39th Annual Meeting – Book and Paper Session, June 3rd “Using Magnets as a Conservation Tool: A New Look at Tension Drying Damaged Vellum Documents”

Tammy Jordan of Etherington Conservation Services – East presented on her treatment of a heavily cockled parchment document.  The document was a certificate from the Cinncinnati Society, which honored veterans of the Revolutionary War.  The document was water damaged and had been purposefully cut into several sections, then sewn back together with cotton thread.  There was no evidence of mold and the document had not been lined.

Research into the document’s history revealed that it belonged to a Captain Nathaniel Leonard, who had been suspended from the society for 4 years for ungentlemanly behavior, beginning on July 4th, 1799.  This information supported the hypothesis that the document had been purposefully destroyed and reconstituted, making the sewing important to the document’s history.  The sewing was too fragile to allow the document to be flattened on a vacuum table or by tension drying.  Even flattening the document under pressure put the sewing at risk, as it would not allow the tension to be adjusted as the document relaxed.

Tammy needed a solution that would allow her to both apply tension locally and easily adjust the tension as the document relaxed.  She turned to rare earth magnets for her solution.  Rare earth magnets are available in a variety of strengths and sizes.  Tammy used 11/16” diamater magnets with a profile of 1/32”.  The thin profile reduced the attraction/repulsion between magnets, making their repositioning safe and easy.  The pull force of her magnets was 1.63 lbs, but Tammy wrapped each magnet in a little hollytex bundle to reduce friction, reduce pull force, and a create a handy dandy handle.

The magnets only work, of course, because the document is flattened on a metal surface. Tammy used the following layers, from top to bottom, to protect her work: Polyester film, dry blotter, object, dry blotter, polyester film, dry blotter, metal tray. In the localized areas where Tammy was humidifying the document, she used the following layers, from top to bottom: Polyester film, damp blotter, dry blotter or Gore-Tex, object, dry blotter, damp blotter, polyester film, dry blotter, metal tray. The extra layers between the object and the metal tray help further reduce the pull force of the magnets.

Because of the complexity of the cockling, Tammy realized that she would need to diagram the fiber bundles in the parchment to better understand how humidification would guide the flattening.  Once she better understood how the document would relax, she began working from the inside of the document – applying local humidity – and worked her way outwards to flatten the full document.  The magnets allowed her to see almost all of the document, and she was able to adjust them according to the easily visible tension shifts in the parchment.

Once the document was flattened, Tammy created infills for areas of loss with cast paper and a 3% gelatin solution.  The treated document was string mounted to mat board.  Tammy took special care to attach the string mounts to create extra support around the stitched areas.  The mounted vellum certificate was framed and sealed.

Questions?  Just email Tammy at tamaralynnjordan at yahoo dot com