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Last year, we acquired a scrapbook referenced HMTN 2/1 and containing various documents related to Mary Agnes Hamilton: photographs (some dating back to 1900, fig. 1), a large amount of newspaper cuttings, letters on different types of paper (some attached together with a paper clip), transcription of Hamilton’s notes on photocopier paper, a leaflet, a small book enclosed in a plastic sleeve taped to the paper support, two diplomas with red wax seals folded in two and even her death certificate.
Mary Agnes Hamilton (1882 – 1966) was one of the first MPs to be elected at the 1929 general election under equal suffrage. After she lost her seat in 1931, she became a civil servant in the Ministry of Information and Reconstruction Secretariat during the Second World War.
The documents were gathered together in the second half of the 20th century by her great nephew, Commander Robert V. Adamson, and attached on both sides of 28 white photocopier paper sheets. All documents, and their captions created by her nephew, were attached with V strips of a white thick tape except one, a newspaper cutting that was entirely glued to an acidic board.
The majority of the documents were in fair condition but, due to their inherent instability, they were starting to chemically react with the poor quality support paper: some newspaper cuttings oxidised becoming brittle and yellow, paper clips were rusty and Sellotape yellowed and stained the paper.
We had to remove the documents from this poor quality wood paper containing unstable products such as optical brighteners. The scrapbook had been created only a few decades ago and even though the documents hadn’t yet massively reacted chemically with the paper support, it was essential to prevent these reactions. Besides, this paper was not thick enough to support some mounted photographs or the leaflet, making the handling difficult and increasing the risk of damage.
Documents had to be removed and housed in a safer environment so we chose to fascicule them. Though fascicules use a lot of resources and can be bulky, they also store and protect single sheet documents very efficiently. Moreover, they allow safe handling of the documents and one does not even have to touch the documents during consultation, a convenience that makes us conservators very happy.
Not only was it decided to remove documents from their original paper support but also to remove all tape from the documents for the following reasons. Some papers such as newspapers were very thin and tensions could easily occur around the thick tape. Plus, the adhesive will oxidise the paper if not removed. This was not a straightforward decision as we knew this step would be time-consuming but we opted for it as this is a high priority item in our collection and we’d already decided to spend time and resources on it anyway when we chose to create fascicules.
The position of the documents was important since the scrapbook was made by a member of Hamilton’s family who sorted out the documents in the most appropriate order. Hence upsetting this order would lead to a loss of information. Plus, for each document, her great nephew printed captions, often very small, and transcribed Hamilton’s letters on low quality paper. We considered removing these captions and re-printing them on good quality paper. However, as we kept the order and layout of the documents, changing the captions could have been confusing even if well documented and compromise the integrity of the original. Also the ageing process of the modern paper would slow down as it will be housed in a good quality buffered paper and it would never be in contact with other documents from the scrapbook.
In conclusion, we kept everything as we found it while undertaking necessary conservation treatments on some documents and creating new fascicules to hold them in an appropriate and stable environment.
The V strips made the removal of the documents much easier than if glue was directly applied between the document and the support paper. The V strips were simply cut with a scalpel then the carrier was removed with a spatula after slowly introducing a little bit of moisture via a gel, 3 % methylcellulose and IMS (1:1) (fig. 3). The adhesive was not water-sensitive so it had to be removed with a crepe rubber but only when the paper was strong enough to resist the pull of the rubber (fig. 4). When the paper was too weak (e.g. newspaper), the adhesive was removed with a small amount of acetone applied with cotton wool under the fume cabinet. We tested removing the adhesive with ethanol first but it was creating tide lines at the front and we do not own a suction table in the studio that could have solved this problem. Acetone, on the other hand, removed the adhesive efficiently without any tide lines. However, it very slightly faded the ink on the verso but no change was noticed on the front side, even after several tests (fig. 5). After discussion, we decided to use acetone. This treatment might not be perfect but we needed an efficient and rapid solution to remove a large amount of adhesive (fig. 2), something other considered treatments such as solvent gels could not offer. Also, we decided that having slightly faded inks at the verso was preferable to having a thick tape stuck to the paper that would have oxidised and created tensions within the paper.
The newspaper cutting glued to a thick acidic grey board was removed from its board for its good preservation and to reduce the swell created by the board within the new fascicule (fig. 6 and 7).
The backboard was slowly delaminated from the document with a scalpel. The last layer of the board couldn’t be removed mechanically without risking damaging the document so moisture was introduced to reactivate the adhesive. A mix of 3 % methylcellulose and IMS (1:1) was applied for a few minutes and the fibres were easily removable with a spatula. The newspaper was oxidised and lost its mechanical strength so a lining was necessary. Very diluted wheat starch paste (similar texture to skimmed milk) was directly applied to the verso of the cutting through a Hollytex (a polyester release paper) and a piece of 3.5 gsm Tengu Japanese paper. To make sure contact was made between the object and the Japanese paper, a hard brush was gently brushed onto the Hollytex (fig. 8).
'The object, in a Hollytex sandwich, was left to dry hanging on the edge of the table so it could dry homogeneously on both sides. When approximatively 80% of the water evaporated, the document and the Hollytex were placed between blotters and put under a press overnight (fig. 9). The lining was successful and the object was left under the press for another few days.
Making fascicules for paper and photographic documents
To make the fascicules, we mainly followed the guidelines published by Helen Lindsay and Christopher Clarkson in The Paper Conservator magazine in 1994.
Five fascicules were created using a 120 gsm Heritage woodfree bookwhite (buffered) and a 350 gsm grey Photokraft paper for the covers. The original A4 format of the scrapbook was modified and enlarged to create margins of about 40 mm and space for trimming.
The main difficulty was to house different types of documents that have different needs within the same fascicule. For instance, if acidic newspaper cuttings are better preserved in alkaline environments, photographs will not benefit from that. Therefore, photographs were housed in polyester sleeves not only to avoid contact with the buffered paper but also to protect the photographic emulsions from readers’ fingerprints.
The sleeves were made bespoke and welded using our studio welder. There were two types of polyester sleeves:
It was not ideal to enclose mounted photographs in a polyester sleeve as the acidic backing board can create a chemically damaging micro-climate within the sleeve. To solve this problem, little ventilation windows were cut at the back of the sleeves (see fig. 13).
The difficulty was to create the fascicules mentally before assembling them as everything had to be planned beforehand (fig. 14). Here are the details of the materials used for each one of the fascicules:
Considering the thick documents within the scrapbook (e.g. mounted photographs), we wanted to avoid pressing the whole fascicule while the documents were inside. Therefore, we thought that sewing the fascicules first then hinging the documents was the best option. But we quickly realised that this was not a handy solution for several reasons. First, welding the singular polyester sleeves into the bound fascicule was not an easy task and the welded line was not always perfect. Second, the cockling of the paper support after hinging the documents was difficult to flatten even when weights were left for a substantial time. This was caused by the tension of the sewing and the fact that the folio was not directly placed on a hard surface. We stopped that process and started hinging documents on loose folios before sewing them into fascicules. Finally, the fascicules were lightly pressed for a few days and the edges trimmed. This shows that unforeseen results can arise from a planned treatment that we thought to be best but solutions were found and applied as soon as possible.
Attaching the paper documents
The paper documents were hinged with 17 gsm Usumino Shiro Japanese paper strips of 16 mm and adhered with wheat starch paste on 2 mm on the reverse of the documents (fig. 15 and 16).
The loose diplomas with a wax seal were folded with their recto facing outside making hinging difficult (fig. 17). Therefore, they were housed in a polyester sleeve to facilitate handling and give better protection to the wax seals (fig. 18).
One leaflet, a couple of letters and a small book were housed in plastic sleeves that had to be removed as they were not made of archival quality material and did not facilitate handling.
We wanted to include the leaflet in the fascicule by sewing it to a folded tab, thus the layout of that page had to be exceptionally modified (fig. 19 and 20). The backfold was originally stapled twice so we re-used the existing holes to sew it. This method of attachment is interesting as it efficiently secures the document and does not require any paste, making the attachment easily reversible.
The book could not be housed within the fascicule because of its substantial thickness (fig. 21). Also the inserted documents were in poor condition and we preferred to house them in an acid-free paper folder instead of leaving them vulnerable inside the volume (fig. 22). The book was placed in a four-flap folder with its inserts and the original position was recorded in the fascicule and on the four-flap folder (fig. 23).
The two letters were simply hinged to the fascicule and the layout had to be slightly changed to keep margins as wide as possible (fig. 24 and 25).
Four letters attached together with a paper clip were hinged to the fascicule, even if they were not originally attached to the scrapbook, for security and handling reasons. All documents were hinged on the same page in order to keep the connection between them and no information was lost as the versos are still easily accessible (fig. 26 and 27).
A clamshell box was made-to-measure to house the five fascicules (fig. 28 and 29). At the Churchill Archives Centre, we store our collections in standard archive boxes. The clamshell box is currently housed in an archive box along with the additional four-flap folder protecting the book.
This project was interesting and exhaustive as it not only combined several conservation treatments such as tape removal or lining but also preservation housing.
Making fascicules does not seem a very difficult task since it is just creating simple volumes and pasting documents inside, right? However, I found it to be much more difficult in this project especially with the variety of documents I had in front of me. The preparation time was essential before starting the creation of the fascicules. Indeed, double or even triple checking the fascicules' construction was essential to achieve the desired result.
Another challenge was the decision to remove the tape or not and, if we did, the way to remove it. The priority of the item and vulnerability of the documents made us choose to remove the tape. Then the large amount of tape required an efficient and rapid solution that was not perfect on every level but gave the best chances for the documents to be as stable as possible for the generations to come.
Erica D’Alessandro, Conservator
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