Intern Meredith Zhou sprinkles eraser crumb onto an oversize document, 25 August 2019. Courtesy of Meredith Zhou.

Preserving Oversize Items in the Personal Collection of Alexander Dallas Bache

Have you ever wondered how our staff preserves the oversize collections at the Smithsonian Institution Archives? Here is an intern’s perspective on preserving the personal collection of Alexander Dallas Bache.

As a preservation intern at the Smithsonian Institution Archives this summer, I worked for preservation coordinator Alison Reppert Gerber, who initiated the project of reorganizing the oversize collections. As a part of the massive reorganization project, my main task was to preserve and rehouse the oversize items in the personal collection of Alexander Dallas Bache

Alexander Dallas Bache (1806–1867) was an American physician, scientist, and engineer. After graduating from the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1825, he became a professor of natural philosophy and chemistry at the University of Pennsylvania, from 1828 to 1843. During the same period, he was actively involved in many other educational pursuits. From 1836 to 1838, Bache spent two years studying in Europe, where he examined the European education system. Immediately after he returned to America, he became the president of Girard College. Bache was later appointed superintendent of the American Coastal Survey in 1843.

Most of his documents in the Smithsonian Archives were housed in archival document boxes, but his honors and appointment letters, as well as the maps and drawings concerning the coastal survey, are oversize materials. They were folded and stored in six 24”x 36” folders in the storage room. When we retrieved them from storage, they were in bad condition. The materials contained stains and dirt; some of them were brittle and starting to fall apart.

To make this collection more accessible to the public, Alison and I decided first to examine and sort the collection materials based on their content. We then performed minor conservation treatments like surface cleaning, flattening, and mending. Afterward, they were rehoused into bigger folders.


After mending several drawings with the heat-set tissue, we found that the tissue did not adhere well to the drawing paper. Thus, we decided to switch to another mending method, using the Japanese paper and wheat starch paste

After all the mending was complete, the collection was rehoused in bigger folders, in which items lay flat. The items will soon be back to the collections storage and available for researchers.

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