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!!!!