By Andrea Hall, Field Book Project Conservator
*Cue the peals of thunder and blood curdling scream!
It was a dark and stormy night…
Actually, it was a lovely summer day when we received a researcher request for a few volumes from the field notes of Frederick Vernon Coville, a botanist known, in part, for his participation in the Death Valley Expedition. Ordinarily, researcher requests are quite straight forward, but this was no ordinary set of volumes. In a past repair effort, someone had used that most dreaded of materials, pressure sensitive tape! Pressure sensitive tape, the specter which haunts archives professionals of all sorts, is known to age poorly, discoloring and becoming brittle over time. It also becomes more difficult to remove as it deteriorates. Unfortunately, it had been used liberally on the Coville field books as page reinforcement, even over text (cue that bloodcurdling scream, again)
|An example of pressure sensitive tape over text from “Field notes, specimen no. 1-2579, Idaho, Oregon, Utah, Virginia, Wyoming, Alaska, and Canada, 1898-1899.” Smithsonian Institution Archives. SIA Acc. 11-253, Frederick Coville, field books, 1890-1924. Image courtesy of Andrea Hall.|
Luckily, as a conservation professional, I have a variety of tools to combat the menace of tape and all its perils. Initially, I like to run a series of tests to see which method will help me remove the tape most easily. I pick an inconspicuous sample area for testing with removal methods like a hot air pencil or a poultice to remove the top, non-sticky layer of tape, called the carrier, and swell the adhesive. All this while shouting, “THE POWER OF CONSERVATION COMPELS YOU!” at the tape, of course. Again, ordinarily, this is fairly uncomplicated, with the tape responding to certain treatments depending on its composition and age. However, in this case, even after testing with a variety of removal methods, this tape wouldn’t budge. So, I turned to the most important tool in a conservator’s belt, patience… and solvents.
|The solvent chamber in action. From “Field notes, specimen no. 1-2579, Idaho, Oregon, Utah, Virginia, Wyoming, Alaska, and Canada, 1898-1899.” Smithsonian Institution Archives. SIA Acc. 11-253, Frederick Coville, field books, 1890-1924. Image courtesy of Andrea Hall.|
I created a localized solvent chamber using a piece of blotter suspended in a glass jar and dampened with solvents carefully tailored to solubilize the chemical components of the tape. This allows for a targeted dose of solvent to the tape without subjecting the rest of the page to the solvent or the lab to the fumes involved with their use. To ensure my safety and that of my coworkers, I did everything in the fume hood. Once the solvent chamber was placed, I simply had to allow it to do the work. It facilitated an easier removal of the tape, though it still left a layer of adhesive residue behind, which was picked up with swabs.
Once I found a removal solution that worked, I could proceed, but it was a long and careful process with the tape sometimes trying to fend off my exorcism. Eventually, it was removed from the many, many pages of the field book, and I was able to mend the pages with Japanese tissue and wheat starch paste and rebind it using a sewn boards binding, which I’ll write more about in a future post. Now that the tape is gone, the peals of thunder and shrieking have died down, and it’s a much more stable field book, ready for digitization and use by researchers.
For more information on tape and its impact on archives and conservation, here are a few blog posts on the subject -
From the Maryland State Archives:
From West Dean College’s School of Conservation:
From the Hagley Museum and Library: