Mirrors with Memory: Conserving Daguerreotypes from the Library and Archives Canada Collection – Part II

By Tania Passafiume and Jennifer Roger

Glass Deterioration

Depending on conditions, the rates of deterioration of the materials that make up a daguerreotype package (e.g., copper, silver, paper, brass, leather, velvet, silk and glass) can vary substantially. One of the most common problems found by conservators is glass deterioration.

Glass deterioration often makes the daguerreotype appear dull and hazy. This does not necessarily mean that the plate itself has deteriorated. A number of the daguerreotypes from the Library and Archives Canada (LAC) collection that were prepared and treated for exhibition showed distinct signs of glass deterioration

Glass deterioration can occur as a result of fluctuations in either temperature or humidity. There are a couple of ways in which this type of degradation can manifest itself. One is cracking, which is when tiny hairline cracks appear on the surface of the glass. The other is chemical decomposition, which affects older glass with a higher concentration of sodium oxide, causing the glass to appear hazy or cloudy.

Keeping the original glass of a daguerreotype is always encouraged, and in cases where the glass is in an early stage of deterioration, e.g., it appears hazy or foggy, it can possibly be cleaned and reused. Treating this type of deterioration is relatively straightforward: the glass is removed, cleaned with distilled water and a neutral soap, rinsed with ethanol, then left to air dry. When placed back onto the daguerreotype, the plate will immediately appear brighter and clearer. Continue reading

Mirrors with Memory: Conserving Daguerreotypes in the Library and Archives Canada Collection—Part I

By Tania Passafiume and Jennifer Roger

The Daguerreotype, a one-of-a-kind photograph, was largely produced between 1839 and 1864. It was the first publicly-available photographic process and was renowned for its image detail and clarity.

The photographs are highly susceptible to image loss, corrosion build-up and other forms of deterioration caused by poor handling and environmental exposure.

To protect the image, the photographic plate was delicately placed under glass, from which it was separated by a protective mat.  This assembly was then hermetically sealed using paper tape and covered with a brass foil called a “preserver”. The entire package was housed in a small, often decorative, case made of leather, wood, papier mâché or moulded plastic, with an interior lining of silk or velvet.

Daguerreotype hallmarks or plate marks

Makers’ marks, known as hallmarks or plate marks are stamped markings found on many, but not all, daguerreotypes. When they are present, they are often found on the edge of the plate and are, thus, invisible when the daguerreotype is sealed. Marks typically consist of initials, symbols and numbers. The number most commonly found is “40”, which refers to the physical makeup of the plate, 1 part silver to 39 parts copper. Plate marks can offer clues about where the copper plate was manufactured and where the photographer sourced materials. They can sometimes also help to date an image.

When daguerreotypes were being prepared for the exhibition at the National Gallery of Canada, several of them were found to contain plate marks.A hand-tinted daguerreotype of three young women. The woman in the middle is standing between two women, who are seated. Continue reading

The real deal vs. the microfilm reel

Access is a key part of Library and Archives Canada’s mandate. Staff strive to provide access to original material whenever possible, but what happens when material has been removed from circulation and you need to consult the original?

Screenshot of Library and Archives Canada’s internal Collection Management System highlighting a message stating “Please consult copies which exist for the material you are attempting to order. Refer to MIKAN for copy information.”

Screenshot of Library and Archives Canada’s internal Collection Management System

Material may be withdrawn from circulation for a variety of reasons such as:

  • Material has been copied and is available in another format (usually microfilm copies)
  • Material has been identified as requiring conservation treatment
  • Material is fragile or at risk of being damaged
  • Material is withdrawn for health reasons (e.g. the material is contaminated with mould)

When you request material that has been removed from circulation, a staff member from the consultation desk will contact a Collection Manager or Holdings Management Assistant and inform them that a researcher wishes to consult originals and provide the reason the researcher needs to view them.

Some of the common reasons for needing to consult originals are:

  • You need to view originals for litigation purposes
  • Microfilm copies are illegible
  • Microfilm copies are missing pages
  • Health reasons (e.g. the use of microfilm readers causes vertigo)

The Collection Manager or Holdings Management Assistant will assess the requested material and determine whether the material can safely travel to 395 Wellington for consultation.

An open container showing textual material ready to be assessed.

Textual material ready to be assessed.

Common reasons for refusing a request to view originals are:

  • Material is too fragile to transport from the storage facility
  • Material is restricted by law (you must first apply for access rights)
  • Material poses a health risk and must be treated first (e.g. mould)
  • Material has been requested for a loan or an exhibition

Additionally, the following material does not travel outside of the Preservation Centre:

  • Treaties
  • Pre-1899 atlases, early maps, oversized matted documents
  • Oil paintings, pastels, charcoal works, miniatures
  • Medals, globes
  • Glass plate negatives, large panoramas, cased photographic objects
  • Certain philatelic material

If the material is considered to be too fragile or exceptionally valuable, the Collection Manager will stipulate that supervised consultation is required.

Library and Archives Canada staff do their best to facilitate access but in some cases material simply cannot travel. When this happens, you have the option of setting up an appointment to view the originals at the Preservation Center in Gatineau under the supervision of a reference archivist and a member of the Holdings Management team.

More than just books

Library and Archives Canada (LAC) receives a wide range of published heritage material through legal deposit, such as books, periodicals, government publications, etc. Occasionally LAC receives multimedia kits that must be re-boxed by the Preservation Services Unit. Multimedia kits contain more than books, but all items still need to be stored together, as much as possible. A good example of a multimedia item would be an educational kit designed for use in schools. A kit may include bound textbooks, binders with loose-leaf pages, posters, pamphlets, CDs and DVDs. Older kits may include items such as cassette tapes, slides, video tapes, and film strips—the popular media used when the kit was published.

A custom-made container and spacers are constructed for each kit to keep the components together for research purposes and to secure the different-sized items in the box. The container also provides protection from environmental harm such as light or water damage.

Before

A colour photograph showing a multimedia kit containing a variety of items spread across a worktable.

An example of the components of a multimedia educational kit.

After

A colour photograph of a custom container and a custom folder for a poster.

Sample of a custom folder for a poster and box created for a multimedia educational kit. All the items in the multimedia kit have their own space, making it ideal for access and preservation.

Large rolled posters are flattened, placed in a custom folder, and filed in a flat storage drawer. A separate box for CDs and DVDs is constructed and held in place with a custom spacer so that they don’t shift when the box is moved.

All materials used in the construction of these containers are archival quality so they are acid-free and meet strict standards for material composition and longevity.

This is another example of how the Collection Management Division ensures the preservation of collection items through the skills, craftsmanship, and dedication of its staff.

Preventive Care and Maintenance: Laura Secord and the Grassy Knoll

Chris Smith, Library and Archives Canada Collections Management Clerk, was recently assigned an interesting and challenging rehousing project. Chris found himself looking at a Laura Secord chocolate box filled with not sweets, but a tangled mess of Dictaphone belts: 27 in total.

Introduced by the Dictaphone Corporation in the 1940s, the Dictabelt was a voice recording system using a thin plastic belt. The Dictabelt Re-Recording Service describes how the recordings worked: audio could be impressed onto the belt utilizing a needle-type stylus to emboss or plough a groove into the soft plastic. They were predominately employed for business, medical and scientific recordings. After use, Dictabelts were usually stored flat in boxes or file folders. This caused creasing and damage to the recordings.

For the conspiracy theorists out there, certainly the most famous use of a Dictabelt was by the American House Select Committee on Assassinations, which investigated the assassination of President John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963. Based on “acoustic evidence” supplied by a Dallas Police Department Dictabelt, the committee concluded that there were at least four shots fired in Dallas that fateful day, and that one of them came from the “grassy knoll.”

Following considerable research on Dictabelt preservation techniques and consultation with our audiovisual conservation experts, Chris began his rehousing process. He wrapped each belt around a piece of custom-cut acid-free board to reduce creasing. Chris then placed each wrapped belt in an envelope, built spacers, and rehoused all 27 belts. They now safely reside in an 18C and 40% relative humidity (RH) environment at our Preservation Centre.

A colour photograph shows how the Dictaphone belts were received, with rusty paper clips holding the paper captions to each belt. Below the belts are the archival supplies used: blue board and envelopes. The bottom left shows the blue board inside the belt and the paper caption affixed to the bottom of the board. Above are the items placed inside envelopes and the new container that they will now be stored in.

This photo demonstrates the steps required for properly housing Dictaphone belts for long-term preservation.

A colour photograph showing, on the right, the Laura Secord chocolate box that the material was original received in, and to the left, the new container the Dictaphone belts are stored in for the long-term preservation of this collection.

The Laura Secord box beside the new enclosure. Now the dictaphone belts will no longer be at risk.

The near-surgical precision in all this rehousing work is most impressive, and plays a vital role in our preservation activities. Well done, Chris!

A few of our favourite things

Collection Managers at Library and Archives Canada (LAC) frequently receive questions related to the preservation of a variety of objects. In addition, whenever we offer in-house training sessions to staff, we also like to include information about references and further reading.

We thought we’d share some of our go-to online resources, as it can be hard to sift through all the information out there. These, in our opinion, are trusted sources that keep up to date with changing information and best practices that reflect scientific developments. They generally include source references as well, such as suppliers and bibliographies.

Please note: Invasive treatment should not be attempted without conservation training in the relevant medium. While anyone who can wield a knife and a straightedge can successfully make protective enclosures, if actual repair work is called for, please consult a conservator.

These sites provide information on a variety of media. We recommend you consult the indexes to see if what you’re looking for is included.

Canadian Conservation Institute (CCI)

CCI’s site has preservation information on a variety of objects including books, paper, photos, musical instruments and outdoor art.

http://canada.pch.gc.ca/eng/1443109395421

Centre de conservation du Québec (CCQ)

CCQ’s site hosts Preserv’Art, a database of acceptable materials. It is a great source of information about supplies that are safe to use with particular media/objects. Note also that it contains info about what is NOT safe, which can be very useful as well.

http://preservart.ccq.gouv.qc.ca/index.aspx

Northeast Document Conservation Centre (NEDCC)

NEDCC’s series of Preservation Leaflets is also an excellent source of information. These publications are continually reviewed and updated as necessary.

https://www.nedcc.org/free-resources/preservation-leaflets/overview

National Park Service (NPS)

The United States’ NPS has an extensive series of Conserve O Grams, which are excellent publications on a variety of topics. While geared more toward the museum professional, they can still be useful sources of information about a range of subjects such as protective enclosures. Of particular interest are the new Conserve O Grams on the creation, care and storage of digital materials.

http://www.nps.gov/museum/publications/conserveogram/cons_toc.html

Conserving the William Redver Stark sketchbooks: dates and locations

In this last article on page mapping, we are looking at the dates and locations of Stark‘s sojourn in Europe, matching the ones inscribed in his sketchbooks to the events and locations of his military unit.

In many of his sketchbooks, Stark wrote the name of the town or village that he was sketching. Occasionally, he would also include the date. These notations give the modern viewer a real sense of the time Stark spent in France and Belgium, and were a great help in the re-sequencing of the detached leaves.

We were able to verify dates and locations by looking at the war diaries of the 1st Battalion of the Canadian Railway Troop. War diaries are the daily accounts of First World War units.

Colour photograph showing an open sketchbook with a watercolour of a train with a German naval gun on a wagon. The gun is wildly patterned with a camouflage paint. Soldiers are standing around, looking at it and talking.

A sketchbook showing a German gun captured during the Second Battle of the Somme and dated August 1918 by Stark. (MIKAN 3029137)

Black-and-white reproduction of a typewritten page for August 14, 1918 reading, “The large 11,2 inch German naval gun on railway mountings, captured in the recent push was brought down from Chemin Vert. This was captured complete, with ammunition and locomotive. […]

Entry in the war diary of the 1st Battalion of the Canadian Railway Troop showing the entry for the captured German naval gun on August 14, 1918.

A colour photograph of a sketchbook at an angle showing a riverbank with the date and location in the lower right corner, “Perrone April 17.”

A view of Pérrone dated April 1917 found in sketchbook 7 (MIKAN 3028908).

A black-and-white reproduction of a handwritten page for April 15, 1917 reading: “[…] Battalion Headquarters moved to Peronne.”

The war diary of the 1st Battalion of the Canadian Railway Troop showing the first entry referencing the move of the battalion headquarters to Pérrone.

Visit Flickr to view more images of the conservation of books and visual material.

New additions to the Rare Books Collection: a census

After receiving the recent additions to the Rare Books Collection, the conservation team conducted a census or survey, to determine the state of the collection. The questions on the census were developed by Library and Archives Canada (LAC) conservators, in consultation with the rare book librarians. The conservation team then assessed the books individually and recorded the information.

The primary information recorded was on the condition of the collection, but also included information about the decoration and style of the books. Everything was documented regarding the initial condition of each book and any need for conservation—whether minor or major conservation was needed, and if there was any structural damage. The level of leather deterioration and the need for leather consolidation (a surface treatment to stop the deterioration of the leather) was also noted. The specific housing needs for each book was also assessed and noted—whether a wrap, wrap and tie or box was needed. Other details recorded were: cover decoration, the presence of marbled paper and bookplates, and any interesting inscriptions, missing volumes, etc.

Pie chart showing the portions of the new collection in conditions ranging from poor to excellent.

Figure 1. The results of the new rare books condition census.

After the completion of the census, leather consolidation was carried out on 499 of the 518 books. Following these treatments approximately 8% of the collection was upgraded from fair to good condition. The number of books in fair condition decreased from 38% to 30% and the number of books in good condition increased from 27% to 35%. Rehousing was only needed for 15% of the collection and has been completed.

A table and pie chart showing the housing types required for the collection. The vast majority do not require any special housing, while some require wrap, wrap and tie, or boxes.

Figure 2. How much of the collection required rehousing.

Now that the census has been completed, the team has written a report that summarizes and presents all the results in easy-to-read graphs and charts. The report will be an invaluable tool for conservators, and will help plan future conservation projects as well as serve as a research tool for librarians and archivists.

Stabilizing the new books added to the Rare Book Collection

A collection of pre-1800 books were recently transferred to Library and Archives Canada’s Rare Books Collection. A census of the collection revealed that the majority of the books had various levels of leather deterioration. In some cases, the leather was cracked and flaking, and in other, more extreme cases, the leather was powdering and crumbling. This is an inherent and common issue seen in manufactured skins from this period. Leather deterioration takes place by two processes: Reaction of tannins used in leather manufacture to environmental pollutants (hydrolysis) and exposure of leather to light, heat and oxygen (oxidation). Both hydrolysis and oxidation result in the gradual disintegration of the leather fibre network and weaken its structural integrity. The by-product of leather disintegration is an acidic powder, often orange or red in colour. Not only does this deterioration cause an immediate threat to the individual book structure, but it also threatens the rest of the collection through the contamination of leather dust and particulate. In many cases, the leather leaves visible residue on surfaces and surrounding books. For these reasons, the conservators at Library and Archives Canada (LAC) developed and carried out a remedial treatment to stabilize the leather.

A colour photograph showing several books on a table. The book in the foreground has extremely deteriorated leather and the spine has separated from the front cover.

Deteriorated leather: The first step in the process was to assess the level of deterioration and carry out an initial surface cleaning of the books to remove as much leather dust as possible. This was carried out in the rare books vault, on all 500 books, using a gentle vacuum and small brush.

The most effective method of stabilizing deteriorated leather is through the use of a surface consolidant. A consolidant is a solution which is applied directly to the leather to seal the surface. Although it can’t stop or reverse the chemical instability in degraded leather, it creates a barrier that protects the leather from airborne pollutants and reduces the flaking and powdering. Handling affected leather books after surface consolidation is a much cleaner experience as well.

Testing

A series of tests were performed to determine the sensitivity of the leather to water and solvents. Based on these findings, we were able to reach a conclusion on the most suitable consolidant recipe to use.

Colour photograph showing a piece of paper that has been marked out into squares with leather samples in each square. Each square shows the pre- and post-shrink test samples.

The testing carried out was called Shrink Temperature Test, where small samples of leather removed from the books were heated in water until a reaction occurred. The lower the reaction temperature the less stable the leather. The tests concluded that some leathers were quite unstable and that they could be easily damaged by the application of consolidants containing water and solvents.

A collage of three colour photographs each showing a book with little white flags on it. The flags are located in the areas that were spot tested with the consolidants.

Spot testing: Four consolidant recipes were made up and tested on three volumes representing the identified species of leather found in the pre-1800 books, that of goat, sheep, and calf. The test relied on visual examination to determine the likelihood of discolouration by staining or residue deposit by the various surface consolidants.

The tests conclusively revealed that one particular consolidant exhibited no visible signs of staining or residue on the leather; Hydroxypropylcellulose dissolved in one solvent, then diluted in another. It was decided to use this recipe to treat the collection.

A colour photograph showing a woman holding a book in her gloved hands applying the consolidant with a fine brush under a fume hood.

Applying the consolidant under a fume hood.

The consolidant was applied to localized areas using a small brush. The treatment was carried out in a fume hood, due to the solvents used in the consolidant recipe. The books were then left to off-gas for 24 hours in the fume hood before being returned to permanent storage.

Now that the leather surface of the book has been stabilized, we can determine, with the help of the census information, what other, if any, treatments are necessary to make these books more resilient and available for future generations to access.

The William Redver Stark sketchbooks: impressions and paper

In this part of the sketchbook examination, we are exploring two additional facets of page mapping. The first part will look at impressions left from the artist’s instruments on the drawing paper; the second will examine the paper and the bookbinding techniques in the sketchbooks.

Tool impressions

When an artist is drawing or sketching, his or her tools frequently leave deep impressions on the pages. These are great visual indicators that help to reposition out-of-order pages. The indentations on the paper surface appear as a repetitive pattern of a mark from one page to the next.

Colour photograph showing a sketchbook that has some deeply indented impressions on one of the pages.

Artist’s pencil impression; view from the verso of the drawing.

Other examples of impressions left on a paper surface are the binding materials used by the bookbinder. For example, after a text block is sewn, the bookbinder will apply an adhesive on the spine. He or she may apply too much adhesive, which then oozes through some of the sewing holes, forming a drop of glue inside the central folio. Upon drying and hardening, the drop can make an impression onto the adjacent sheet of paper.

Colour photograph showing the inside of a folio; the glue drop is clearly visible with the corresponding impression on the other page.

Glue residue in the binding structure that overflowed into the central folio leaving a mirror impression.

The sewing tapes and threads used in a binding can also leave impressions on the pages. The sewing tapes are glued underneath the paper of the inside covers. They often leave a repeating mirror impression of the tape, which helps determine the order of pages near the front or the back of a sketchbook. The sewing thread impressions found on detached pages also provide a good clue as to which sheets of paper are located in the centre folio of a section.

Colour photograph showing the detached spine of a sketchbook. The impression of the sewing tape is clearly visible on both the board paper and on the first page of the folio.

Detail of the sewing tape located under the board paper and the impression left on the adjacent page.

Colour photograph showing an open sketchbook lying flat on a table. An awl points to the sewing thread marks on the paper.

Visible transfer of the sewing thread mark onto the paper.

Page and paper analysis

A number of the Stark sketchbooks have soft, gradual convex and concave warping that extends across or along the edges of pages. This cockling happens when sketchbooks are in a high humidity environment. Here, the humidity causes a permanent distortion of the pages.

One of the sketchbooks was distorted along the edges of three sections. The undulating edges matched each other perfectly only when the pages were placed in the correct position. This gave us the verification needed for proper orientation and sequencing of the pages.

Colour photograph showing a sketchbook from the top; the bottom sections are clearly warped and distorted while the top ones are perfectly flat.

An example of cockling and undulation from the first to the third sections of the sketchbook and none in the last two sections.

Binding techniques

Paper can also reveal other clues to determine page order. One way to confirm page order is to look closely at the binding techniques, which leave very useful evidence.

When pages are first folded into sections, groups of three to eight sheets of paper are folded together. The folio on the inside of the section naturally has a sharper fold than each subsequent folio in the section. The folds become less sharp and incrementally wider as the number of folios per section increases. An examination of the fold of each half or complete folio can help determine the likely location within the sections: first, or centre of folio, second, third, fourth position, etc. An exact measurement of each page confirms the position as well.

Rounding and backing is another binding technique that provides an indication of page sequence. The technique is usually accomplished by using a hammer to shape a previously sewn and glued spine. Rounding and backing results in a slight bend of the sections close to the spine; the sections near the front of the book bend slightly toward the front; the central sections are fairly straight; and the sections near the back of the book bend slightly toward the back. Rounding and backing was clearly visible in the Stark sketchbooks and thus a helpful indication of the sequence of sections and pages.

Colour photograph showing an angled view of a sketchbook that highlights the curving produced by the bookbinding technique.

View of the slight bend of the section near the front of the text block showing the effects of the binding technique that can help determine the right page order.

In our next instalment on page mapping, we will look at the dates that are scattered throughout the sketchbooks and how they match up with other sources of information at Library and Archives Canada.

Visit our Flickr or Facebook albums to view more images of the conservation examination.