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Tape! Both Sides!

1899 Baptismal certificate conserved for family collection

NEDCC often treats documents and photographs that are just as important to family members as rare artifacts are to the nation’s museums. I was recently walking by a conservator's bench in the lab, when I saw a heavily stained document. “Tape!” she remarked. “Both sides!!”

The document belongs to Barbara Comer, a Collections Management Technician at the Nashua New Hampshire Historical Society. “The baptismal certificate, dated 1899, belonged to my great-uncle Franz Fink from Austria,” she explained. “He carried it on his person, folded in his wallet, all his life.” 

Franz Fink became a naturalized American citizen in 1913, soon after enlisting in the U. S. Army. He was a life-long military man, serving early in his career with the Coast Artillery Corps at Fort Andrews in the Boston Harbor Islands. He died in 1960 at age 81 and his belongings were stored in his Army steamer trunk at a relative’s home. Barbara Comer’s experience with historic documents at the Nashua Historical Society helped her recognize the significance of this family document the moment she saw it. And she knew that the adhesive in this kind of tape penetrates and stains paper. In fact, this damage becomes progressively worse and more difficult to treat as it ages, so Barbara decided to bring it to NEDCC for professional conservation treatment.

The Treatment

When the certificate arrived at the Center, it had folds and tears that had been reinforced with ¾” wide, continuous strips of pressure-sensitive tape on both sides. It is quite amazing that the document was in as good a condition as it was, considering the wear and tear of carrying it in his wallet for all those years. Areas of very heavy, acidic iron gall ink had weakened the paper in places, and there was moderate surface dirt, especially on the back. 

During conservation treatment at NEDCC, surface soil was reduced using dry cleaning methods, and the tape was removed using heat. Adhesive residues were reduced in a solvent bath. Because of ink solubility, the tax stamp was removed before the certificate was washed and it was re-adhered afterward. The document was backed with a very thin Japanese paper and wheat starch paste to mend tears and fill losses and to provide overall support.

Barbara Comer comments on NEDCC’s conservation treatment of her family document:
“When I saw the results of NEDCC's fine work on my great-uncle’s baptismal certificate I was rendered speechless, and for those who know me, that can be hard to imagine. This certificate is a rare personal item from my father’s side of the family that I came upon quite unexpectedly and thought had little chance of being saved. My grateful thanks to NEDCC for helping keep my family’s story intact!"