The Robin Hood of California
Choosing the appropriate treatment for a piece is more than half the battle in conservation. Considerations that come into play are: the integrity of the original materials, the cultural or monetary value of the piece, its current condition, how much use it is likely to have, the availability of appropriate treatment materials, the knowledge and skills of the conservator, and the time and expense the treatment might take. Sometimes the best treatment is to do nothing. But it can be hard to walk away from something that cries out for conservation. One book, Joaquin the Saddle King, (a man who was otherwise known as the Robin Hood of California) was one such piece that recently passed through Preservation.
|Cover of Joaquin the Saddle King|
Joaquin Murieta, the storied California bandito of the mid-nineteenth century, arrived in pretty poor shape. This version of his legend - No. 154 of Volume 12 of Beadle’s New York Dime Library - was intended to be read and tossed: cheap, disposable entertainment, printed on poor quality paper. But that very disposability has made the few copies that remain more valuable.
Over the years our copy was cherished and lovingly mended with tape; it was finally donated to the library to find its proper home in the San Francisco History Center. But what a conservation challenge it presented! The original paper was so acidic it was tea-colored and brittle to the touch. Those loving tape repairs became an additional problem: given the fragile state of the paper, removing them would probably cause even more damage. We took some time to consider our options.
We regularly wash, deacidify and resize paper. But the poor quality of the original paper of this piece, plus those tape repairs, made us pause. It would be a lot of work for questionable gain. We could simply box the item, but that is rarely a satisfying option. Our mission at the library is to make all our materials available to our patrons; any patron who looked at Joaquin in this condition would inevitably cause more damage. A box would be no protection.
|Folder custom made for book|
We eventually decided to encapsulate the pages in mylar, a transparent archival polyester film. We have an ultrasonic welder that joins the sheets neatly along the edges. This is a treatment we often use for single sheet items like maps, but we rarely do a complex encapsulation like this. Managing the mylar in bulk turned out to be quite a challenge, and we made several models before we came up with a design we liked.
|Double page spread encapsulated|
In the end we went with a treatment of two sections, guarded with cloth and sewn at the gutter. With the paper protected in this way, a patron will be able to turn the pages and read the story without fear of damage. The time spent scratching heads and brainstorming feels very worthwhile when it produces a satisfying treatment for a challenging piece.