A challenge and a solution
As a conservator, my favourite archival material has always been photographs. There’s just something magical about photography’s mixture of chemistry and artistry that particularly captures my imagination. Therefore, I’d like to share one of the photographic projects we’re tackling in the Collection Care studio.
Recently, as one of our large, ongoing projects, we’ve been conserving and re-housing part of the COPY series. The COPY series comes from the Copyright Office at Stationer’s Hall and contains the forms of application for registration of proprietorship from 1837-1912 of different artistic, commercial or literary categories, one of which is photographs. Attached to most of the forms submitted are one or more photographic prints, providing a representation of what was being registered.
So here’s our challenge: We have 250 boxes each containing up to 600 forms and there is both physical and chemical deterioration to the forms and photographs.
The forms are housed in over-stuffed boxes, large photographs are folded to fit in the standard size boxes and handling has meant that the photograph was often bent to read the text on the form. The chemical damage includes colour change to the photographs or the forms due to adhesives used to secure the photographs to the forms, or due to transfer of the image of a photograph on to a paper form it has been in contact with.
And our solution: Where deemed necessary for the chemical or physical stability of the materials we are separating the photograph and form with the use of controlled moisture and doing minimal repair work to stabilise both materials. The photos and forms are then encapsulated in clear plastic (polyester) sleeves which are sealed. This enables both pieces to be easily viewed and provides protection for the photographic material which can otherwise be easily damaged when handled with bare hands due to the acids in the skin reacting with surface of the photograph.
Finally, the forms and photographs are placed in archival quality folders, and only the contents of approximately 125 forms per standard size box. Those oversized photographs in the series that were formerly folded have been flattened before being encapsulated in clear polyester and stored in special oversized folders.
This is a really fascinating collection, one that absorbs you, and you can spend a great deal of time just flipping through the photographs. Now the collection will be housed in a way that both facilitates this and protects it for future generations to enjoy.