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Subject: Deciphering fire damaged documents

Deciphering fire damaged documents

From: Lorraine Finch <lorraine>
Date: Tuesday, April 13, 2004
The following extract from 'Workshop Receipts for Manufacturers and
Scientific Amateurs', Volume III, 1924, was passed to me by Martin
Hinchcliffe, Weapons Conservator. I thought that it would be of
interest to Cons DistList members.

   "Deciphering Burnt Documents: Rathelot, an officer of the Paris
    law courts, succeeded in an ingenious manner in transcribing a
    number of the registers that were burnt during the Commune.
    These registers remained so long in the fire that each seemed to
    have become a homogeneous block, more like a slab of charcoal
    than anything else, and when an attempt was made to detach a
    leaf it fell away into powder. Many scientific men examined
    these unpromising black blocks, when Rathelot hit upon the
    following method of operation: In the first place, he cut off
    the back of the book so as to leave nothing but the mass of
    leaves which the fire had caused to adhere together; he then
    steeped the book in water, and afterwards exposed it, all wet as
    it was, to the heat at the mouth of a furnace; the water, as it
    evaporated, raised the leaves one by one and they could be
    separated, but with extreme cautions. Each sheet was then
    deciphered and transcribed. The appearance of the pages was very
    curious; the writing appeared of a dull black, while the paper
    was of a lustrous black, something like velvet decorations on a
    black satin ground; so that the entries were not difficult to

This volume is fascinating. It contains many recipes for the
colouring of paper and instructions on how to make many different
types of paper.

Lorraine Finch

                  Conservation DistList Instance 17:66
                 Distributed: Thursday, April 15, 2004
                       Message Id: cdl-17-66-004
Received on Tuesday, 13 April, 2004

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