A Pressing Job

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

One of our biggest workstreams at the moment is the rescue of the files from the African American Museum. We have over one hundred boxes of manuscripts which unlike the working files, which can just be photocopied, need to be saved. They are mainly records and correspondence, there are some photographs and newspaper clippings and other miscellany. These boxes were all submerged and the wet boxes smashed into odd shapes so sometimes it’s a trial just getting the folders out of the boxes! The fact that the museum used waterproof boxes saved them. While they were damaged, the boxes took the brunt of it. The files are warped and did get wet but most of the mud and dirt stopped at the boxes so there is minimal dry cleaning. There is some staining from the water but mostly on the edges of the paper and it is purely cosmetic.

Before any treatment we’ve been discarding and replacing the boxes and folders, carefully transferring all the accession information. They were all well labeled which makes it much easier to keep things in order.

I’ve been separating out the photographs as we haven’t yet determined a treatment plan. The bulk of the file material is paper which is warped and dirty. We dry clean the sheets and then flatten them. The flattening method I’ve been using is using a spray mister to moisten the pages and then sandwiching them between sheets of blotter in the press. The water relaxes the paper to help eliminate the creases. The blotter paper is a very absorbent material which takes up the water as the pages are pressed under weight. The sheets come out perfectly flat and dry. If a sheet has water soluble ink I mist the blotter very slightly instead of misting the page directly to avoid feathering. Since the files were submerged most of the ink that would be affected by the water has already so it’s easy to tell where to be careful.

While they aren’t pristine and do still have a slight eau d’flood aroma they are mostly back to normal and mostly in good working order.