Monday, November 5, 2018

A Broadside Trapped in Plastic

Recently an item came to the Preservation Lab that needed a fair amount of work. This 11 x 17.5" document had vertical and horizontal crease lines from when it had previously been folded, and had been encased in what looked like clear, adhesive, plastic casing, almost like what we think of today as a laminating sheet. The plastic casing is not original to the document; it was added by a library employee in the 1920s or 1930s in an effort to preserve the document. They likely had good intentions, but this repair does not align with the techniques or supplies that we use to preserve our important documents today. Text was printed on the front of the document, though the back had no text, and there were no handwritten notations. The paper itself was in good condition, so I knew that I wanted to try to remove it from the plastic casing. I also noticed that the document was torn along its creases, so the plastic casing was keeping it together, and when it was removed the document would be in four different pieces and would need to be reconnected.

The document covered in plastic, with one section removed.

Before I began the task of removing the plastic casing I noted that the entire front had been covered, along with a good portion of the back.  Some of the plastic had lost its adhesion and become brittle as it aged, so I used a microspatula to work my way under the plastic and lift it up from the document, and then snipped it away with scissors. This process took some patience because I needed to be careful not to lift up any of the paper along with the plastic. The document also spent a bit of time in a humidification chamber, in an effort to introduce some humidity to loosen up the areas that remained firmly adhered. This process, while slow, resulted in the document being almost entirely free from its plastic casing. There are some areas where the plastic remains, since trying to lift it from the document would have resulted in too much loss of paper and text.

Once the bulk of the plastic casing was removed, the document was in four pieces. I used a thin Japanese paper and wheat paste to back all four individual sections and then join them together. The Japanese paper served two purposes; it reconnected the sections, and provided an extra layer of support on the back of the document, thus making it stronger and easier to handle. After the document was backed with Japanese paper, I covered it with a sheet of spunbonded polyester and a sheet of blotter paper, and then placed it under weights overnight. This would ensure that the paper dried flat and evenly. The next morning, I did some light cleaning and made a custom folder as a new enclosure.

A few pieces remain, but most of the plastic was
removed from the document. 

I spent a lot of hours hunched over this document, so I got a close look at what exactly I was working on. This document is a broadside addressed "To the Electors of the Counties of Bristol and Norfolk" from "An Elector" - an anonymous individual who wrote what is essentially a political endorsement for Caleb Strong, running for Governor of Massachusetts in 1812. Strong had previously served as governor from 1800 to 1807, and he would go on to win this election and serve again from 1812 to 1816. The broadside also endorsed William Phillips for Lieutenant Governor, and Samuel Crocker, Sylvester Brownell, and Joseph Heath for Senate. It goes into detail about current events of the early 1800s and provides opinions about commerce, trade, and taxes. While that content might not be very relatable today, the broadside begins with a more general plea that still applies in 2018. It states, "You will soon be called to the polls to exercise once more the right of suffrage; a right which though often neglected is of inestimable value, though often irksome in practice may secure your permanent prosperity and peace . . ." Occasionally when I'm working with historical documents, I am struck by how an idea or sentiment may still ring true today, even though decades or centuries have passed. With Election Day on the horizon, please keep this plea in mind - confirm your polling location and make time in your schedule to vote. It may be irksome, but it was important in 1812 and it's important today!

Elizabeth Roscio
Preservation Librarian