Thursday, April 12, 2012

Processing the Barton artifacts

      This week, I’ve been working on cataloging and housing the Clara Barton artifacts on loan to us from the GSA.  I thought I’d show part of the process with two of the artifacts.

This is an oilcloth satchel which contained a paper booklet which recorded the laws passed by Congress in 1857. This satchel could have belonged to Clara Barton or to her neighbor, Edward Shaw, since some of his items were found stored in the attic as well. 

     First, I made sure that the contents of the boxes I received matched the list of artifacts!  Next I assigned each item a unique loan number.  Since the two artifacts pictured above were associated with each other when they were found, the GSA wished to keep them together.  One way to assure that these items remain “connected” is to assign them similar loan numbers.  Each artifact in this group starts with the designation “L6”.  The ‘L’ denotes that this is a loan.  The ‘6’ simply means that this is the sixth set of numbers assigned this year.  The next series of numbers designates the year, so each loan number for the artifacts in this group starts with L6.2012.  The next series of numbers and letters simply denotes the order in which they were processed.  When there are items which need to be grouped together (e.g. a cup and saucer, or a chess board and playing pieces) I can also add a letter to the end.  So in this case, the satchel is L6.2012.19a and the booklet is L6.2012.19b. 

Here is the booklet which was inside the satchel. You can see that the paper has yellowed. It is also very brittle. Continuing to store this inside the satchel is not a good idea, as the acid in the paper isn’t good for the cloth, and the friction of the (canvas) cloth on the booklet isn’t good for the paper.

     Next I need to enter the data for each item into the museum’s data base.  Each artifact in this group will be part of the “Clara Barton Collection” in the data base.  I record a written description of each artifact, its measurements, its condition, and its provenance or history.  I then make sure the proper index terms are associated with each artifact.  The satchel should show up in searches of “personal articles” and the book in searches of “laws” or “Congress”.

     At least one digital photograph is taken of each artifact as well.  Generally this is done against a plain background (my preference is black) and with a photographic reference scale, to get a feel for the item’s true size and color.  If you look back at the photo at the top of the page though, you will notice that I chose a gray background since the black satchel would not have shown up well against a black background!

A close-up of a rip in the flap of the satchel. I take more photos when I need to document areas of damage or deterioration.

     Next the artifacts need to be housed correctly.  They were already stored in archival boxes and covered in acid-free tissue, which was a very good start!  I crumpled up some more acid-free tissue and placed it inside the satchel, to prevent additional creases from forming in the cloth.  Then I put the booklet inside an acid-free folder to protect it.  They were put back into the box, padded with more acid-free tissue, and covered with ethafoam.  They will be placed in the collection room as soon as their quarantine period is over.

Notice that I could not close the satchel – the fabric is stiff and brittle, so I will store it with the lid open to prevent further damage. This will also get a layer of ethafoam on top before the lid is placed on the box.

And here is the booklet now safely housed in an acid-free folder.

Now the Clara Barton artifacts are cataloged and safely stored until we are able to display them!

Photos courtesy of the National Museum of Civil War Medicine.

No comments:

Post a Comment