Monday, April 28, 2014

In Honor of Preservation Week: Preserving a Historic Album

In 1904, students of the Classical and English High School in Salem, Massachusetts created a historical photograph album depicting “Salem and Vicinity.” The unpublished manuscript is a compilation of write-ups, images, and photographs - all constructed and organized by the pupils. The outcome was a visually interesting and in-depth look at all of the historical landmarks and significant people of Salem and its surrounding areas. The album contained a preface written by then principal A.L. Goodrich, who described the book as a “collection of photographs of public buildings and places of historic interest.” Four students from Classical and English High School prepared the photographs used in the album: Harry Batchelder, Harry Bates, Edward Harlow, and Nathaniel Simonds. Harry Bates passed away before the album was completed, and his father stepped in and finished his son’s part of the project. Thirty-two upper classmen put an obvious amount of time and effort into this project, and it was part of our collection that deservedly needed some attention.

The damage on the album included a spine in poor condition, loose cover-boards, a detached signature (group of pages), and leather binding that has since decayed and flaked away. I began the conservation/preservation treatments by gently taking apart the cover-boards, spine, and text block with a scalpel. The spine, and what was left of the cover, was coated in Cellugel – a strong consolidant used for the prevention of leather deterioration. It’s important to salvage as much as you can from an original piece. As they dried, I moved on to cleaning the spine and covers. This included removing all of the material that will not be used in the construction of the new book – old tape, deteriorating book cloth, old batting, and spine mesh. I was left with a clean text block and book covers that were ready to be assembled.

Re-assembling the photo album began with applying fresh batting to the covers with archival quality adhesive. Batting was used as part of the construction of the original album, and we try to keep things as close to the original as possible. As they were setting, I cut some book cloth to size; this entailed measuring the spine of the book and cover-boards to ensure ample coverage. Once the batting was affixed to the cover-boards and the book cloth was properly measured and cut, I adhered the cover-boards to the cloth, leaving a space in-between them for the text block. The text block received a fresh strip of spine mesh – a reinforcement material for sewn spines. The text block was then placed in between the cover-boards, flanked with wax paper, and allowed to dry.

With the cover-boards, text block, and book cloth set-up, it was time to tip-in the loose pages. Tipping-In is a phrase used to describe the process of affixing an item to the text of a book. This process was completed by using a mix of Japanese tissue paper and adhesive, to paste the pages into the book. Once it was dry, I was able to move on to one of the final steps – reinforcing the cover boards with strips of archival paper.

Once all parts of the album were dry, it was time to focus on re-applying the original pieces of leather. The front was glued down with adhesive. The spine, given its fragile nature, would have been further damaged if I attempted to re-attach it. Instead, I constructed a four-flap enclosure – a protective container for permanently storing fragile items. This way, the album and the spine can be housed together safely.


Kelly Turner
Preservation Librarian