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.