Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Papyrus: A Delicate Issue

One well-loved item in our Special Collections is a set of five papyrus fragments. Papyrus is a key material used to illustrate the unique beginnings of a writing substrate similar to that of paper. These fragments are often used in classes held in Special Collections, and therefore receive heavy use. One of the fragments was sandwiched between old acidic cardboard and glass, the others in Mylar sleeves. The curator requested something a bit more substantial and presentable for housing.

Knowing that my colleague, Leyla Lamb at the University of Michigan, is one of the foremost experts on the repair and housing of papyrus, I contacted her and inquired what my approach should be since I had not dealt with papyrus previously. With enthusiasm and willingness she provided me with guidelines and directed me to her web site that outlines in simple clarity the care and repair of papyrus.

One of the papyrus samples on acidic board with glass.

Fragment housed in Mylar.

Our fragments were clean and free of mud and dirt, however they had been poorly stored and had become folded and compressed. One of the first things I did was to humidify and relax the fibers of each piece using a mist bottle. With careful manipulation I was able to realign the fibers and set the fragment to its natural size.

Fragment after being relaxed.

Japanese paper tabs used to reconnect a broken section.

To adequately protect the papyrus, archival glazing is used and sealed around the edges with Filmoplast SH.

After sealing I put each sample in a simple labeled folder to help with handling.

The five samples were placed in a double-walled clamshell box along with two sets of glazing for possible future acquisition of new papyri.

This was a great project with a very satisfactory learning curve. My thanks goes out to Leyla for her encouragement and help.

Written by Deborah Howe

1 comment:

  1. To think it's an old paper but it's tissue by experimental it would be go easy for this one. Thanks for sharing this kind of idea.