I have been meaning to write a blog about progress on the Monitor ropes but, although archaeological objects conservators are currently focused on this part of the collection, we do all sorts of other things that I thought would also be interesting to share with you.
This week I thought it might be fun to look at one of our more unusual types of artifacts that I’ve been treating. We have tons (literally) of iron and copper artifacts in the lab, but for every two pipe flanges bolted together, there is also one gasket keeping things tight. The humble gasket can be found throughout the Monitor’s engine room, sandwiched between the copper piping and iron machinery parts. Its job was to keep the fittings air tight and prevent leaks. Most gaskets are made from layers of rubber and textile pressed together, but we do have gaskets made entirely of rubber and a few that are actually leather.
In addition to the gaskets, rubberized fabric, buttons, and combs have also been recovered. Despite the evidence of wide use aboard the Monitor, modern rubber was a relatively new material in 1862. Natural rubber was used before the 1800’s, but due to its unstable nature, it wasn’t suitable for many applications. Thanks to a number of people experimenting with additives and curing processes, more stable forms of rubber became commercially available. For instance, Charles Goodyear (who’s patent is stamped on the Monitor buttons) is credited with patenting vulcanized rubber which is much harder and durable than natural rubber.