Mapping the conservation of a chart
Rolled up and stored for years in dusty cupboards, maps can deteriorate rapidly — making them notoriously difficult and expensive to restore. Ancient maps or charts, with their exquisite art work and unfamiliar place names are particularly appealing and treasured by their owners. But they present the conservator with a dilemma. How do you assess the map, without risking further deterioration — and how much is too much to complete a restoration? Auckland Museum’s map librarian Julie Senior faced a huge challenge preparing a 125-year-old chart for display in the exhibition, Entangled Islands – Samoa, New Zealand and the First World War.
We considered two maps of Samoa for the exhibition, both were made in Germany. The first one was a large, late 19th century map, mounted on wooden battens. It was in a private collection and its owner brought it into the Museum for us to view (he had saved the map from a school rubbish bin while on a work assignment in the United States). Conservator Ian Langston very gently unrolled the map to reveal about five centimetres, but we could see the condition of the surface was very poor, and we could not risk unrolling it any more without further damage. So alas, it could not be included in the exhibition without extensive repair work.
We also have in our collection a chart, Karte der Samoa-Inseln: mit Planen der Hafen von Apia und Saluafata — or Chart of the Samoan Islands: with plan of the harbour of Apia and Saluafata. It is a very attractive chart dating from 1889, and had almost certainly been bound in a publication. At some point, it had been detached from the book, but the colour quality is good and this suggests it hadn’t been exposed to light. However, the chart still needed extensive restoration work before it could be put on display.
Restoring a chart for display
When conservator Paul Taylor received the chart, the paper was acidic, yellowing and brittle, with cracking folds and small edge tears. Unfortunately, some ‘remedial’ work had been carried out in the past with the owner attempting to mend the tears with strips of sellotape. After many years in storage, the glue had migrated and stained the paper, leaving horrible brown shadows and a tacky residue.
The chart’s surface was cleaned, the tacky glue removed with a solvent, and then the whole paper was washed in a special de-acidifying solution to neutralise the acid and remove impurities. After washing, the sheet was flattened, backed with Japanese tissue, and all the tears repaired. Finally the chart was pressed between blotters.
After the conservation process, the chart was in a good state to be photographed, from which the digital image was created, and this image is now attached to the cartobibliographic data, which can now be seen in the online catalogue. Auckland Museum has around 10,000 sheet maps and charts and around 200 bound maps in its collection. We also have a great collection of travel literature, including maps dating back to Captain Cook’s time.
Conserving your maps
I have had many enquiries about the best way to conserve a map. Recently, a teacher created a display about the ANZACs in France, and one of the objects, a map surviving from the First World War, was in need of some TLC. She had emailed me because she had seen the very same map on our online catalogue. I advised her that map conservation is a costly business, but all depends on the value of the article to its owner.
Like anything, a map is only worth what someone will pay for it. So if you are thinking of getting your precious documents repaired, firstly consider what they are worth to you, then to your immediate family, and then maybe to future generations. Don’t keep them in the garage, or under the house, in cardboard boxes that can be attacked by vermin or damp and mould. The best way you can preserve your lovely prints is to get them framed, or create a family photograph album. If it’s damaged beyond repair, sometimes it’s best to just throw it away. If in doubt, seek professional advice — that’s usually free. It’s better to take care of them now than have to invest in restoring them later – can you afford not to look after them properly?
View the library catalogue record
Post by: Julie Senior
Julie grew up immersed in book culture and was heavily influenced by her mother, who could and often did read a book a day. Naturally, Julie gravitated vocationally towards bookshops and eventually, professional librarianship; she gained experience in university libraries, before joining the team at Auckland Museum library 9 years ago. In her next life, Julie is going to be a paper conservator.
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