A Dilapidated Document

When this vellum document arrived at The Center, it had experienced severe water- and age-related damage. Over the course of many years, the vellum had rotted and subsequently it exhibited severe distortion, in addition to having been stored folded in quarters. Moreover, the pages were wet, causing irreversible pigment migration between the touching pages; the water also left several water stains throughout.  In addition to the fold creases, there were horizontal creases down the center of the sheet, tears at the lower left and around the edges, and a large loss at the lower right.

Though the document was initially considered a loss, the client consulted with our conservators and ultimately decided on a risky treatment plan.  The risk lie in the unpredictability of the vellum: the wrong method used to relax, and thus unfold, the sheet might have increased the pigment migration to an illegible extent.  As the retrieval of the written text was the impetus behind the whole treatment, the client was duly requested to sign a waiver that acknowledged the treatment’s success was not guaranteed, and was being undertaken as a last duress with possibly disastrous outcomes.

The treatment, fortunately for all involved, proceeded as hoped. The document was exposed to passive humidification in gortex packaging and ministered at 30-minute intervals until it was opened and could lay flat. After this relaxation procedure, the vellum was dried between cotton blotters. In the end, all of the needed information was successfully retrieved.

To read about other seemingly lost causes, please return to this newsletter  and choose another report.