Barrel header with sawdust

Saw handle with holes and dust.
Butter churn heavily infested

With the older holes that usually have no sawdust treatment is still necessary since the larvae can survive for many years within the wood.  We bagged and froze the smaller artifacts as well and documented the larger ones for spraying in the spring.  Here is an example of what appears to be older non-active holes with no recent sawdust evident:
Brush with older holes.
Wheel, painted with older holes
We identified several areas in two of the buildings where spraying with Timbor should be done in the spring.  I wrote about spraying in a previous post and steps to be taken with infestation.  Timbor is safe to use and can be effective over a longer period of time to reduce the population of beetles.  Spraying is recommended in the spring around second or third week in June when the beetles are most active.  Fresh sawdust is the clear sign of beetle activity so cleaning up the sawdust shortly after spraying and monitoring for more will let you know if you need to re-spray. The farm centre has been doing this already for the last few years by spraying the structure of their buildings but now they can spray the larger, individual items we have seen that are infected.  Here are photographs of most of the artifacts we found with beetle infestation:

Most importantly, they must isolate all wooden artifacts as they come in. Smaller ones can be frozen for  two weeks; larger ones sprayed.  In both cases they should be isolated from the rest of their collection and only returned to the general collection when they have been treated.

One area had a large amount of sawdust on a barrel header on the main floor.  After removing it and searching for further evidence we came across a wooden butter churn that was heavily infested sitting on a shelf above.  The sawdust fell down between the shelf boards onto the barrel header below.

Conservation Tip:  It is critically important that all wooden artifacts brought in be inspected for infestation and if there is any evidence isolate them and treat them as soon as possible.  Isolation can be as simple as bagging or keeping them outside or in a building without exposed wood and cement floors.  Spraying is most effective when the beetles are active in the spring when they emerge from the wood for mating.  If you have had an infestation it is necessary to spray each spring over a period of years to reduce the population to a manageable number.  Regular inspection of your wood collection is necessary.  Remember that painting and varnish will not discourage them, they live in the wood and will bore their way to the surface.

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Paper Artifacts Handling - General Information - November 2013

November 12, 2013

Paper Artifacts

As with all artifacts that come into the museum we examine each one carefully to determine the best way to proceed with cleaning, packaging, storage, and possible repair and display.  The following are some of the conditions paper artifacts are subject to which can be conserved usually under laboratory conditions:
  1. stained by water, humidity or other liquids,
  2. ripped, earmarked, 
  3. missing pages, missing covers or in pieces, 
  4. cracked or split spine, 
  5. repaired with scotch tape, other tape or adhesives that is recent or has yellowed,
  6. pest damage such as silverfish or book lice,
  7. improperly mounted.
Each condition is carefully noted as a permanent record and appropriate action taken.  For community museums, only minimal treatment can be undertaken due to the costs involved.  That usually involves documenting, photographing, flattening minor rolls or curves, proper storing or packaging, some minor repairs with Japanese papers and paper adhesives if funding is available, and researching the history. 

For example, with earmarking such as corners folded or a part of a page folded back when stored or handled we resist the temptation to correct it by folding it back in place.  Attempting to correct it may cause further damage particularly if the paper is very fragile so is best left as is for now.  This type of condition can be corrected by engaging a paper conservator who will follow the correct procedures to do repairs such as applying humidification to a particular area or to the entire document to loosen the paper fibres, flattening the document, and drying it all under controlled conditions.  Paper artifacts that are moderately rolled or with moderately curved edges can be flattened by placing it between two larger pieces of thicker paper such as matting board and laying a large flat weight on top such as a piece of plywood of the appropriate size.  This does not always work if documents are severely distorted.  A paper conservator can help to determine if the humidification process mentioned above may be necessary.  Here is a photograph of a flattening in progress at the museum.

Large paper document being flattened.

It is possible to wash some paper under laboratory conditions to remove staining.  This is a labour intensive and often expensive process that is usually only done on very precious documents under highly controlled conditions.  Repairs can be done to replace pieces, fix cracks in spines, consolidate tears, loose pages or pieces.  Often Japanese papers of appropriate various thicknesses and colours are used for this purpose as is adhesives designed specifically for paper.  The papers are mostly used to stabilize the pages but in some cases can be colour matched to replace missing pieces.  Adhesives used in the past for attaching covers to books were sometimes a good source of food for pests; modern adhesives are designed to avoid this.  Modern adhesives are reversible, strong, and non-staining.  Examples are starch-based or methyl cellulose.  Stabilizing a loose or cracked spine on a book is a good preventive measure to avoid further tears or breaks.  A paper conservator can do this with near invisibility to the casual observer.

Precious paper artifacts should be packaged in acid free sleeves and labelled.  Another option is to use Mylar sleeves and acid free backing boards of the type that are used to store comic books.  These can often be obtained in local comic stores for a reasonable price.  Mylar is recommended due to its inert composition and acid free backing boards are important to reduce the chance of a paper artifact getting bent in storage or handling.  Mylar is also transparent which means it can be used to put a document in an exhibit and keep it protected.  Obviously this packaging is not the best option for all paper artifacts but should be done for those precious pieces.  The following photographs show two paper artifacts we recently packaged at the museum in acid free envelopes.  The accession number and archival number are both written on the outside of the envelope.  Cotton gloves are used for handling.

Cartoon booklet stored in acid free envelope.
1930 school book stored in acid free envelope.


CCI - Caring for paper artifacts  Canadian Conservation Institute - How to care for paper documents and newspaper clippings.
Asiarta Foundation - Works of art on paper conservation techniques - Paper conservation techniques
NEDCC - Repairing paper artifacts - NorthEast Document Conservation Center

Monday, 28 October 2013

Wooden Objects Pest Management Guidelines August, 2013

August, 2013

NOTE: These guidelines are specific to the Annapolis Valley, Nova Scotia CANADA and the result of a request from a local community museum.  Consult with a conservator in your area for treatment specific to your location.  Where chemical use is recommended follow MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheet) instructions for safe handling.
Pest infestation can be difficult to treat.  For example, Powder Post beetles can survive for years within the wood in larvae form and can only be adequately treated as they emerge from the wood.   However, Timbor is a relatively non-toxic chemical that will kill the beetles as they emerge.  It is suggested that the infested wood be sprayed regularly, perhaps yearly or if more evidence of beetle activity is observed.  The most critical step in controlling it is to carefully examine new objects as they come in and regularly inspect objects in your collection.  Wood products of all kinds are susceptible even if varnished or painted.   

The following are a general set of guidelines for dealing with this type of problem.  This information is a summary of this type of problem from available literature combined with information obtained from conservators and pest control officers I have contacted.  It is suggested that these steps should be followed in this order as objects come in. 

1) ISOLATE: all wooden objects that are brought in should be isolated from the rest of your collection until they are verified as free of infestation or have been treated.  Bag all the objects that are small enough to fit in bags.  Place larger objects in a tent or tarp big enough to sit it on and have it completely covered.  Infestation evidence will then be deposited in that space for observation.

2) EXAMINE: very carefully examine each object for these three things - holes, debris such as legs or other beetle body parts, frass (beetle excrement, a fine powder).  NOTE: this is not always followed by curators and other museum workers but is a critical step.

3) IDENTIFY: if you are NOT confidant that it is powder post beetle, bag the evidence and take it to the Agricultural Research Station in Kentville or to the Nova Scotia Museum in Halifax for identification.

4) TREAT: smaller objects with infestation can be bagged and placed in a freezer for a minimum of two weeks.  This would normally kill off most infestations and the object would then be safe to move to your collection area.  Larger objects with infestation can be sprayed with Timbor and kept in a tent with pest strips such as Home Defence Max from Canadian Tire for at least two months.  The strips are placed around the tent OR can be cut up and placed in plastic containers with holes in the sides at the bottom edges so the beetles can crawl inside.  WARNING: these strips are toxic - USE GLOVES, open and handle outside as much as possible, DO NOT ALLOW STRIPS TO TOUCH THE OBJECT.  Placing them in plastic containers is a way to reduce contact with the chemicals in the strips.  These strips can be used in cabinets as well but follow the handling rules.

5) OBSERVE: set up a schedule to examine all your wooden objects at least every 6 months for evidence of infestation and if found, treat immediately.
REFERENCES    general guidelines for museums – all pests.     a list of most common pests and how to identify them.

Powder Post Beetles - July, 2013

July, 2013

A local museum contacted me recently about Powder Post beetle infestation that they had been dealing with for a few years.  They have several older wooden buildings with lots of small and large wooden objects housed within.  They have been spraying every year with a product called Tim-Bor.  The results have been encouraging with much less infestation over time but not yet completely solved.  These beetles bore into wood and deposit eggs.  When the eggs hatch the larvae eat their way out of the wood, mate in the spring and the cycle starts again.  They had asked me about the best way to deal with new objects coming into the museum and any existing objects that may be infested.
How do you know you have a beetle infestation?  Here are a few photographs of holes in wooden objects and a photograph of the dust which is a combination of sawdust and frass (insect excrement).   

Beetle holes - mallets
Beetle holes - pulley
Beetle dust - stairwell
Beetle dust - barrel base

There are several kinds of beetles that exhibit the same characteristics that can be treated the same way.  Spraying with a boron based product such as Tim-Bor, Borasol, or Ambush every year for several years will reduce the population and keep it under control.  Watch for beetle activity evidence such as the dust as shown in the photographs every year usually in summer or late spring.  Spray all the wooden areas (walls, stairwells, doors) and the larger objects.  These products are easily handled but require basic handling equipment to apply.  Refer to the safety data sheet for any of these products first before usage.

Any wooden objects of a small size can be treated by depositing them in a freezer for a minimum of two weeks.  Such things as wooden mallets, pulleys, wooden handled tools, and the like which can fit in the freezer are good candidates.  Wooden wagon wheels, carts, poles, and the like are usually too big so should be handled differently.  Maintaining a low temperature over two weeks will kill off any of the eggs, larvae, or beetles present in the wood.  There is some variance but typically, freezers maintain a temperature of around -18C.  Since beetles are active in the spring and lie dormant over the winter they are able to handle fluctuation in temperatures but not a sustained cold temperature.  Our winters in Nova Scotia have fluctuating temperatures between freezing and thawing so our beetles have adapted to that environment.  After two weeks you can put the objects back into the collection where appropriate.

Beetle holes - wheel

For larger objects such as the wagon wheel shown in this photograph I suggest spraying them every spring around middle of June for Nova Scotia which is their optimal time for reproduction.  They tend to be active, moving toward sunlight at that time.  Around this time you should see evidence of their activity - either bore holes or dust.  Sometimes the bore holes may not be visible until the spring because the object has been sanded and painted. 

All new wooden objects coming to museums should be carefully examined for evidence of pests.  If so, they should be bagged and isolated for a period of time to determine if they are actively infested.  Bagging will allow for any evidence of activity to be observed.  If they can be stored in a non-wooden environment for a time this would be best.  If they are small they can be put straight into a freezer for two weeks.  Larger objects with bore holes should be sprayed and examined in late spring or early summer for evidence of beetle activity.

Conservation Tip

With respect to preventive care - objects in collections should be examined as a minimum at least twice per year.  Wooden, textile, paper or leather objects for pests and mold; metal objects for tarnish and rust.  Identifying problems as soon as possible can prevent more serious infestation or damage that would be more difficult to treat if left undiscovered.  Careful examination will then determine what treatment is necessary, the costs in terms of materials and time, and then a plan to implement the treatment. 

Sunday, 13 October 2013

Some New Objects Came In - June 25 2013 (Continued)

July 2, 2013

Alcohol Jug - Luther
Alcohol Jug - Proverb

Perhaps the most important part of historical objects coming in the museum from the public as donations are the stories that accompany the objects.  Last week I wrote about the objects and briefly described two of them with photos.  This week I have two more from the same group that are of particular interest.  The person who brought them in shared what information he had on his objects.  This is especially exciting and important because these stories are what helps us to date them, understand how they were used, which family members used them, and any repairs done to them.

These objects are alcohol jugs with sayings inscribed in German on the front and raised images such as flowers and birds in many locations.  In both cases the handles on the back are broken with missing pieces.  One of them has a quote from Martin Luther, the other a German Proverb.  One of them shows many cracks with obvious repairs and yellowish-brown staining.  The staining is on or near the cracks so represents an excessive amount of adhesive used to do repairs.
There are several interesting aspects to these examples:
  1. the owner said he had played with these as a child; 
  2. the quotation on the front in German; and
  3. the conservation possibilities. 
Since we know the age of the donor (in his 90's) we can date the jug to at least his childhood.  The origin is unknown.  I am continuing research on determining the maker and date of these objects.  If any of you know more about these please leave a comment below.

The quotation on one jug is attributed to Martin Luther (1483 - 1546) as follows:
"He who loves not wine, women, and song remains a fool his whole life long."
On the other jug the quotation is a German proverb:
"Happy is the one who forgets that which cannot be changed." 
The possibility for conservation on the jug with the Martin Luther quotation is that the adhesive could be removed, the object disassembled, the pieces cleaned and reattached with conservation grade adhesive.  The missing handles can also be remade (molded), painted with exact colour match, and attached.  The end result would be a "like new" object.  Repairs undertaken by conservators are done ethically in such a way that the original aspects of the object are restored but that the repairs will be obvious under intensive observation such as a magnifying glass or a microscope.  It is also critically important that any repairs be easily reversed.  The entire repair process would be documented in detail with photographs at every stage and becomes part of the historical record of the object.  This is a labour intensive process and would usually only be attempted on objects of special historical significance due to the cost involved.  In our case I would recommend that it be left as is since the repairs represent an important aspect of the history of the object.

Information Tip:

More information is available on by searching on accession number 2013.014.001 or 2013.014.002.  Just type in or cut and paste the accession number in the search box on the upper right of the page and press enter to bring up more information.  There is a detailed description plus measurements, condition information, some history on the original owner, and conservation work.

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Some New Objects Came In - June 25 2013

June 25, 2013

Someone came in this week with some historical objects from home to donate to the museum.  This is a regular occurrence as people clear out the attic or decide that it is time to make some of their family artifacts available for others to enjoy.  This is one of the joys of working in a never really know what may come walking in the door.  There are often pleasant surprises that can be of great interest to the public.  Here is what was brought in:

  • a child's chair from the Victorian era (1837 to 1901) - possibly late 1800's,
  • a bone handled straight razor in its box without a top,
  • a fully functional mechanical pencil with lead refill - possibly early 1900's,
  • a 1961 book of cartoons from the Halifax daily newspaper of the time in mint condition,
  • a school reader from the 1930's with student notes, underlining, and other scribbles,
  • a military canteen from the 1950s in its carrying case,
  • a brass book mark with a colourful butterfly at one end,
  • a silver plated 1880's spoon warmer,
  • two tall, ceramic alcohol jugs with different sayings in German.
Tasked with doing conservation work on these objects I can say that very, very little needs to be done.  I generally concentrate on cleaning, polishing, very minor repairs, packaging, storage, photographing and database updates (  In all cases these were clean meaning that I did not have to brush off any dirt or wipe off dust.  They are all showing some of what could be called normal wear and tear which is part of the objects' history and thus would need no remediation.

Victorian Era child's chair.
An example is the child's chair which is very solid and sturdy but shows some rips, minor staining, and loose threads in the seat cover.  It has been refinished with a varnish and the seat cover may have been replaced.  With the under seat strapping and frame in very good condition I can see no reason to do any changes.  Normally, I would recommend that wood not be refinished, the natural patina is often best left as is.  Antique TV shows often point out that wooden objects loose value when refinished.  The natural wear and patina reflect the use of the object and from conservator's point of view is a valuable reflection of the history of the object.  This chair shows the craftsmanship of the era and is a testament to the maker's skills and pride in producing high quality goods.

Late 1800's spoon warmer.
Another example is silver plated spoon warmer which is showing the usual black spotting and scratches from polishing or wear.  Since it is silver plated there is very little reason to try polishing it further since there is little or no silver left in these areas.  This object was used to keep spoons warm when boiling water was poured inside and a small lid was closed to keep the spoons warm.  This practice was popular in some circles in the 1800's but died out at the turn of the last century.

Sunday, 29 September 2013

Roundhouse Objects Conservation June 18 2013

June 18, 2013

As conservation work on the Railway Roundhouse objects nears completion it was time to prepare the objects for storage.  The goal of proper storage is to:
  •  stabilise the objects so they have no chance of rolling around and coming in contact with each other,
  •  package them so that they will have minimal or no possibility of interaction with anything which may affect their condition (an example is off-gassing or other chemicals),
  •  package them so that they can be moved short distances such as from on-site storage to exhibit or work rooms,
  • label each box or storage container with the contents to facilitate ease of access.
With a bit of research and suggestions by the Senior Conservator, Chris Lavergne, at Nova Scotia Museums a product called ethafoam is recommended and most widely used in conservation.  It is strong, yet flexible and stable.  Here is a link to more information from a US supplier

It would be used by sizing it to fit in boxes and carved out to the shape of the object and fitted to reduce the chance of rolling around and getting damaged.  However, from a local supplier the price ranges from $70 to $90 per sheet of 2 feet by 4 feet and 3 to 4 inches thick.  This is out of the range of the budget for the museum at this time.  I suggested an alternative of using acid free paper scrunched up and wrapped around each object in a manner that would normally be done by moving companies when transporting household goods long distances.  The museum has a large supply of acid free paper that was donated some years ago.  I also suggested that we store the glass and ceramics in a separate box from the metals.  These alternatives were accepted by the curator.

Acid free paper on all sides, between objects, around objects
Exterior list of contents for ease of access
I started each box with a layer of scrunched up paper across the bottom and around the sides.  A flat layer of acid free paper separates each layer of objects.  Each object is carefully and completely wrapped up and then placed in the box with scrunched up paper between each object.  Although this is not an ideal solution it does fit the budget and the need.

Three "banker style" boxes were sufficient for this collection of nearly 40 objects.  However, the larger objects such as locomotive wrenches, large lamp on a pole, and the oil can are left unwrapped and unboxed and will simply be stored "as is" due to their size.

Sunday, 9 June 2013

Roundhouse Objects Conservation - June 4 2013

June 4, 2013

I will not be at the museum for the next two weeks and will do more posts starting in the fall.  The next updates will discuss how to store the roundhouse collection using lower cost materials to ensure that they can be safely stored away for both long term and short term.

Railway Equipment Maintenance Tools

Locomotive tool with markings after sealing.
I finished the treatment of the two tools described in the last post by applying a layer of wax to stabilize them.  They are now both sealed from moisture and flaking from handling.  I have had several visitors to the museum on the Tuesday that I am there working on objects and was able to show the visitors how I apply the wax and discuss the usage of these tools.  Thus far, they are proving to be of interest and are an effective teaching tool.  They are ready to be handled and shown to visitors or stored away for future exhibits.  The photograph on the right shows the locomotive tool with the etched letters DAR and CS.  You can see the fine layer of wax which does not obscure the markings nor the other unevenness of the metal.  The two photographs below show an example of the tools used and material removed from the greasing tool as I was working on it and then an example of the same area after it has been sealed with the fine layer of wax.

Greasing tool with the tools I used to remove corrosion.
Greasing tool after treatment, same area.

Roundhouse Objects Conservation - May 28 2013

May 28 2013

I have been updating the public database with any additional information such as research, photographs, updates and so on.  The challenge has been to get the work done on the larger objects.  I have been working on the objects pictured below.  Normally for objects of this size a simple, general clean would be done and then store them away.  However, in this case, these objects work well as teaching tools for education in maintenance procedures and the tool usage by maintenance staff in the early days of railroads in Annapolis Valley.  Therefore, I have elected to carefully brush away and pry loose as much of the corrosion as I can and then apply a layer of wax to seal these from moisture and facilitate handling and storage.  I have documented these procedures on metal objects in detail in the past so won't repeat them here.

It is likely that the first tool below was used on locomotives.  It fits nuts of 4.0 cm at one end and 4.5 cm at the other.  It is S shaped to fit in tight situations.  It has the letters DAR etched at each end just below the bottom of the U on both sides which stands for Dominion Atlantic Railway.  Just a short distance down the handle are the letters CS which I have asked local railway collectors about.  The theory is that this stands for Car Shop.  In other words railway car shop.  I know from previous research that, in the past, employees would etch their initials in tools that they owned when an employer insisted that employees supply their own tools.  It was a source of pride for craftsmen to have their own tools.

Locomotive Wrench

The second tool below was used to open the lid on a greasing box above the wheels of a rail car and then used to pack in grease.  The wheel bearings were checked regularly by the maintenance staff in case they were heating up due to the friction when the grease was running low.  Overheating could cause breakdown of the bearings and potentially lead to a derailment.  This tool was essential to the safe operation of the railway.  It does not have an etched marks.

Bearing Grease Tool

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Roundhouse Objects Conservation - May 21, 2013

May 27, 2013

Back At The Museum

After the winter break (late December to late March) I am now back at the museum continuing work on the Railway Roundhouse demolition objects.  I hope to continue submitting posts on at least a weekly basis over the coming season which will only be interrupted by camping weeks and other breaks over the summer.

Update On Insulators

A reader recently commented on my post  Roundhouse Objects Conservation - December 27 2012 to point out that what I had labelled as a power line insulator was likely a telegraph line insulator.  After some research I found out that glass insulators were introduced in the 1850's for use with telegraph lines but evolved along with the technology for use with power lines, lightning rods, and other applications.  Porcelain insulators had been in use before glass also for telegraph lines but evolved to be used primarily for power lines due to their greater strength and surface resistance.  As a follow up, I asked several local long term railway object collectors and they confirmed that glass insulators were most often used for telegraph lines but were sometimes used for power lines, especially lower voltage.  I will  label these  in the future in general terms as insulators  and comment accordingly.  You can look these up on using accession numbers 2007.012.021 and 2008.005.006 respectively.  Type in these numbers in the search box.

Glass Insulator - telegraph
Porcelain Insulator - power