44th Annual Meeting—Book and Paper Session, May 16, “A Low-Oxygen Capable Storage and Display Case for the Proclamation of the Constitution Act & Design of a Counterbalance Supporting Mount for the Book of Remembrance, Michael Smith and Eric Hagan

A Low-Oxygen Capable Storage and Display Case for the Proclamation of the Constitution Act
The first half of the talk was presented by Michael Smith, Collection Manager, Textual and Cartographic, Unpublished and Unbound, Library and Archives Canada, who discussed the construction of storage and display cases for the two original copies of the Proclamation of the Constitution Act.
There are two original copies of the important document, sometimes referred to as the “raindrop” and the “red-stain” copies. It was raining on April 17, 1982 when Queen Elizabeth II and Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau signed the Proclamation of the Constitution Act outdoors, and raindrops smudged the ink on one copy. The other copy, signed later indoors, was pristine until July 22, 1983 when Peter Greyson, a young art student from Toronto, requested to see the document at the Public Archives of Canada under the pretense of studying its design and calligraphy. As he leaned over the document, a pool of red substance spread over its surface. This was later found to be red paint coming from an Elmers glue bottle hidden in Greyson’s coat pocket. Greyson had defaced the Proclamation of the Constitution Act to protest a decision allowing the United States to test cruise missiles over Canadian air space. Conservation attempts to remove the stain from the paper were unsuccessful, and while suggestions were made to cut out the damaged area and replace it with a newly inscribed piece, the decision was made to keep the stain rather than carryout out a procedure would affect the document’s authenticity and integrity. The act of vandalism was the first time a document in the Public Archives of Canada had been willfully damaged, dramatically changing security and viewing procedures at the Archives.
The inks on both copies of the document were tested for light sensitivity, and studies concluded that the ink was extremely light sensitive. While designing the case for the Act in collaboration with CCI, Michael decided to segregate preservation components from security components, reasoning that it was stored in a secure vault for the majority of the time where security requirements would be fulfilled. The storage case with built-in compartments for silica gel and activated charcoal was designed to control humidity and oxygen levels, using OptiView™ UV filter/anti-glare glass to reduce UV levels. The document was secured in place using custom magnetic clips. The case was fitted with a Marvelseal® bag that expanded or contracted in relation to the atmospheric pressure in order to reduce stress on the glass. A display case was then designed to limit light exposure and for security during exhibition, using a layer of security glass, VariGuard Smart Glass™, and a top layer of glass for scratch protection. The VariGuard Smart Glass™ remains opaque to block light levels until a button is pressed to make the glass clear. In combination, the storage and display case made up two halves of one system for the security and preservation of the documents.
Design of a Counterbalance Supporting Mount for the Book of Remembrance
Eric Hagan, a conservation scientist at CCI in the Preservation Services Division, presented the second half of the talk on the design of mounts for seven books of remembrances displayed in the Memorial Chamber on Parliament Hill. A high profile project to craft six new altars for the books using stone, bronze and glass led to a condition assessment of the books by Christine McNair, who recommended a better support system for the books when displayed. As the pages of the books are turned daily during the Turning of the Page Ceremony, the books have to be fully movable and go through a range of motion. To provide suitable support for these working books was a fascinating design challenge.
The counterbalance support system for the First World War book served as an inspiration for the versions used to support the remaining books. Eric’s new design relied on a linkage connection using four bars to form a gravity-activated mechanism, mirroring the motion of the book while the leaves were being turned. The low-profile mounts were each made of 24 pieces of custom-made aluminium parts and other parts sourced from outside Canada. A different design for each book had to be made due to varying dimensions. A surface of bonded Volara® foam was used to provide cushioning for the books. Eric ended his talk by describing the completion of the mounts with a black powder-coated fabric cover. It was amusing how he thought the anodized aluminium was quite appealing, and had not thought of the need to make a cover until the topic was raised up! A difference in aesthetics—I suppose the sleek, matte-black look of the aluminium did not match the more traditional look of the Memorial Chamber.
It was fascinating to listen to Michael and Eric describing their problem-solving process to deal with the requirements and challenges they faced. I was particularly intrigued by Eric’s counterbalance support mount, since a book cradle that adjusts according to how a book opens seems to be the dream everyone tries to achieve in book supports. While the mounts were amazing, the high profile project of the Books of Remembrance meant that there wasn’t really a budget limit. In hopes of finding a more affordable solution, I asked Eric afterwards what the previous supports for the books were like, but was told that none had been used before—hence a real need for the new supports! I’m curious how sensitive the mounts are, and whether they only respond to the movement of the books they were made specifically for. The concept of a cradle that adjusts its shape according to the book could possible be great for digitization projects or for the idea of reusable cradles.

44th Annual Meeting—Book & Paper Session, May 15, “The Challenge of Scale: Treatment of 160 Illuminated Manuscripts for Exhibition,” Debora D. Mayer and Alan Puglia

With a team of 25 conservators, technicians, and interns, the Weissman Preservation Center at Harvard University is responsible for 73 individual repositories. A large-scale preservation program is essential to care for the vast amount of material in their collections, and Debora Mayer began her talk by commenting on the shifting attitudes in conservation to large collections. As the title of her talk had been changed last minute and large-scale treatment of collections is often associated with terms such as “business plans” and “time management” in my mind, I was expecting to hear a talk about compromises, budgets, and efficient treatment alternatives. Talks about these subjects are often impressive in demonstrating how much work can get done in a limited time, but can sometimes be a little sombre as they often remind us how often conservators don’t have the time to do everything we want. Debora’s talk was therefore uplifting and inspiring in describing how her team avoided burnout by working together to complete large amounts of high quality work within a reasonable time frame.

Treatment for over 160 medieval and Renaissance manuscripts with varying issues concerning structure and media stability had to be carried out within a two-year timeframe in preparation for a loan to a multi-venue exhibition. Since visual identification of unstable media using a microscope was insufficient (media that appeared unstable could actually be stable and vice versa), the team at the Weissman Preservation Center concluded that testing had to be done individually. Within the timeframe, it was not feasible to carry out an extensive study of all objects or to consolidate every illuminated leaf; only the ten leaves on either side of the display opening and the first leaf, often handled, would be tested and treatment carried out if necessary. Even so, this meant a staggering 57,000 cm2 of illuminations requiring consolidation. Based on previous treatments, it would take a conservator two to three minutes consolidating every cm2, but Debora pointed out that it was also important to remember the extra time required for handling or treating large items, housing needs, packing, documentation, etc. during time estimates for treatments. A 5,000-hour time estimate was drawn up, with 2,800 hours expected for consolidation. This was equivalent to three conservators working full time on the project for two years. I shuddered trying to imagine being one of three conservators tasked with the responsibility of this enormous project.

To reduce the work-fatigue that three conservators working on the project full time would inevitably experience, ten conservators worked halftime on the project over the two years, using excel spreadsheets to plan and keep track of workflow. With the amount of people working on the project, it was important to maintain uniformity in treatment procedures and judgment. All conservators followed the same protocols (e.g. using the same magnification or tools) to give the appearance that a single person treated the collection. For quality control, one conservator carried out treatment while another assessed to ensure the media was stable and that there was no visual change. Debora explained how the quality of treatment increased when multiple conservators could agree with a procedure and work together to set standards.

I really admired Debora’s emphasis on teamwork and communication—being open minded, ready for sharing observations and extensive discussions, and letting go of egos. Her talk was encouraging, showing that it is possible to get such a large amount of work done within a short timeframe while maintaining positivity and enthusiasm.