paper repair

Conservation of the Thomas Barnard Sermon

Our new exhibit A British Town: The Council Chamber in Boston before the American Revolution features two items from our archival collection, including one item that needed some conservation before it was exhibit ready; a sermon preached by Thomas Barnard in honor of the anniversary of the election of Francis Bernard as the governor of the province of Massachusetts Bay, a document that was printed in Boston by Richard Draper in 1763.  To our museum visitors, this item looks like it is in good condition, but that was not always the case.  When we were considering this item for inclusion in the exhibit, I pulled it from storage and noticed that the paper was dirty, the edges ragged, and the binding in poor condition.   Anne Bentley, Curator of Art and Artifacts at the Massachusetts Historical Society, graciously conducted an assessment of the document and determined that it just needed some cleaning and mending before it would be ready to exhibit.  Anne also determined that this was work that could be done in house, and I was eager to undertake this task with her continued assistance.

The title page before (left) and after (right) conservation
Individual pages air drying after soaking
The sermon is 45 pages, which are separated in 6 signatures (a signature refers to a number of sheets of pages that are stacked and folded together, it can also be called a section).  To work on the individual pages, we began by separating each of the signatures from one another, which required that we removed any adhesive or string that was binding them together.  Once the signatures were separated, we were able to detach each individual page which was then soaked in distilled water to remove any surface dirt or remaining adhesive.  The pages were then laid out and air dried after the soaking.  The next step was to reinforce any tears and creases in the pages with Japanese paper, which was adhered to the original paper with wheat paste.  Japanese paper was also used to fill in any large gaps where the original paper had been torn away.  These repaired pages were then pressed for a few days to give them the smooth appearance they have today.  After the pages were mended and pressed, they were folded and nested back together into their original signatures.

Since this is a printed document from 1763, it can only be on display for a limited time before it is replaced with a facsimile.  Once the sermon is removed from display, it will be rebound using a pamphlet stitch and returned to storage.

Being able to do a bit of paper repair was an exciting opportunity for me, and I hope to learn more about it and work on other items from our archival collection in the future!

By Elizabeth Roscio, Library and Archives Manager