Abby Logan is a student of architectural history and archaeology at the University of Boston. She has spent two and a half months as an intern at the City of Westminster Archives Centre. In this, the first of two blog pieces, she takes us through the conservation process.
Working in paper preservation can be a messy job, as I found out on my first day! My task seemed simple enough: clean three boxes of programmes from the Theatre Collection; however, it involved a lot more dirt, rust and time than I thought it would. Using two smoke sponges, a brush and staple remover I was able to clean the programmes and prevent further damage caused by the rusty staples. At the end of each day I would have a substantial pile of dirt and staples from all the programmes I had cleaned.
One of the hardest parts was determining when a programme was sufficiently clean because I was unsure how much of the dirt I was supposed to be able to get off. Eventually I learnt what was clean and what could not be taken off by the sponge.
Once all the programmes were clean it was time to move on to the sewing and repairing stage. Those that were once held together by staples needed to be put back together in some way. That was done by taking organic string and sewing the area where the staples used to be. This was a simple task for some of the programmes; however, for the majority of them it was not, because there was too much damage caused by the rusty staples.
Rust is incredibly damaging in that it creates holes and makes the paper weaker. To combat this problem a special paper called spider tissue is cut into an oval to cover the area that has been damaged by the rust. A paste is put on the paper and it then dries and fixes the holes, allowing the paper to be sewn together. Some other small tears are also fixed by this spider tissue so they do not tear further.
The repairs done to the programs can get more complicated if the spine of the programme is weak or there is more severe damage to the paper. These damages require spider tissue that has been cut specifically for the shape of the tear. Once all the damage has been fixed as far as possible, the programmes are then sewn together and the preservation process is complete.