Oversize collections often pose many challenges. Why is this? Oversize collections can consist of various objects, such as maps, panoramic photographs, architectural drawings, posters, scrapbooks, prints, or books, and physically handling and housing these materials in an efficient, but ideal manner often requires multiple people, careful consideration, and long-term planning. At the Smithsonian Institution Archives, our oversize collections are organized by size in flat file drawers. This reorganization project was initiated by Preservation Coordinator, Alison Reppert Gerber, who also served as my supervisor, and has been undertaken by three previous interns, Rita Rushanan, Caitria Sunderland, and Margaret Rose Hunt. This project has allowed the Archives to be more efficient in space management, freeing up fifty drawers to date. It also makes handling folders easier, as they are arranged appropriately and snugly in drawers.
As a Preservation Intern this summer, I assisted with this ongoing project by cataloging and rehousing five hundred found-in-collection exhibition posters and architectural drawings, creating a storage enclosure for a scrapbook, and applying basic conservation treatments to blueprints. In this post, I will discuss the preservation measures and conservation treatments I applied to the scrapbook and blueprints, and the considerations I took into account.
The scrapbook I worked on is from Record Unit 7293: William M. Mann and Lucile Quarry Mann Papers, circa 1885-1981, which needed special housing to secure its contents due to its post binding becoming loose. After assessing options with Alison, we decided to make custom-sized interleaving sheets for each page, encapsulate some specific pages, and create a four-flap enclosure for all of the loose pages. The interleaving sheets used were inert buffered Permalife paper and unbuffered Photo-Tex tissue paper, for pages containing documents and black-and-white photographs, respectively. I cut the interleaving sheets to be 1/4" larger around all edges of the page dimensions to better protect the edges and to preserve the pages, as the buffered interleaving sheets neutralize acidic degradation products from the wood pulp paper. Using an ultrasonic welder, I created Mylar encapsulations for pages with fraying edges or loose materials. Encapsulation makes handling such pages easier and mitigates further damage or dissociation of contents.
Next, I calculated the dimensions for the four-flap enclosure to house the pages and interleaving sheets. I cut two pieces of 20 point bristol board to fit the dimensions of the scrapbook pages. These pieces would be overlapped with one folding horizontally and one folding vertically. I then calculated the point at which each piece of bristol board would need to fold to create three equal widths and heights on each board, accounting for the depth of the scrapbook. After marking this, I creased each fold with a bone folder. Before connecting the two pieces of board with double-sided tape, I adhered E-flute corrugated blueboard between them for added support. To secure the enclosure, I created a slot on the top to secure the front flap. I added two blueboard spacers on each side of the enclosure to secure it within the box, resting the original covers on top of the enclosure.
During my internship, I also performed basic conservation treatments on drawings of a houseboat belonging to the third Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, Samuel P. Langley. The drawings, primarily blueprints, are from Record Unit 31: Office of the Secretary, Correspondence, 1866-1906, with related records to 1927. They were in need of conservation treatment due to curling and folding edges, tears, losses, and grime. In collaboration with Alison, and Conservation Specialist, William Bennett, we devised a conservation plan that included surface cleaning, humidification and flattening, and mending the blueprints while taking their photographic nature, conditions, and brittleness into account.
Performing surface cleaning was an important first step, as humidification introduces water, creating the potential to spread grime and embed it into the paper. I cleaned the back of all the dirty blueprints, using two materials – a vulcanized rubber eraser "soot sponge," and coarse consistency Staedtler Mars plastic eraser crumbs. I often used the soot sponge first and then applied and spread the eraser crumbs to capture any remaining grime. However with fragile drawings, I only used the eraser crumbs, a less abrasive cleaning method.
I humidified the blueprints using three different methods. I primarily used an ultrasonic humidification chamber and spray humidification to introduce water vapor to the drawings and blotters. For each method, I applied a minimal amount of deionized water, just enough to relax the paper. I used the chamber for smaller blueprints and an ultra-fine mist hand sprayer for larger blueprints. For resistant curling areas, I would apply a localized treatment of 50:50 ethanol and deionized water solution using a brush, and then dry under blotter and weights. Each humidified drawing was placed in a standard drying stack. This consisted of creating a sandwich of blotter, a smooth moisture-wicking Reemay polyester webbing, and a drawing, repeating this for each humidified drawing. The overall stack had Plexiglass at the bottom and top, with the top being weighted.
Once the drawings were flattened and fully dried, I began mending tears on the blueprints, using a heat-set repair method to apply pieces of Filmoplast R tissue, which was shaped to reflect the tears. I set its adhesive using a hot spatula, making sure to use silicone release paper under and above the drawing to protect it from potential scorching. After the mend was set, I used scissors to cut extending excess to mimic the drawing's edge.
The next steps for the oversized collection project will include creating drawer dividers and rehousing panoramic photographs. I learned a lot this past summer from my projects and working with the Preservation Team. I hope you gained a better understanding of oversize collections and enjoyed this behind the scenes look!
- Record Unit 31: Office of the Secretary, Correspondence, 1866-1906, with related records to 1927, Smithsonian Institution Archives
- Record Unit 7293: William M. Mann and Lucile Quarry Mann Papers, circa 1885-1981, Smithsonian Institution Archives
- Practical Considerations for Humidfying and Flattening Paper, by Stephanie Watkins, Conservation OnLine (CoOL), Foundation of the American Institute for Conservation (FAIC)
- A New Solution for an Old Scrapbook, Alison Reppert Gerber, The Bigger Picture blog, Smithsonian Institution Archives
- A Medal-y of Materials: Preserving a Small, yet Robust, Collection, Rita Rushanan, The Bigger Picture blog, Smithsonian Institution Archives
- An ‘Intern’duction to Storage of Oversized Archival Collections, Caitria Sunderland, The Bigger Picture blog, Smithsonian Institution Archives
- Wait, there are bigger map cases? An Intern's Journey in Oversized Collections, Margaret Rose Hunt, The Bigger Picture blog, Smithsonian Institution Archives