Thursday, June 1, 2017

New Hampshire Cities & Town Map Project

In my position as the Assistant Conservator, one of my primary roles is to serve as the liaison between the Preservation and Digital departments.  This means that I assess all items before they are digitized to see if they are in need of conservation treatment.  Our digital projects at Dartmouth are varied, so the conservation evaluation can vary a lot as well.
             A long-term project that I have been working on since I arrived last year is the New Hampshire Cities & Towns map mending project.  The maps are stored in the Evans Map Room, and once I check a group of items, they are digitized and will be available online when the project is completed.  Some of the maps require conservation treatment and it has proven to be great practice and experience for me.  Normally I work with books, which are a little more robust in terms of how they are used and how they are repaired.  Flat paper items take more time and have more nuance in the repair, so they can be fussy.  Despite the fuss, the end result is always very satisfying.

Some of the tools used for mending flat paper items: Scissors, tweezers, a spatula, a glass block, blotter and hollytex (spun polyester) and thin Japanese tissue paper.

The items in this collection range from hand-drawn maps from the early 19th century to blueprints from the 1950s, with everything in between-including some that were used in classrooms that are backed with linen and sustained damage due to being rolled up and down for years.  Most of the time, the items are paper which have been torn where they were once folded and then mended with tape.  I am glad that there is not always tape to remove!
             To mend torn paper, a small strip of Japanese tissue paper is cut out and pasted with wheat starch paste.  Wheat starch paste is an interesting adhesive that, as its name implies, is made from white flour and is cooked until sticky.  It is reversible with water, so if the mends I make need to be removed in the future they can be easily taken off-unlike tape(!).  The pasted tissue paper is gently tapped onto the back of the tear and left to dry under hollytex and blotter-a nonstick spun polyester sheet and a soft cottony paper to absorb moisture.  A small glass block or otherwise smooth flat thing is placed on top to keep the paper flat as the mend dries.

Mending a tear after tape removal.

The drying process after the tears have been mended.

A front view of a mended map of Exeter, NH.
For items that are folded or have crumpled corners, I apply some moisture by gently humidifying with deionized water and flatten the corner out.  Often this needs to be reinforced with more Japanese tissue because the paper is fragile and corners are the most damaged part of a heavily used flat item like a map.

Corner before flattening and mending.

Corner after flattening and mending.

Once I complete conservation treatments on the maps, I return them to Evans to be digitized and pick up a new batch.  The variety of materials has given me a wide array of problem solving; paper differs from decade to decade it seemed, and each kind behaves differently when exposed to moisture.  As an added benefit, this project has allowed me to familiarize myself with the many towns and geography of New Hampshire.

Written by Lizzie Curran

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