Jason C. Spellman
"Who wouldn't gladly risk his life in arduous service on the Texas coast? Show me the man who wouldn't, and I'll shoot him. But, alas, a stern and unaccomodating fate denies the crown to my ambition that such a service would be; it is only here in Virginia I may hope to win laurels." --Joseph B. Polley, Letters to Charming Nellie
I find the comments regarding handling original documents interesting. There also seems to be some controversy regarding handling original textiles. I've noticed when wearing gloves when working with many originals, they soon become very soiled. Unless you constantly change gloves, all your doing is transfering soil from one garment to the next.
In my personal collection, I just keep my hands very clean and handle them very tenderly. I also fold them differently every time they are taken out and shown.
The letter sounds wonderful...would love to read it
The same debate holds true for textiles. Being taught in my museums courses, and depending upon the fabric, gloves are not appropriate. You stand to either bleach, tear or compromise the fabric by either the properties of the glove or by the lack of feeling you get with the garment by using it. Washing your hands is important but its equally important to make sure you aren't using a soap with bleach, or an overly scented soap either. Storage is the biggest problem especially with collections but we could fill volumes on that. My personal pet peeve is seeing people hanging or displaying original garments on dress forms or regular old hangers but alas.
3rd Regiment USV- Buffington's Boys,
"God knows, as many posts as go up on this site everyday, there's plenty of folks who know how to type. Put those keyboards to work on a real issue that's tied to the history that we love and obsess over so much." F.B.
"...mow hay, cut wood, prepare great food, drink schwitzel, knit, sew, spin wool, rock out to a good pinch of snuff and somehow still find time to go fly a kite." N.B.
Now thats living history.
Yup, different materials require different handling techniques. Some objects should not be handled with gloves, some should definitely be handled with gloves, and others fall somewhere in between. Speaking specifically of 19th Century pieces, at work I will typically handle documents with clean hands. Some textiles I'll handle with clean hands, others with gloves--and yes, I very often have to change soiled gloves and rarely will handle more than one piece with the same gloves. With metals, I'll almost always wear gloves. When moving most objects from place to place the gloves will often come off. Probably more importantly than what is on your hands, however, is making sure you take the time to plan out specifically what you're going to do with an object, where you are going to touch it, what surfaces it is going to touch, what help you are going to need, etc., before you touch anything.
All that said, I still bring a few original things in the field.....
Is there any consensus on wiping your hands down with alcohol and/or hand sanitizer to remove the last traces of dirt/grease either just after you wash them or between documents or articles? I've been doing that and drying my hands on a clean paper towel (rather than waiting for all of the alcohol to evaporate). In theory, there shouldn't be any residue. In practice...?
As an NPS museum technician, I agree that washing one's hands with a scent-free and bleach-free soap is the best practice. This enables you to maintain all of the dexterity in your fingers while protecting the document as thoroughly as possible. And by all means, do not store a document folded for any longer than is necessary. Just because it held up for 140 years folded does not mean it will survive another 140 that way. Indeed, it will not. And as far as using alcohol and hand sanitizer goes: no. There is no need to use it right after washing your hands ... and if you think your hands are dirty after handling a few documents, then they probably are. Take the time to rewash your hands; don't 'cheat' and use hand sanitizer.
T. Logan Metesh
NPS Museum Tech
George Washington Birthplace NM
Thomas Stone NHS
1st Virginia Cavalry Co H
One of the reasons that handling techniques for original documents and textiles are very similar is that basically, they are both made of the same material. Paper of this era was not made from wood pulp fibers, but from cloth. It is 100% rag content paper, and therefore is basically recycled cloth.
Agree with everyone else, keep it flat and unfolded if possible. If light hits it, the ink will rust faster. by this I mean that most writing inks of the period contain iron sulphate, and over time the iron rusts. This is why what was once black is now brown, and also why many folks think that there was a preponderance of brown ink. Not the case. Black ink was plentiful, easy to obtain, and, over time, will rust and turn brown.
Only slightly off topic - about 1999 I was with the 1st Tennessee, Rock City Guards, portraying Coleman's Scouts in an update of the Sam Davis Home's museum movie. While filming I was handed a letter to deliver and stuffed it in my jacket when a very concerned gentleman rushed over to say "That's an original !!!". Thank goodness there was no damage done but probably not the way to handle an original document.
"There lies $1000 and a cow."
I am more shocked they used an original document as a prop, I like you would have presumed it to be a reproduction. My question is "what were THEY thinking?"
8th FL / 13th IN
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