Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Love Letters as Objects

I asked Samantha Sheesley, Conservator at the Conservation Center for Art and Historic Artifacts, for her thoughts about the June and Art love letters – not the content, but the physical objects themselves.

According to Sam, both June and Art wrote on commonly available machine-made wove paper, usually with a linen texture.  June tended to use matching envelopes.  Art’s envelopes rarely matched and were frequently of cheaper, more acidic quality than the letters.  All the paper involved, both the letters and the envelopes, were originally a brighter white and are now moving toward a yellowish-brown color, typical of discoloration from inherent acidity and exposure to light.

There are ways of slowing the degradation of the letters – such as storing them at a cool uniform temperature, keeping them in the dark, and storing them with microchamber paper which contain zeolites (molecular sieves to trap pollutants) – but slowing the degradation process is the best that you can hope for.  In Sam’s words, there’s “lots of inherent vice built into modern material.”

June and Art usually wrote with ballpoint pens, which were just becoming popular in the late 1940s.  June’s pens tended to leave unsightly blots of ink on the paper which often bleed through to the other side.  Sam says the paper in these blotted areas may be slightly weaker than the surrounding paper, but proper storage and safe handling practices will help to prevent additional damages.

In the June and Art blog, I’ve removed most of June’s endless problems with pens.  But since we're on the subject of pens, here are some of June's thoughts:

“(darn pen!)”

“(the pen leaks, too)”

“As you can see, I’m back to my old pen again.  Shirl’s sister is using hers.”

“I hate this pen, don’t you?”

“How do you like the ink?  I bought some Parker’s Superchrome Ink today – it’s special for these pens.  I’ve meant to buy some ever since you gave me the pen.  I really think it writes smoother with this ink.”

 “I just filled this pen and as usual got ink all over it.  Not having a blotter, Shirl told me to wipe it on the couch.  I refused, saying, ‘No, I’m going to be neat about this.’  With that, I grabbed the nearest paper bag and wiped the pen on that.  It’s fine, except that the pretzels fell out on the floor and Shirl had the last laugh.”

And, on receiving a pen as a gift from Art:

“Does the writing look any different to you?  (I’m confused on how to fill this pen.  I’m not even sure if it’s right this time – it takes me awhile to figure these things out.)  I should have waited until tomorrow, but gee, it got here today and how could I wait?  Oh, it writes so nice and easy – I don’t need to press at all – it just glides along.  Looks like I got it filled this time, hmmmm?  Or maybe I shouldn’t mention that so soon.  Do you realize this is the first time I’ve ever written you
with my own pen?  I’ve always used Shirl’s and that you have to dip into the ink all the time.  Thank you so much.”

© 2010 Lee Price

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