Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Preservation Tips for Letters

Samantha Sheesley, Conservator at the Conservation
Center for Art and Historic Artifacts, with one of the
June and Art love letters.

We began working with the June and Art letters when my mother (June) asked my wife to organize her half of the correspondence.  This was in early 2004, less than a year before my mother died.  My wife put the letters into plastic sleeves and then into a binder.

After my father died in 2009, my sister and I discovered his half of the correspondence.  I took the letters back with me to New Jersey where I combined them with my mother’s letters, organized them chronologically, sleeved everything in plastic, and packed them into three binders.  In addition, I transcribed them into the computer (Microsoft Word) for digital preservation of the contents.

Last week, I asked Samantha Sheesley, Conservator at the Conservation Center for Art and Historic Artifacts, if we had handled the letters appropriately so far.  Her response can be summed up as:  Pretty good, but with room for improvement.

Sam recommended –
Letters in need of flattening.

Flattening the pages before putting them in the sleeves.  They flatten paper professionally at the Center but even amateur flattening is better than none if the letters can be opened and flattened safely.  My wife and I had unfolded the letters but hadn't attempted to flatten them.  Sam said that carefully placing the letter between acid free papers on a smooth flat surface under a heavy weight (like a phone book) for a day or two would help.

One leaf per sleeve, add identifying
information to white edge with
a sharpie.
Restricting myself to one item per sleeve.  I had grouped all pages from each letter, plus the envelope, into a single sleeve.  Sam strongly recommended only one sheet per sleeve, including a sleeve just for the envelope.  That’s a lot of sleeves, I protested, but Sam insisted it’s for the best.  When I argued that I wanted to keep each letter together for organizational reasons, she said to write the identifying information along the white edge of each sleeve with a sharpie.

Using a three-ring binder/storage box.  My binders were standard school issue, with the paper edges exposed to light.  According to Sam, the best storage for these papers would combine a three-ring-binder photo album structure with a clamshell storage box that keeps out light and dust.  The archival supply company Gaylord offers several possibilities.  This is a nice one:  Preservation Box.

© 2010 Lee Price

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