Paper and Water – Friends or Foes?

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Making paper by hand. The wooden vat contains cotton fibers suspended in water. I am holding a wire mesh mold which was dipped into the vat to pick up some fibers. I am shaking the mold back and forth to get even fiber distribution while the water drains.

We all know that paper isn’t exactly one of the most waterproof materials out there. In fact, water exposure is one of the most common causes of damage to paper objects that I see as a paper conservator. It can cause major issues such as distortion, staining, loss of media, and mold, just to name a few. It’s somewhat counterintuitive, then, that water is a crucial part of many types of conservation treatment. People are often a bit shocked that bathing paper (yes, it’s what it sounds like) is a common practice with positive results! In this post, we will explore a few ways in which water interacts with paper on different levels, how conservators harness and leverage these interactions to treat condition issues, and how, if left unchecked, these interactions can cause major and irreparable damage.

Papermaking – Wet Beginnings

To understand paper’s relationship with water, we have to go back to the beginning – papermaking. True paper is defined as a non-woven mat of fibers formed by draining water from a slurry. The water holds the fibers in a suspension into which a screen called a mold is dipped and drawn upward, allowing the water to drain and the fibers to settle into a layer over the screen. To ensure an even distribution, the mold is shaken back and forth while the water drains, causing many of the fibers to orient in the direction of the movement before coming out of the water. This causes a characteristic called “grain” in a finished piece of paper.   Read more

Christening Bible of the US Steamer Rhode Island

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Front cover of the Rhode Island Bible

A couple of months ago, the Museum decided it was time to begin exploring a program that would allow supporters to “adopt” items in the collections for restoration.  While the details of this program are still in the works (museums often move slowly and deliberately on such things, and rightfully so), a call went out to staff to find objects to put up for “adoption”. 

Naturally, I was interested in proposing some USS Monitor-related materials for this program, since I am the NOAA Project Archivist at the Library.  So I went casting about for ideas.  Thankfully, much of the Monitor-related material in the Library is in  good shape, not in need of extensive restoration.  But that didn’t help me in my search for items to submit for the program.    Read more

What to do with the USS Olympia?

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Protected Cruiser Olympia (C-6), circa 1901

We have been following with interest the story about the USS Olympia (C6), the famed protected cruiser that served as Admiral Dewey’s flagship at Manila Bay during the Spanish-American War. The cruiser is the only survivor of that war, and the oldest American steel warship afloat. She fired the opening shot in the action that destroyed the Spanish fleet at Manila Bay, and she brought home the body of the Unknown Soldier from World War I in 1921.

USS Olympia has been a museum ship since 1957 at the Independence Seaport Museum in Philadelphia. The ship has not been drydocked in 45 years and corrosion at the waterline is severe. The Museum had announced that, because she could sink at her moorings, they were discontinuing tours beginning Nov. 22. Since then, the museum’s Board announced that they were putting that decision on hold, given the new availability of funds to make emergency repairs (Philadelphia Inquirer, Nov. 18, http://www.philly.com/inquirer/home_region/20101118_Spanish-American_warship_spared__at_least_for_now.html).  However, if significant funding isn’t found, to the tune of $19 million, for drydocking and restoration, the ship could still sink at her berth or could be disposed of through scrapping or sinking off Cape May as an artificial reef.   Read more