Monday, August 8, 2011

Letter and Envelope, Before and After

The treatments are done!

Ten months ago, I brought in over a dozen representative items from our family collection for conservation treatment at the Conservation Center for Art and Historic Artifacts.  Most of the work was completed months ago, but I’ve postponed picking them up until now – in part because I wanted these pieces to serve as a climax to this limited-duration blog.  For the next three weeks, we’ll be taking a close look at these items and discussing the work with the conservators who worked on them

First up is one of the courtship letters that my mother wrote to my father when she was going to fashion design school in Manhattan and he was working as a grocery store clerk in Southampton, Long Island.  The letter is from October 5, 1949.

As with all the “June and Art” letters, we found them folded in their original envelopes.  In preparing the June and Art blog, I removed the letters from the envelopes, unfolded them, and stored them in plastic sleeves kept in a three-ring binder.  For the Conservation Center accession, I brought in one of these sleeves, containing a single letter and an envelope with two stamps – one clearly affixed and one hanging onto a corner of the envelope.

Paper conservator
Marion Verborg.
When Marion Verborg, the 2010-2011 N.E.A. Fellow at the Conservation Center, began the treatment, she took care of that strange stamp first.  Closer examination of the situation revealed that the stamp must have fallen off another envelope and subsequently adhered to this one by its residual adhesive.  It didn’t really belong with this letter-envelope set at all.  Marion used a wet cotton swab to humidify the stamp which softens the adhesive making it possible to carefully separate the stamp from the envelope with a spatula.

The letter is beautifully flat now.  The original creases – 60 years in the making! – are barely visible anymore.  This result was achieved through humidification and flattening.  After testing the inks to make sure they wouldn’t bleed when exposed to humidity,
Marion placed the letter into a “Gore-Tex sandwich” composed of:

The Letter

The Gore-Tex is sprayed with calcium-enriched deionized water on its felt-like face and the absorbed water smoothly humidifies the object (the letter, in this case).  After humidification, the object is quickly transferred into a flattening sandwich (Blotter, Pellon, The Letter, Pellon, Blotter) under Plexiglas and weights to restore the planarity (the original flatness of the paper).

Five days later, the result is a VERY flat letter, looking much like it would have when my mother wrote it in her Manhattan apartment 62 years ago.

Letter and envelope, before treatment (BT).
Letter and envelope, after treatment (AT).

* Pellon:  Product name for a non-woven polyester web.

© 2011 Lee Price

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