Several months ago, Assistant Curator of Early Modern Books and Manuscripts John Overholt was in the Houghton stacks when he happened upon a brown paper-wrapped package tied with twine. We soon discovered that the package contained previously unknown photographs of Spanish fortifications Havana, from 1899 or 1900. The photographs were sent to the photo conservators at the Weissman Preservation Center. Photograph conservator Elena Bulat contributed this post.
A box with folded and stacked photographs arrived to the Weissman Preservation Center from Houghton Library for treatment. The photographs were composite panoramas of Havana and envelopes with identifying information and one paper document containing information about the project. It was clear from the beginning that this project posed several challenges for us.
We were lucky to have Saori Kawasumi (a second year student from the art Conservation Department of the Buffalo State University) working on this project during her 2010 summer internship at Weissman Preservation Center.
There were eight groups of panoramas with some loose prints that needed to be organized, treated and appropriately housed. All 226 gelatin silver photographs were organized by groups that were identified from the information on the existing enclosures.
A wide range of conservation treatments were performed on these photographs. The photographs and the envelopes were extremely fragile. The gelatin emulsion was lifting off of the edges of the severely oxidized paper support. There were many losses of gelatin emulsion mostly on the edges. A whole range of conservation treatments were performed on these photographs.They were humidified and flattened followed by surface cleaning, mending, compensation and gelatin consolidation as needed.
After all photographs were stabilized and organized by groups, special custom-made housing was designed and started by Saori and finished by WPC photograph technician Zach Long. We used semi-custom Mylar locking sleeves to house each photograph. In order to keep the groups of panoramas together in each sleeve, we made three locking pockets using the ultrasonic welder and an added strip of Mylar. A special box was designed for the photographs. We were able to accommodate all 226 photographs and supportive paper documentation in this one box. It is surprisingly compact and not heavy.
Now that all the photographs are physically stabilized and organized by groups they are much easier for researchers to use.
The photographs in this group have been cataloged and may be found with the call number MS Am 2711. A finding aid for the collection is available here. The photos in this post are courtesy of the Weissman Preservation Center.
The Havana panoramas receive conservation treatment by Modern Books and Manuscripts, unless otherwise expressly stated, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Terms and conditions beyond the scope of this license may be available at blogs.law.harvard.edu.