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Subject: Papyrus


From: Niccolo Caldararo <caldararo>
Date: Sunday, June 29, 2003
This is in reference to the inquiry by Nicole Gilroy concerning
mounting of collections of papyrus, especially fragments.  Leyla
Lau-Lamb wrote noting her experience with this issue who recommends
the use of two sheets of glass which has been one of the most durable
and traditional means of housing them.  We have to thank her for
sharing with us the experience of the Egyptian Museum in Berlin and
their 30 years of use of this method.

Amy Lubick recommended the Walters Museum's choice of shatterproof
and UV-filtering glass plates and notes the Banik and Stachelberger
article on salt migration at the Jubilee Conference in 1987.  I also
found a water-soluble whitish deposit on objects labeled "papyrus"
in the old Sutro Baths collection in S.F. which had been purchased
at the turn of the 20th century.  These fragments turned out on
examination not to be papyrus, but led me on a long search of the
literature of the preparation methods of papyrus and surface
conditioning.  Various similar materials are described in the
literature, like "bastard parchment" (see van Soest, 1984:49), or an
alum-tawed leather or rawhide with chalk applied.  In fact, Reed
(1972:176) remarks that many authorities first regarded the Dead Sea
Scroll fragments as papyrus.  See also Betty Haines remarks in
Recent Advances in Leather Conservation, 1984.

An interesting and full report on a conservation treatment of
papyrus that I found useful years ago was that by Debra Evans, Doris
Hamburg and Meredith Mickelson, A Papyrus treatment, Art
Conservation Training Programs Conference paper, 1980. As for the
mounting issue,  Geoffrey Brown reported on his work in Conservation
DistList Instance: 7:78 Wednesday, April 27, 1994, in response to a
similar question by Cheri Vitez. See below; it would be interesting
to know if others used this and how they felt about it. Goeffry
condemns glass and this should be considered, though I know of no
studies which have quantified his report.

Geoffrey I. Brown <geoffrey.i.brown [at] um__cc__umich__edu> writes

>In reply to Cheri Vitez's inquiry about papyrus, I have been
>experimenting with methods of supporting or mounting papyrus in/on sheer
>polyester fabrics such as Stabiltex.  My most recent effort involved a
>low-pressure sandwich of Stabiltex stretched on a frame over the papyrus
>and a padded backing of stabiltex over polyester batting over acid-free
>corrugated board (two layers glued cross-grain).  This worked very well
>and was quite attractive.  Experiments with different colors of fabric
>revealed that the black stabiltex increases contrast (similar to
>glare-reducing computer screens) and makes the papyrus more readable,
>while lighter colors that matched the papyrus color tended to make the
>writing blurred and muddy-looking.  It is also possible to sandwich
>papyrus between two layers of stabiltex mounted tautly on frames.  The
>support is not as good as with a padded backing but the reverse stays as
>visible as the front.
>The old glass sandwiches are very destructive.  They generally become
>high-humidity traps and support continual fungus growth.  Sometimes the
>surface of the papyrus adheres to the glass or the glass can "ferrotype"
>or planish the surface of the papyrus.  When these mounts are
>disassembled, one often finds that the glass has been etched by fungus
>enzymes in a pattern matching the papyrus.  Imagine what those enzymes
>are doing to the papyrus!

I do know that the University of California, Berkeley was restoring
their collection of papyrus in 1996 (reported in WAAC News).  These
had been encased in Vinylite.  The conservators, led by Nancy
Harris, removed the 1,600 individual documents from these enclosures
and transferred them to glass. Nancy could be contacted for more

Niccolo Caldararo
Director and Chief Conservator
Conservation Art Service

                  Conservation DistList Instance 17:8
                   Distributed: Tuesday, July 1, 2003
                        Message Id: cdl-17-8-003
Received on Sunday, 29 June, 2003

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