The Abbey Newsletter

Volume 16, Number 1
Feb 1992

A Quick Report of Two Important Conferences

Significant papers were given at the meetings of the American Institute for Conservation (AIC)and the German-language organization of book and paper conservators, IADA, last year. Some of them are briefly described below. Abstracts of the AIC papers and preprints of the IADA paper are available from the respective organizations.

AIC, Albuquerque, June 3-8, 1991

Eric Hansen, "Factors to be Considered in Determining the Optimum Relative Humidity for the Display and Storage of Parchment." On the basis of a study of physical properties (shrinkage, biological growth, and gelation) in vellum, a storage RH between 25% and 40% is recommended. An optimum of 30% is recommended for objects containing collagen as a principal component, although the possibilities of stress from handling and the loss of ink or colors have to be considered.

Toby Raphael, "Airtight, Humidity Stabilized Exhibit Cases: Four Practical Approaches to Design." This paper is similar to the one he gave in October at the Washington Conservation Guild, which is reported on p. 136 in the December issue.

Mary Baker and two co-authors reported finding color reversion and changes in physical properties of papers after light bleaching.

The Objects Specialty Group's session was made up of 11 papers on environmental monitoring and control, among them Cecily Druzik's "Passive Monitors for Detection of Pollutants in Museum Environments." The monitors described can detect the low levels of pollutants that affect museum objects but not people. The Getty Conservation Institute is developing them but they are not commercially available yet.

IADA, Uppsala, August 26-30,1991

From the papers and discussions, it was clear that the German-speaking conservation community is moving away from the apprenticeship pattern and toward academic training, though not without controversy and misgivings. There were a number of heated arguments among members of the audience, in German and English. It will be interesting to see whether they will be able to incorporate any of the advantages of apprenticeship into their evolving educational system. But they need to involve academic institutions to make it easier for them to keep up with and contribute to this rapidly changing field. An indication of the extent to which the German-speaking community has lagged behind developments is that English terms had to be used for several key concepts (e.g., preservation and intrinsic value) because there are no German equivalents.

Henk Porck of the Dutch Royal Library gave an important research paper with W. Castelijns, "A Study of the Effects of Iron and Copper on the Degradation of Paper and Evaluation of Different Conservation Treatments." They were able to protect paper against iron and copper compounds (the troublemakers in iron gall inks and certain pigments used in illuminated manuscripts) by treating them with both magnesium bicarbonate and ammonium caseinate (an uncommon adhesive which is used in the Rotterdam Municipal Archives and which binds acids and metals). Aging was done at 90¡C with cycling RH, 90% to 35%. EDTA, a metal chelating agent sometimes recommended as a preventive agent, was worse than nothing because it deteriorated the paper instead of protecting it.

Bengt Skans, "Analysis and Properties of Old Glues." A well-presented report of good original research on glues made in the author's back yard from original recipes dating from Pliny to 1850. Most hide glues can be attributed to their species by determining the relative amounts of three saturated fatty acids by gas chromatography. Most were slightly alkaline.

Janos Szirmai's paper "Old Bookbinding Techniques and their Significance for Book Restoration" was very good, with excellent slides. The room was filled, and the audience was raptly attentive. The paper was written in English and delivered in German, a type of compromise used by several speakers because the Swedish government had just raised taxes so high that the planned simultaneous translation was unaffordable.

Anna Haberditzl presented a paper in German coauthored by Agnes Bluher and Karl Bredereck on aqueous deacidification with calcium and magnesium salts (from ground dolomite) which gave a pH very close to neutral and was gentle on inks.

There were other good papers that added to our fund of conservation knowledge, some narrowly specialized, others with broader applications-but not many. Most of the papers at this conference were didactic (that is, instructional, and sometimes excellent, but no new material), or pedestrian, or they were rehashes of material presented in previous years. In fact, there was a humorous complaint from the audience at one point about the recycled papers on the program, some of which had been given repeatedly over the last decade or two. This situation will probably be remedied as schools and research become more important for conservation in the German-speaking countries, because more new knowledge will be generated.

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