Water in the stacks!

But it’s not what you’re thinking…

Recently, two copies of a publication in the Reserve (Rare Books) Collection were identified for rehousing. The piece is called Venise undersee.

When the objects were removed from their original silk fabric bag, it was discovered that they were made of metal and that they were corroding… yikes.

The items are part of Library and Archives Canada’s collection of artists’ books. A bronze representation of the globe, with braille text excerpts from a poem on the surface, they are about the size of a five-pin bowling ball. The globes were made in 1998 by Daniel Hogue in an edition of ten copies. Very nice pieces, but disconcerting to see the beginnings of corrosion on one, and quite a large spot on the other.

Colour photograph of a metal globe sitting on silk brocade. The patina of corrosion is clearly visible on the outside of the globe.

Hmm… corrosion. What’s happening here?

Our first thought was that after the construction of new containers, the items could be moved into a vault with a lower humidity setting at LAC’s Preservation Centre, watch for a while, and see if the corrosion continued.

But after checking the AMICUS record, it was discovered that changing the ambient humidity was not going to help… inside the bronze globes was water from the canals in Venice! Yes, give one of the globes a shake and you’ll hear water sloshing around.

You may be acquainted with the term “inherent vice,” and this is a perfect example. Something inherent, or part of the original, that can have a detrimental long-term effect on it. The effects of inherent vice can be slowed in some cases; for example, cooler storage conditions will slow acidic deterioration of paper. In this case however, without making a structural change to the object (that is, drilling a hole in it and draining the water), there is really nothing that can be done to halt the damage.

Just to make things interesting, the artist’s intent is an important consideration in making decisions about these objects. Is the corrosion damage what the artist intended? Will the artist be upset with what is happening to the works? To find out, the artist was contacted, and it was determined that leaving the water to do its thing was the preferred course of action. Just as the water is slowly eroding structures in Venice, so it will slowly erode these works.

Colour photograph showing the bronze globe in a padded container with the silk brocade wrapping on the right. There is a layer of polyester film under the metal object to isolate any leaking water.

All ready to sit and let time do what it will—the item is rehoused.

And, because you’ll ask, the amount of water inside is not a concern in terms of a leak that could damage other items in the collection. The quantity of water is small, and would most likely be absorbed by the cardboard containers they are housed in.

We will continue to monitor the works to gauge how quickly the corrosion is proceeding, and make decisions about how to manage what will be left of the works in the future.

One thought on “Water in the stacks!

  1. A whole new meaning to “inherent vice”! Word of warning to others with precious objects stored: get rid of the snow globes! Or at least store nothing else that is precious with or near them. It will certainly make me check our town archives for other objects with the possibility of inherent vice.

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