Thursday, October 28, 2010

Old Paper vs. New Paper

Examining the June and Art love letters (1949-1951), Samantha Sheesley, Conservator at the Conservation Center for Art and Historic Artifacts, commented on the problems with acidic twentieth century wood-pulp
Thomas Jefferson letter from the
collection at the David Library of the
American Revolution
(Washington Crossing, PA).
papers.  “Normally the letters and manuscripts that we are asked to work with are much older,” she said.  “They present a different set of physical and chemical problems.”

For instance, here’s a letter that Thomas Jefferson wrote at Monticello in the early nineteenth century.*  Like most of the letters of its day, it’s written on cotton rag.  After 200 years, the paper remains flexible due to the length of the paper fibers and discoloration is minimal due to the lack of acidity in the sheet.

By comparison, my parents’ letters are on wood pulp paper.  It’s lost much flexibility and is
turning an ugly yellow.  I wish these letters
Letter from June Anderson to
Art Price, 1949.
were holding up better – after all, it’s only been 61 years.  I guess it’s a good thing that the John and Abigail Adams love letters will outlive the June and Art letters, but on a personal level it’s a bit upsetting.

But I bet my mother would have been surprised to see her letter compared to Thomas Jefferson’s!

* Special thanks to the David Library of the American Revolution in Washington Crossing, PA for agreeing to share this beautiful example from their collection!

© 2010 Lee Price

No comments:

Post a Comment