Tag Archives: encapsulation

The Road to the Conservation Lab…

… is (often) paved with good intentions.

Last year the John W. Hartman Center for Sales, Advertising & Marketing History acquired a small collection of fashion design drawings from the 1940s and 50s by Vivian Gauld. Gauld was West Coast-based commercial artist whose drawings were used in retail advertising campaigns for companies like Rose Marie Reid, Jantzen, and Carr’s Fashions. Some of the drawings are currently on display in the Michael and Karen Stone Family Gallery, highlighting recent acquisitions to the collection.


Before coming to Duke, each drawing had been mounted to foam-core board with double-sided tape and then shrink-wrapped. I can see why this packaging method was done. While it does reduce the risk of mechanical damage from handling and shipping, the tape and sealed package are not the most stable environment for long-term storage. Curators and conservators always assess items with our Exhibitions Coordinator before they go on display. Because the items going on exhibit needed to come out of their shrink wrap anyway,  the team made the decision to rehouse the whole collection.


I was able to carefully cut and remove the shrink wrap from each package. The few drawings with friable media (like pastel or charcoal) actually have it applied to the back of the thin drawing paper, so there was little risk of disruption from the static charge of the plastic film. I was able to separate each drawing from the backing board by heating a very thin metal spatula with a hot air pencil and passing it between the drawing and the tape carrier, however, residual adhesive still remained on the verso of the drawing and needed to be removed prior to rehousing (image below, left).


The double-sided tape appears to have been applied fairly recently and had not yet penetrated the paper or crosslinked. I was able to remove it without disturbing the paper fibers by gently rolling the adhesive off with a crepe eraser (image above, right). 


These drawings will now be stored in either clear polyester L-sleeves or paper folders, depending upon the drawing media. The collection had been placed into two metal edge boxes, but removing the foam-core backing has significantly reduced the required storage space. We can now fit them all into one box. While the shrink wrap package probably seemed like a good idea at the time, I am glad we were able to rehouse the drawings before they were visibly affected by it.

The ‘Largest Sheet of Paper Ever Made and Printed’

Written by Rachel Penniman, Senior Technician for Special Collections

When two copies of a newspaper arrived in the lab I didn’t expect then to be terribly exciting.

Sigh, another brittle newspaper.
Sigh, another brittle newspaper.

They were folded and as is typical with old, acidic newsprint it had become brittle and split along the folds. After discussion with curator Andy Armacost we decided to carefully unfold and repair the one copy that was in slightly better condition.

02 Copy 2 BT detail
Looks like I’ve got a lot of work ahead of me.

Unfolding the newspaper revealed something quite unexpected: the paper was gigantic! What I expected to be multiple issues folded together was in fact a single extremely large issue.

03 Unfolded BT
I had to use a step stool just to get the entire sheet in the photo.

The Constellation: Illuminated Quadruple Sheet claimed to perhaps be the largest sheet of paper ever made and printed when it was published in 1859 in New York. Created as a one-time, limited edition of 28,000 copies, it had taken ‘eight weeks of unceasing labor of nearly forty persons to produce this MASTODON PAPER!’ To generate one issue, a single sheet of 70X100” paper was printed and folded into four leaves of 35×50” each. In comparison, the massive double elephant folio Audubon Birds of America volumes currently on display in the Mary Duke Biddle room are a paltry 26×39”.

04 the great wonder croppedIn total each copy of The Constellation has 49 square feet of paper! It is made up of 8 pages with 13 columns of text per page, and 48” per column totaling 416 feet of printing. Along with historical articles, essays, stories, and poems, there are four pages with numerous portraits and illustrations. Originally sold for 50 cents an issue, this copy was marked down to only 15 cents. This seems like a really good deal for what adds up to a small book’s worth of reading material.

The title banner and red ink noting the price reduction
The title banner and red ink noting the price reduction

Unfolding the paper also revealed the full extent of the damage. The main folds separating one leaf from another had degraded so badly that each leaf was held to the next with only a few inches of weak paper.

The only thing holding these two leaves together are a few inches of paper, habit, and hope.
The only thing holding these two leaves together are a few inches of paper, habit, and hope.

In order to allow for safer handling and easier storage, I got approval to completely separate each leaf. Working with individual leaves of 35×50” was much more manageable; though I still had to work on two folding tables pushed together with board across the top in order to have a large enough flat work surface.

Feeling a bit like Lily Tomlin’s Edith Ann character
Feeling a bit like Lily Tomlin’s Edith Ann character

Very carefully, bit by bit, I flattened the creases and mended the tears using a very thin toned Japanese tissue paper and wheat starch paste making the repairs almost invisible. Wherever possible, I reattached loose fragments of paper that I found loose in the old folder. With 49 square feet of paper work on, I did mending on and off for many weeks.

Tears along the folds
Tears along the folds
Tools of the trade: a tile for brushing out paste, Remay and blotter, acrylic blocks, bean bag weights, brush, Teflon folder, tweezers, scissors, and toned Japanese paper
Tools of the trade: a tile for brushing out paste, Remay and blotter, acrylic blocks, bean bag weights, brush, Teflon folder, tweezers, scissors, and toned Japanese paper
Can you spot the mends? No? Good!
Can you spot the mends? No? Good!

After mending, each leaf was encapsulated between sheets of Mylar using our ultrasonic welder. See this previous blog post for a video of our encapsulator in action.

It’s so big I had to drape it off the edge of the encapsulator and weld it in sections.
It’s so big I had to drape it off the edge of the encapsulator and weld it in sections.

Now that it’s finally finished, this huge newspaper is the perfect candidate for storage in the Rubenstein Library’s new super oversize cabinet drawers. It actually looks tiny in comparison to this large flat file drawer.

The new super oversize cabinets in the Rubenstein Library are ready to handle the biggest items.
The new super oversize cabinets in the Rubenstein Library are ready to handle the biggest items.

Part of a description of the newspaper on the back page reads:

The Publisher does not wish to conceal the honorable pride which he feels in presenting this magnificent sheet to the public. It is the off-spring of Invention, Taste, Enterprise and Herculean Industry; it is without a compeer or rival; and he believes it will never be excelled. It cannot be surpassed in typographical beauty – in its artistic splendor – in its general imperialism of thought and design. It will be the pride of every true-hearted American, and the wonder of the world; and those who are so fortunate as to obtain a copy will obtain a curiosity which they will keep and treasure with the utmost care.

I am very proud to have been able to help provide this curiosity with the utmost care its publisher desired. Though to be honest I would be happy to take a break from such oversize items and work on miniatures for a while.


Link to catalog page:


(Re)Encapsulating a Lot of Maps

Have you noticed that the most simple-seeming projects always turn out to be more complicated than you think? As part of our preparations to move our collections to our renovated library, we are trying to free up space in the flat files. Our flat files contain broadsides, maps, posters, artwork, etc. Many of these items are large and flat and should be in the flat files. Many are flat but are small enough to fit into standard manuscript boxes or pamphlet binders.  Last November we embarked on a project to help the Rubenstein Library move as many of the smaller maps as possible into enclosures to free up space in the flat files. Sounds easy, right?

First Challenge: To Keep the Old Encapsulation or Not

I am an advocate of NOT encapsulating materials unless it is necessary to facilitate handling. Polyester is expensive, and it can add a lot of weight to the stacks. It can also make handling difficult for patrons as they sift through a stack of slippery encapsulated documents.

Many of these maps didn’t need to be encapsulated. They are in good condition and a folder inside a box would suffice. However, in order to finish the project by the move date, we would need to utilize our student assistants and our volunteer. If we decided to de-encapsulate materials, it would mean a conservator would have to evaluate the condition of each item to determine its disposition.  There simply wasn’t time to do this.

In consultation with Rubenstein staff, we decided the maps would stay encapsulated in their old polyester if possible. We would replace the polyester only if an item didn’t fit its current encapsulation, or if the old polyester was too damaged to keep.

Second Challenge: All That Tape!

Almost all of the maps have been previously encapsulated using double stick tape to adhere the two pieces of polyester together. While this is a common method of encapsulation, it poses one big problem. A document can shift to the edge and become stuck. This poses a particular hazard for brittle materials. Lucky for us, most of our maps were encapsulated with a generous amount of space between the object and the tape.

We decided that we could ultrasonically weld between the object and the tape, trim the tape off, and voila! A retrofitted encapsulation.

Brittle map edge is stuck to the tape.
Brittle map edge is stuck to the taped polyester sheets.
Third Challenge: Size Matters

As we looked through the thirty drawers of materials it became clear that some of the old encapsulations just weren’t working. There were several items that had  encapsulations that were too small. Some large folded items were put still folded into an L-sleeve encapsulation. Handling is awkward, and unfolded these items became too large for either the manuscript boxes or the flat files.

Rubenstein staff decided on two standard manuscript box sizes and two standard pamplet-binder sizes.  Anything that could go into one of these would do so. Any folded item would be unfolded. If an item was too big for a box, it would remain in a folder in a flat file. If it was too big to lay flat in the current flat files, we would wait to encapsulate it until we were in our new space with our new, bigger flat files. There are a few items that are  in too bad of a condition to safely re-encapsulate. These will come to conservation for treatment first.

Maps in new manuscript boxes.
Fourth Challenge: The Weird Stuff

There is a lot of weird stuff in libraries and not everything in the map drawers are maps. As we work our way through the map collection we are setting these oddities aside for curatorial review. Some will end up back in the flat files, some will be the responsibility of Collection Development to deal with.

The Project So Far

To date we have encapsulated 1,865 items.  By our estimates we are about 90% finished, but what is left is some of the oddball items that need special attention by conservation, curators and by technical services. Technical services will also have to update the new locations, which they will do during the reclass project. Did I mention Rubenstein is also doing a huge reclass project during the move? We don’t believe in doing only one huge project at a time, that would be too easy.