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Chapter 8
Sources in Cellulose Acetate Lamination Research and Practice

The National Bureau of Standards and Lamination

William Barrow used almost every source of expertise available to him to develop his restoration business. From 1936 to 1940, Barrow worked in regular consultation with the chemists at the National Bureau of Standards (NBS) who had, in 1934, reported the results of a series of tests of cellulose acetate lamination. This testing series was undertaken for the National Archives (now the National Archives and Records Administration) to develop their lamination system. NBS proposed the use of cellulose acetate lamination for restoration based upon their test results. Lamination using cellulose acetate plastic sheets was thus recommended as a modern replacement for the traditional methods using silk or Japanese paper for strengthening and protecting deteriorated paper. The process NBS recommended consisted of covering deteriorated documents, front and back, with sheets of cellulose acetate foil, then melting and forcing the plastic into the surface of the document by use of high heat and pressure. The document was thus sealed in shiny plastic, which was imbedded, largely irreversibly, into its porous surface (Kimberly and Scribner 1934).

Cellulose acetate lamination, like the traditional methods of lamination, strengthened the document, allowed it to be handled with reduced risk of further damage, and increased its thickness. However, cellulose acetate lamination left the document even more altered in appearance and texture than did the traditional methods; it gave the paper surface not only a shiny look but also a hard plastic feel uncharacteristic of paper or even silk. Cellulose acetate lamination differed from the traditional methods in other ways as well: lamination required less craft skill, was faster, and, since the plastic was completely transparent, it did not interfere in any direct way with reading the treated document. The NBS chemists set out to test the permanence characteristics of cellulose acetate foil because it looked promising as a restoration material, as long as reversibility was not a requirement (Kimberly and Scribner 1934).

The method of cellulose acetate lamination recommended by the NBS used a steam-heated flatbed hydraulic press, adapted from equipment used to work sheet metal. It weighed several tons. It required an external cooling system along with considerable space and energy to operate. the size and the cost of the existing lamination equipment limited its use in restoration to the very largest government institutions. Such a flatbed lamination press was installed at the National Archives in 1936 (Wilson and Forshee 1959).

Barrow practiced the traditional restoration techniques he had learned when he was acquiring his craft in Washington, D. C. These techniques included cleaning of paper, repair of tears with starch paste and Japanese paper, silking fragile pages, and binding silked pages in English trade-style bindings covered in leather and lettered in gold (Minnick 1988). There is no evidence that he had done any laboratory research into paper characteristics or new restoration techniques through 1935.

At the Mariners Museum in Newport News during the spring of 1936, Barrow started to explore the new technology of cellulose acetate lamination as an alternative to silking. He knew the problems of silking well: unsatisfactory performance of the silked product including discoloration of the silk, occasional separation of the silk from the document, and observed rapid deterioration of some samples of the silk fabric (Barrow 1953, 51). Barrow had more objections to the traditional restoration method of silking as reported in a 1939 Newport News (Virginia) Daily Press article: "The time involved and required handling made progress slow and the cost high. Likewise, this hand process failed to render the document any more resistant to the enemies of paper than were the untreated pages" (Barrow develops process for preserving . . . 1939). There were two significant differences between cellulose acetate lamination and silking: state-of-the-art technology and speed. These two differences may have been reason enough for Barrow to become interested in cellulose acetate lamination. He may have wanted only to remain current with the technical innovations in his own field since he now had technically oriented colleagues at Mariners Museum. He may have wished simply to increase his productivity and profits by mechanizing any aspect of the manual restoration process.

The atmosphere at the Mariners Museum was certainly a factor in his interest in technology at this time.

The completion of the [restoration] process is both a mechanical invention and the evolution of a craft. It is another demonstration of the modern tendency to adapt the machine in a field hitherto limited to work by the hand....in the atmosphere of the institution with which Barrow is associated there is stimulus for the promotion of this desired coordination. The Museum was born under the sheltering arm of the Newport News Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Company, an industry in which craftsmanship unites with science in the performance of every task. Barrow was able to mature his skill and attain a fulfillment, which was unlikely through either the hand or the machine operating alone. (Barrow develops process . . . 1939)

Some time during 1936, Barrow contacted Bourdon W. Scribner, Chief of the Paper Section of NBS, asking about cellulose acetate lamination. Barrow later reported that Scribner referred him to the National Archives (Barrow develops process . . . 1939). in reply to a letter from Barrow, Arthur E. Kimberly, Chief of the Division of Repair and Preservation of the National Archives, told him that the laminating equipment had not yet been installed, and invited him to visit anyway to discuss restoration (Kimberly 25 May 1936). Later, Homer L. Ferguson, President of the Mariners Museum, wrote to R. D. W. Connor of the National Archives. Ferguson introduced Barrow and requested that he be included in a proposed school on lamination at the Archives (Ferguson 28 July 1936). Kimberly had mentioned such a school to Barrow during their visit in the summer of 1936. Barrow did not wait for the proposed school, which never was established (Kimberly 25 May 1936). Instead, he requested Kimberly's permission to visit again and this time bring with him several others from the Museum's model shop to examine the newly installed lamination press (Barrow develops process . . . 1939). Kimberly agreed to a visit on 9 October 1936, even before the hydraulic press was operational; "I can see no objection to an inspection of our press by the gentlemen you mention" (Kimberly 25 September 1936).

Barrow also asked whether the restoration department of the National Archives carried out tests of the papers before lamination. Kimberly, in reply, advised him against the necessity for further research into the lamination process. "Regarding analysis of paper before treatment, while . . . knowledge of the various methods used in the analysis of paper should be helpful to anyone working with records I do not believe it to be necessary in connection with the application of cellulose acetate to paper" (Kimberly 1 October 1936). Kimberly's words illustrate a common attitude. in general, research was respected, as was the authority of such institutions as the NBS, but the complexity of research interpretation and the resulting requirement for research specificity and continuity were not, evidently, well understood.

Barrow did not take Kimberly's advice. Instead, he became extremely diligent in learning the chemical and physical characteristics of the materials used in the new process of cellulose acetate lamination. His thoroughness may be attributed to his enthusiasm for the courses he had at Randolph-Macon College. in any case, it set him apart from most of the restorers of his day.

Barrow began his study of the materials and the physical characteristics of cellulose acetate lamination shortly after he and the model shop engineers had visited the National Archives to examine the flatbed laminator. Again, he turned to the NBS for information. His correspondence and visits with Scribner and others at NBS's paper research section continued until 1940. There is no contemporary documentation of the beginning of the design phase of the roller-type laminator. Barrow may have asked the engineers to wait to begin designing a small-scale adaptation of the existing laminating equipment until he was reasonably confident that cellulose acetate lamination was at least as well-tested and long lasting as were traditional lamination methods and materials.

At the beginning of 1937, Scribner wrote to Barrow giving him extensive information about the results of the tests by NBS on both Japanese paper and cellulose acetate foil. The tests found both materials were stable and permanent and therefore more appropriate for document restoration than silk. in addition, Scribner recommended publications to Barrow (Scribner 21 January 1937), as he did throughout their long correspondence.

The prototype of the roller-type laminator must have been designed and built by September 1937 when Barrow asked Scribner where the appropriate cellulose acetate foil could be purchased. Scribner put him in contact with vendors (Scribner 9 September 1937), and Barrow immediately purchased a small amount (Barrow 11 September 1937).

After more than a year of testing and equipment development, by late 1937, Barrow had his laminating equipment and the beginnings of his own process of document restoration (Barrow 13 January 1938). Barrow used his new equipment to laminate papers of different ages and conditions. These samples were to be tested by Scribner in the ongoing lamination-testing program at NBS, and Barrow was informed of the results, especially those concerning stability, strength, and permanence. The early correspondence between Barrow and Scribner clearly shows that Barrow was not merely taking instruction from NBS, but was also helping them in their series of studies by sending them laminated paper samples. Some of these studies were done jointly with the GPO (Barrow 12 April 1938).

The prototype laminator was homemade at Mariners from surplus ship parts of heavy gauge steel. It looked ungainly, without styling or decoration. The prototype was almost five feet high, five feet long, but only about three feet wide. Its narrow width limited the size of documents Barrow could laminate in one piece. It resembled a workbench with a flat oven, small metal calender rollers, large temperature gauge, and an electric motor attached. The deteriorated document was placed between sheets of cellulose acetate and "tacked" into place with drops of acetone, which softened the cellulose acetate and made it stick to itself. This sandwich was placed between pieces of tracing cloth (to give a matte texture to the shiny plastic surface), supported between sheets of cardboard, and placed into the laminator to heat in the built-in flat oven. The temperature gauge measured oven heat. When the temperature reached approximately 400° F, Barrow removed the document sandwich. He then passed the heated document sandwich between metal rollers to apply pressure. Barrow admitted the pressure applied by these rollers could not be measured accurately. He guessed it was about 1,000 pounds per square inch based upon what he knew of cellulose acetate foil's characteristics. the rollers did apply enough pressure to squeeze the softened cellulose acetate into the porous surface of the paper document. The document was thus completely sealed in the cellulose acetate and could be handled and read no matter how brittle or fragile the original document may have been (Barrow develops process . . . 1939).

Following a visit to NBS some time in early January 1938, Barrow remarked in his thank-you letter to Scribner that "my knowledge of paper and its restoration has been greatly increased by your helpful suggestions." This 1938 letter is the first mention from Barrow of his study of paper per se separate from lamination or restoration. Barrow continued his letter with many questions about the effect of ink on paper deterioration. His letters show that during the late 1930s and throughout the 1940s he was interested in inks, their fading, and their effect on the chemistry of paper. Barrow studied ink with at least the same diligence and effort he applied to the study of paper (Barrow 13 January 1938).

Lyman J. Briggs, Director of the NBS, sent Barrow the test results from their lamination study and thanked him for contributing laminated samples for their tests. Briggs's letter contains the first mention in the NBS correspondence of standard paper testing techniques. He mentioned that the tear test is better for measuring the strength of laminated documents than is the folding endurance test. The tests showed that documents with Japanese paper added to the lamination sandwich were far stronger, had higher tear resistance, and had higher folding endurance than had those laminated with cellulose acetate alone (Briggs 18 January 1938). Barrow added Japanese paper to his document restoration process almost immediately following the test information in Briggs's letter. The document was now surrounded by cellulose acetate followed by sheets of translucent Japanese paper.


        _______________________________     Japanese paper

                _______________________     Cellulose acetate foil

                        _______________     Document

                _______________________     Cellulose acetate foil

        _______________________________     Japanese paper

The cellulose acetate bonded the Japanese paper to the document. Japanese paper not only added strength, it gave a more esthetic appearance to the restored document by eliminating its shiny plastic surface.

During this developmental phase, Barrow experimented to find the correct temperatures needed to laminate each of the kinds of deteriorated paper he encountered in his business. Temperatures depended upon such variables as paper type, its weight, and its surface coating. His experimental work at this time was devoted solely to product development, but in the process, he was learning about paper and the standard tests that were used to measure its flexibility and strength characteristics.

Scribner alerted Barrow in 1937 that a company, Pyraglass Incorporated located in New York City, was interested in developing lamination as a commercial venture (Scribner 9 September 1937). Barrow then embarked on an extended correspondence with representatives of Pyraglass's parent company, the Celluloid Corporation of New York City. Celluloid Corporation was the manufacturer of the cellulose acetate foil Barrow used in his restoration process. It was evident from this correspondence and from Barrow's attempts to patent the roller-type laminator and his restoration process (detailed in Chapters 9 & 10) that he intended to manufacture and sell his laminator as well as use it in his own restoration business. After several years of negotiations, Barrow ended his association with Celluloid Corporation and the manufacture by the company of at least one laminating machine based on the design of his prototype. The split came because Barrow would neither change the specifications developed by the engineers from Mariners Museum's model shop, nor would he modify his lamination product to fit Celluloid Corporation's production and cost requirements. Barrow eventually came to believe that Celluloid Corporation's changes were cheapening his product; he finally withdrew from negotiations and ended their venture in October 1940. Barrow netted only a few hundred dollars consulting fees for the laminator plans and his years of correspondence and troubleshooting (Barrow 2 October 1940). It is clear from the correspondence with Celluloid Corporation that Barrow did not understand the details of the engineering of the laminating machine. He could not answer technical questions, and repeatedly referred technical questions to the engineers from the Model Shop, even, upon occasion, asking Celluloid representatives to write directly to an engineer who no longer worked at Mariners Museum (Barrow 21 November 1939).

There is no evidence that S. W. Besse and the other shipbuilding engineers ever asked for a share of Barrow's profits or were paid for their engineering and manufacturing contributions to his business success (Sniffen 1989). Barrow seems to have solicited their assistance based solely upon his social skills and ability to enlist his friends' cooperation in furthering his own interests.

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