Through the Conservation Keyhole: Conservation analysis and basic conservation treatment of wax seals in Archive

Through conservation keyhole by Seonaid Rogers

My name is Seonaid and I am an MLitt History of Art student, studying the History of Collecting and Collections at the University of Glasgow. As part of my degree requirements, I have been undertaking a twenty-day placement at Glasgow University Archive Services, working on applied seals.
The aim of my work placement project was to improve the preservation of and access to archive documents with wax seals within Archive collections, and create a database around them.

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Screenshot of a computer screen with seals image and seals information

I worked with a set of records which feature seals to assess their condition, and I also assisted with the basic conservation treatment of these records to ensure their ongoing preservation.

My first weeks on placement consisted of learning proper handling techniques and procedures, and then examining several archive boxes full of documents. As the weeks progressed, I grew more confident in my understanding of how best to handle, photograph and repackage documents in order to cause minimum disruption. Once seals were found, I began to document them on a database that contained information on their size, appearance, and to which documents they were attached. I worked with documents signed by William Leechman (1706-1785) who was Principal of the University of Glasgow from 1761 until his death, William Cullen (1710-1790) who was both the University’s first Chemistry Lecturer and Regius Professor of Practice of Medicine from 1751-1755, and Adam Smith (1723-1790) who wrote An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations (1776). I added the information gleaned from my research into the database, as well as what I could discern about the seals themselves.

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Wax seals on the parchment document

I was advised to research how 19th Century letters were written, folded and sealed and subsequently made a facsimile of my own.

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My hand-folded letter sealed with wax

I also learned many things about archival practice, storage and conservation, and preventing damage to objects. Measuring the archival boxes and each of the bundles of letters within, we were able to construct individually fit folders for each of the letter bundles, which would then have those bundles’ reference numbers printed on to them. The folders, rather than the letters themselves, would be tied with cotton tape. This would prevent the dented, worn away sides seen on letter bundles where tape has been used for a long period of time. The individual folders would increase stability so that letters would not shift so frequently within the archival boxes. Additionally, having each of the reference numbered bundles visible on opening of the box would prevent excessive handling of the bundles people didn’t need to view.

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After the project’s completion, I understood more about necessary conservation, storage and handling procedures, as well as about 19th century documents and seals, in particular.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank the entire team at Glasgow University Archive Services, particularly the Preservation Manager who was my supervisor.
At the Archives I have been allowed the opportunity to learn about best practice, undertaking research, object handling, archival storage and conservation, and writing reports. I was also able to gain a lot of hands-on experience, for which I am very grateful.

Seonaid

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L-R: My supervisor Ela, my academic supervisor Liz, and me; as well as some examples of seals I documented during my placement.



Categories: Archive Services

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