By Rachel Penniman, Senior Conservation Technician
Recently a researcher notified the Rubenstein Library staff that there was a hat with a pin in an envelope inside the manuscript box containing the James McGowan papers. A hat in an envelope?
Yes, a hat! Indeed there was a very smashed, Civil War era, silk hat in that box.
It looked more like roadkill than apparel. I found a photograph of a soldier wearing a similar looking hat in the same collection.
I used a humidification chamber to slowly add moisture to the fabric until it became more flexible. Then I was able to add a little padding at a time to reshape the hat. Once the hat was the correct shape I removed it from the humidification chamber and let it slowly return to ambient humidity with the padding still in place.
In order to maintain the shape of the hat I made a pillow of non-woven, spunbound polyester fabric that will stay inside of the hat when it returns to storage. The pillow will provide support for the hat and the polyester has a very smooth surface that won’t catch on the fragile silk fibers.
I made a custom box to house the hat and created more pillows to provide support and cushion.
Included in the enclosure are a copy of the photograph from the collection and a pocket for the metal pin. A very special thanks to the keen researcher who noticed this item and brought it to our attention.