State Archives lab offers new opportunities for saving history
May 5, 2005
F]or years, State Archives Manager Jeff Kintop studied how to recover historic documents, repair the damage they had suffered over the years, and preserve them for both their historic value and for research.
But until this year, he didn’t have a laboratory to practice that craft. Even after he thought that battle had been won and a conservation lab was planned in the new State Library and Museum building, rising construction costs claimed the money budgeted for the facility. There was space for the lab in the basement of the library but it was a bare room.
It took until this year, 10 years later, to equip the lab and actually open for business. But Kintop says the state now has new opportunities to restore and preserve its historic documents.
The lab has several large layout tables built to Kintop’s specifications by prison industries. It has large sinks for soaking and cleaning documents the size of newspaper pages or larger. It has equipment to make faded or damaged pages legible again. It has book-binding equipment to repair old volumes, equipment to seal fragile documents in plastic, and camera equipment to copy materials as well as large cases to store different maps, documents, equipment and chemicals used in restoration and preservation.
Is all that necessary?
“We have a lot of documents that need work,” Kintop said.
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As an historian, he said he realized shortly after coming to work at the division 22 years ago, there was a need to learn more about restoration and preservation of Nevada’s historic documents. He said he has been taking workshops and classes at every opportunity for nearly 20 years.
The documents in the archives include such things as all governors’ proclamations “back to the Nevada territory and Gov. Nye through Gov. Miller’s papers.”
“And we’ll get Gov. Guinn’s papers when he leaves office.”
He said there are original legislative bills; proclamations; secretaries of state’s records, including elections and appointments’ original handwritten Supreme Court proceedings and opinions; state land patents, along with records from the old Children’s Home dating to 1871; prison records dating to 1873; mental health hospital records and actions by hundreds of boards and commissions.
“We’ve got 12 million documents, and that doesn’t include the microfilm,” he said.
Beyond that, there are a lot of records being preserved because of their potential value.
“We hang onto a lot of things to see if they end up being historical,” he said. “Passage of time makes things more valuable.”
Among the lab’s first projects earlier this year was restoration of Silver City’s community center ledger damaged in last year’s fire. The leather binding and cover was burned and pages inside damaged not only by the fire but the efforts to douse it. Kintop told residents if they wanted to save the volume, which logged every meeting and event in the center back to 1983, they could help him do it.
He said six volunteers under his guidance separated and cleaned all the pages, humidified them, flattened the pages, and began to put them away in plastic slip cases to protect them.
An ongoing project is restoring old newspaper pages removed from the walls of the Capitol Annex, which was gutted and now being completely restored and rebuilt.
“They’re 1912 newspapers, mostly accounts from the sinking of the Titanic from the New York Evening Journal,” he said.
The pages have to be individually cleaned, including a soaking in sterile water. Amazingly, he said, the old newspaper is actually stronger once immersed in water and can then be cleaned and flattened. Since the ink is oil based, it doesn’t wash away.
A Mylar sheath is the protection for those old newspaper pages, maps and other documents when he’s finished. The plastic protects paper from water, contamination, insects and ultraviolet light.
“It’s like a Seal-A-Meal for archives,” he joked. The advantage over laminating the paper is that it can be cut open and removed if necessary.
He said most exciting for the new conservation lab is the opportunity to teach other librarians, archivists and museum workers how to better preserve their collections. He said he has held six workshops for librarians and museum curators and is planning more. Eventually, he said he’d like to offer classes to even more people.
“When word gets around about this lab, people will want to get things done,” he said.
n Contact reporter Geoff Dornan at email@example.com or 687-8750.
Comstock celebrates history
Historic Preservation Week is observed each year for communities and organization to combine Nevada’s history with family activities.
• Silver City Schoolhouse archaeological excavation artifacts will be displayed at the Fourth Ward School from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. The artifacts were recovered following a fire that destroyed the school in 2004. Admission $5 per adult, $3 for children 6 and older; free for 5 and under.
• “On Silver Mountain: Expectations and Realities of Chinese Americans in Virginia City” exhibit opens at the Fourth Ward School’s Changing Gallery. The exhibit explores the Chinese American experience on “Silver Mountain,” the Chinese name for Virginia City. An opening-exhibit reception is 5-6:30 p.m. in the Alumni Room. State Historic Preservation Officer Ron James and Jessica Escobar from the University of Nevada, Reno will answer questions.
• Chic DiFrancia and Carol Clifford demonstrate the Chandler Press, used to print school newspapers and annuals. 11 a.m. -4 p.m. in the Mark Twain Room.
• Nevada Civil War Volunteers will perform living history in the school’s E.L. Wiegand Great Hall from 11 a.m.-4 p.m.
• Dr. Ron Reno will lecture on the architecture and archaeology of the 1867 Silver City Schoolhouse. Artifacts from the excavation are included in the presentation from 5-6 p.m. in the school’s Alumni Room.
• Historic Preservation Ball at Piper’s Opera House from 7-11:30 p.m. Dancemaster Gus Gustafson and the Dennis Butterfield Quartet take attendees back in time to the grand balls of the Victorian era. Cost: $35 in advance; includes light buffet supper. Call 358-2284 for reservations.
Models will promenade in authentic Victorian fashions and finery, featuring Chinese influence in fabrics and design, at 3 p.m. in the Great Hall.