The Abbey Newsletter

Volume 14, Number 7
Nov 1990

The Budapest Conference

From September 4th to the 8th, an ambitious "Conference on Book and Paper Conservation" took place in Budapest, sponsored by the Conservator Section of the Hungarian TAPPI (analogous to the Book and Paper Group of AIC). It was ambitious in the sense that it was large and very international (325 participants, many from Hungary but about 200 from more than 20 countries, including Turkey, Iran and Lithuania; and three official languages, with simultaneous translation); very complex (some simultaneous sessions, many extra activities at different places in Budapest, plus tours and party in other locations); and the first of its kind in Hungary for book and paper people. It was also a challenge for the foreign participants, who had to find their way from one site to another in a country where few people speak English, or in any case few of the people one approaches on the street. Fortunately, taxis were numerous, fast and cheap, and for shorter distances, it made sense to walk. Language difficulty, after all, is the price paid by the traveler who wants to see firsthand what another country is like.

But it was sometimes hard to understand conference speakers who were not fluent in English, or who spoke too fast for the translators. I hope those speakers will forgive me for any inaccuracies in the following report.

There were 64, papers on the program, though some of the speakers did not show up, among them Peter Waters, Antonio Zappala and Wolfgang Waechter. About half the speakers were from western Europe. Although many of the speakers from eastern Europe must have wondered whether their isolation behind the iron curtain had made them old-fashioned, their presentations were informative. In some cases they even included videotapes of conservators from their country at work, with extended close-up shots. From the papers, videotapes and exhibitions I saw, I got the impression they were using standard methods, with certain notable exceptions. One lab used soluble nylon, another bleached pages of illuminated manuscripts with potassium permanganate in a paper washing machine (and did not always get a completed reaction, someone said), and one exhibit had what looked very much like sheets of polyvinyl chloride in the display cases. But everyone was eager to learn, and it was exciting to see both conservators and preservation administrators from so many different countries talking together before and after the sessions. The Spanish contingent had an especially good time with a group of local conservators on the last night at the farewell party, singing songs and drinking wine.

There was no visible American contingent, because there were so few of us: Sarah Bertalan, Shelly Fletcher, Jim Stroud, Susan Swartzburg, me and three representatives of firms offering deacidification services. Nancy Bell was there too, but she has taken root in England at the Oxford College Consortium and is better described now as an expatriate.

Some of the papers were warmed over from the ICOM conference the previous week, or were standard didactic presentations or brief summaries of current issues. Some of then, including my own paper on alkaline papermaking, were "How we do it where I come from" presentations. Others, some of which are reported below, presented results of research. A few of the sessions had good discussion periods afterwards, especially after papers that reported disturbing research results.

Deacidification and Pollutant Gases

One topic on which we heard disturbing findings was the effect of air pollutants (SO2 and NO2) on deacidified paper. Jonas Palm and Françoise Flieder both had papers on this, and both found that deacidification offered little protection against these gases because the carbonate compounds reacted so quickly with them that they were soon neutralized -at least under the accelerated aging conditions used. Here are their figures, together with those for a similar project at the Getty Conservation Institute that I received after returning home. (A related, but not strictly comparable, study by Paul Whitmore was reported in this Newsletter in the September 1989 issue. It focussed on the effect of the reaction products.) Note that the Getty's aging conditions are less harsh and that the aging period is longer. They have not yet given attention to the effectiveness of deacidification, but are focussing on uptake processes.

Study SO2 NO2 Temp RH Aging Period
Getty* 90 ppb 90 ppb 19ºC 60% 29 & 13 weeks respectively
Flieder - - 90ºC 60% 7 days
13 ppm 4 ppm 28ºC 90% 6 weeks
Palm 4 g/m3
(290 ppb)
.4 g/m3
(290 ppb)
90ºC 50% or 38% ?

*"Exposure of Deacidified Paper to Ambient Levels of SO2 and NO2," by Edwin L. William II and Daniel Grosjean. Sept. 1990. DGA, Inc., 4526 Telephone Rd., Ste. 205, Ventura, CA 93003.

Jonas Palm's research was undertaken to determine whether it was better to deacidify before a book went acid, or after; they concluded that after was better, especially with Wei T'o, except for groundwood papers, which are not as well protected by Wei T'o anyhow. The Wei T'o-treated paper was weakened. The complete research report will be published this fall. In the question period, someone asked whether this meant that deacidification was futile, and he said yes, for groundwood papers. Later in the conference, someone asked Dick Miller of Texas Alkyls if books deacidified by DEZ had ever been tested this way and he said no. (I think no one there remembered the first and still the main reason for deacidifying books: to neutralize acids left in the paper from the manufacturing process.)

Deacidification Developments

Peter Schwerdt described a new pilot plant at the Battelle Institute in Frankfurt am Main ("Battelle Europa"), which was due to start up in October 1990. It is basically an improved methyl magnesium carbonate method, designed to do 150,000 books/year as an inhouse operation, with options for later expansion. They closed the solvent cycle so that freon and alcohol will not be released to the atmosphere, and later may try other solvents. By introducing microwave drying, they have cut the predrying period from two days to 30 minutes, and removal of solvent vapors has also been cut to 30 minutes. Their goal is to make it a two-hour cycle, to keep costs of operation low. Another improvement is to introduce automated control, making a technician unnecessary.

Richard Miller described Texas Alkyls' Diethyl zinc process and said that this fall they will start deacidifying books for Johns Hopkins University. The cost will be $10-$15 per book. I asked him what he thought about the blackening of zinc oxide (the salt deposited by this process) with time, and why they decided not to convert it to zinc carbonate. He said the treated paper was not very sensitive because the concentration of the deposited salt was so low, and that they couldn't convert the zinc oxide to the carbonate form.

Bob Wedinger described the Lithco process (the only one available in America that strengthens) and in the question and answer period he said that two new freons were coming out soon: HCFC 141B, available January 1991, and 123HCFC next year sometime.

Someone asked Derek Priest whether paper dried to an abnormally low moisture content during freeze drying or deacidifying ever returned to normal again. He said to look in the literature under hysteresis and moisture content to get data on haw overdrying affects moisture content; the curve will close, he said, if you bring it up to higher levels and back down.

Permanent Paper

Beatrix Kastaly described a joint project to formulate a permanent paper for library editions of newspapers. Papers of known composition are produced and tested. One of the experimental papers, #6, apparently had all the right characteristics for an extremely long life-100% cotton fiber, high pH, 15% calcium carbonate-but it was disqualified because it was so weak after aging. The reason was the short length of the fiber: it had been cut too short in the beater.

Derek Priest presented a paper on the permanence of coated paper, based on work done on the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology pilot machine. Under certain conditions, the coating helped the paper retain its strength after aging at 105ºC, regardless of whether calcium carbonate or clay was used. Starch, applied at the size press, had no effect on aging performance. His comments on strength measures used are interesting: Aging reduces fiber strength more than bond strength, so zero span tensile (which tests fiber strength) is more sensitive to aging than finite or long span tensile; and tensile energy absorption, which correlates nicely with fold endurance, is a good measure of brittleness. (These facts have been known for some time. It is not clear to me why the various standards committees have not taken them into consideration in setting specifications for permanent paper, or at least in checking the adequacy of the strength measures chosen.)


There was a four-panel poster on foxing, by Fausta Gallo and G. Pasquariello: "Hypotheses on the Biological Origin of Foxing." Six factors are seen as causes: temperature, relative humidity, pH, metals, bacteria and mold. Five observations are made, e.g., "Foxing is never or hardly ever found on paper with a high mechanical wood content." There are five conclusions, e.g., "SEM, XRF and neutron activation analysis show iron concentrated more in foxed areas."

Margaret Hey gave a paper on foxing, in which she said foxing was almost certainly due to iron, which gets into the paper from the ground, taken up by the tree; from water; papermaking chemicals; and particles from machines. Given high relative humidity, low pH, arid initial development of spores on the paper, foxing is likely to result. It looks like rust, because it is. To control it, one should wash out the soluble iron compounds and keep what's left in the paper in its insoluble form by keeping pH high, preferably with calcium hydroxide.

Conservation in Hungary

The Conservator Section of TAPPI was organized ten years ago and members have exerted themselves to stay in good contact with the field by meeting three or four times a year, reporting trips abroad, and translating and publishing 20 articles/year, which they send free to members.

There is an organization called Fragmentii Hungaricum or something like that, which devotes its efforts to reassembling broken books and pages found in pasteboard covers.


Ian Moor spoke on exhibition of photographs, which is generally harmful to them. A Fox Talbot image faded to nothing an exhibit in 1989, the anniversary of the invention of photography; others have also been lost on exhibition. Photographs are created by degradation due to temperature, relative humidity, and light, he said. These same agents continue to degrade them on exhibition. Photographs in the best shape deteriorate the most on exhibition-but no matter how bad they are they can always get worse.

Access to the Literature of Conservation

Margaret Hey called keeping up with the professional literature the "second stage of training." It is particularly hard for conservators in countries with currency problem, and for people who don't read English, but also very important. She described a number of ways to get literature: join ICOM, which is now beginning to produce newsletters; get access somehow to the centrally important journals and newsletters, which she listed; buy photocopies from organizations like the British Museum Conservation Library, Canadian Conservation Institute, ICOM Documentation Center, the Library of Congress, Smithsonian Institution, ICCROM Library and the British Lending Library; and use interlibrary loan, which operates worldwide. If there is no money at all for this, UNESCO Technical Aid can help. Refresher courses are very expensive; consider the photocopies you could buy with the same amount of money, which could be read by lots of other people too.

Conservator/Curator Relations

A young Czech fellow named Jiri Vnoucek, who had come straight from the airport, asked for a few minutes on the program to make an appeal. He very much wanted to get in touch with others interested in "indirect information" in old books, by which he may have meant "evidence" or "artifactual value," because he said "Every book has its own stigmata and curriculum vitae with it-plants, bugs, stains -and these might become more valuable than the message of the text." He is inspecting, documenting and restoring books in a library of 350,000 volumes, many of them old.

Later on there was a lively discussion an the communication gulf between the librarian and the conservator, which exists in many institutions. One fellow said that librarians and conservators fight, and the book with its information is the victim; a third party, he said, is needed as a go-between. Margaret Hey, Susan Swartzburg and Jim Stroud advised him and others not to lose hope, because the two groups can learn to communicate-it just takes time, and reaching out at the workplace and in professional groups that include both. Jim Stroud said it was important to go into library and archive organizations and make contact. If there was no communication, he said, maybe it was your fault. You should bring them to your lab, show then what you're doing, and ask then to take part in important decisions.

A related topic was mass conservation, or treatment of a large number of item in the same operation. Margaret Hey said conservators cannot be trained only in mass conservation, because they need to be able to make the crucial choice between individual and mass methods for the material at hand; and they also have to be able to discuss priorities with the curator.

Goodbye to Budapest

Nicolas Barker presented bouquets of roses to the organizers at the end of the last session, and said it had been a very successful conference, "wonderful for us foreigners.

The organizers intend to publish the proceedings.

Budapest is a lovely old town with a castle complex on a high hill right downtown. The city sustained a lot of damage in World War II, but was rebuilt in the same style. Its biggest drawback, for both visitors and residents, is a bad case of air pollution, but if the day is windy, this is not a problem. Public transportation is good, and most things are cheap. I stayed in town for several days after the conference, and enjoyed it all except for the frustrations of the language barrier. My advice is to go there for a vacation, but first learn how to say Yes, No, Please, Thank you, Hello and Goodbye. With this vocabulary, hand gestures, and a pad and pencil to draw pictures with, you will find it easier to pick up other words after you get there.

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