Photographic conservation at The National Archives
Those lucky enough to participate in this Training Day held at the National Archives, Kew on Tuesday March 15 2005 and led by Stephen Harwood, Photographic Conservator, agreed it had been amongst the best experienced by CAS members. the theme of the day was conservation and general preservation issues. The report is by Sister Mary Campion.
Maria Troupkou took the opening session, an audio-visual presentation dealing with ‘what reservation does’. It was informative to recognize the various material combinations occurring and to consider what intervention remedies as well as preventative care are necessary to keep items in circulation. The greater part of the session was devoted to minimizing risks such as proximity to rivers, motor ways and railway buildings and arrangements for transfer of documents from stack to reading room, storage conditions, slow infestation, copying and consultation.
The second session, led by Nancy Bell dealt specifically with preserving books and in particular with the translation of scientific technical information for practitioners. She spoke of material testing programmes and envisaged that in due course all the information would be available on the website. The materials range from parchment to modem plastics and synthetic support. A very interesting part of this presentation was that dealing with ‘design’ of boxes and folders.
This topic was continued by Brian Thomas, Head of Map Conservation, who spoke of storage formats for maps and other large documents illustrating his presentation by examples of various made up styles. Of particular interest examples of rolled encapsulations rolled round tubes rather than rolled inside them and then stored in calico bags. A 17th century L-shaped map showing the confluence of two rivers was in a purpose built collapsible box, with a crush proof interior.
By that time we were ready for the ample lunch provided. The many first-time members had opportunity to meet the whole group informally; conversation was animated and relevant.
The break was followed by an energetic tour of the National Archive led by Stephen Harwood. The fabric itself was of considerable interest but so too were the reading rooms, microfilm reading section, photocopying unit, record copying, finding aids, reference works, storage of maps, seals and parchments. We also saw one of the current exhibitions: Movers and Shakers from Chaucer to Elton John, and of course, the Great and Little Domesday Books.
Then it was back to the lecture hall where John Abbott spoke of issues involved in document handling and preservation. Two sound principles he insisted, are care and common-sense. He then developed a number of relevant issues the majority of which stressed cleanliness (personal and environmental) space ( enough space to look at the documents, space to have the documents fully supported,) and anticipation of basic problems. He illustrated his talk with examples of different kinds showing weights used to stop scrolls rolling back on themselves and wadding used to protect seals. Gloves to be worn throughout. There were numerous practical tips – cut through tags rather than try to thread them back through the documents use a palette knife rather than a staple extractor to removed staples avoid pressure sensitive tape be careful to ensure papers do not get damaged by tape through the edges not being aligned when using tape round a book make sure the knot lies over the silk edge.
The last session of the day was entitled ‘Identification of Photographic Materials and Encapsulation Technique.’ The presenter was Stephen Harwood and inevitably it roused great enthusiasm (and anxiety!) among participants. The opening remarks were simple enough – good quality boxes to keep off the dust and offer protection, and a temperature as cool as possible, even keeping the basic container in a frost-free fridge since colours fade after 20 years. Then came instruction on handling and producing lantern slides an dglass plate negatives. Those with these ‘treasures’ were advised to tour junk shops looking for a magic lantern; those with cellulose nitrate based material were to inform the local fire brigade since these items can self combust! The session ended with information on encapsulation.
Each session had been meticulously prepared for and in addition there were useful handouts and warm invitations to contact the speakers for further assistance.