The Collection Care team is involved in many of the digitisation projects at the Parliamentary Archives, particularly when the items to be digitised are fragile to handle or need long-term archival packaging or rehousing. In the case of the Stone Photograph project (see previous blog post ‘Set in Stone’), the photos and mounts are in fair condition and do not need interventive conservation, so we are mainly carrying out simple cleaning and preservation re-packaging project.
These images illustrate repacking in progress:
When surface cleaning we use soft goat hair brushes to gently remove any loose debris and dust, as well as smoke sponges designed to remove carbon residue.
We are also providing archival quality wrappers for each photograph in its mount. This is to prevent any scratches and other physical damage to the photographs, while helping to leach some acidity away from the photograph itself, and buffer the acidity travelling between the individual items.
Acidity inherent in some materials causes problems such as discolouration and brittleness. This phenomenon is particularly noticeable in late 18th and 19th century items due to changes in papermaking from the industrial revolution which meant that most papers, including many photographic surfaces, were (unintentionally) very acidic. This caused many papers from that era to degrade very quickly, becoming brittle or discoloured – sometimes within a couple of decades.
Some of the boxes were very tightly packed, which risks damaging the contents. We separated the items into manageable quantities per box and rearranged the shelving in the archives so the boxes can be stored flat. This will help prevent further damage to the mounts in future.
As conservators, our work is focused on helping material be more accessible, both in the present and for future generations. However, we are sometimes distracted by the materiality of the items and forget about the great content! This project has been a treat to work on as we have been able to see people and the building as it was in the late 19th century. The photographs show the Parliamentary setting and those in it in a very evocative light. As our digitisation team works on present-day photographs across the Parliamentary Estate, we will be able to bring a descriptive and artistic view of how the Estate has evolved and changed over the years.