May 28, 2008

It's Better than the Movies in the Conservation Lab

Sometimes working in the conservation lab is like being in National Treasure. A map from 1775, showing property division between Richard Penn and Mary and Sarah Masters, came into the lab needing paper mending. The map had been mended previously with paper similar to paper the map was made from.
On a hunch - I took the map to the light table. . .

. . . and secrets are revealed! The map was mended with a letter signed by a Chew - probably one of the Bens. It discusses building materials including boards and white pine posts and the construction of a fence around Turner Camac (of the wooden street in Philadelphia) and Richard Penn's property.

And even though it doesn't reveal the location of the Knights Templar Treasure, it's still really fun to work in the conservation lab.

Welcome our newest staff member

Since the beginning of the project, we have been anxiously awaiting the completion of the mold room repairs so that we could hire a preservation technician. The mold room was renovated and now we are lucky enough to have the very brave and cheerful Anni Altshuler cleaning the mold from various sections of the Chew Papers. So far, she has been really helpful in getting us through our backlog of materials that have been simply awaiting her arrival.

Before donning her protective suit:

Before entering the mold world:

I continue to be amazed that she comes out of the mold room in such good spirits after being in this suit for 3 hours. Thanks for your hard work, Anni.

May 20, 2008

A little afternoon excitement

We have a few lingering leaks here in the processing room. Friday, we had a stream of water fall from the ceiling above our processing table. (Luckily, Natalie heard the dripping and we raced around to get plastic over things before anything got wet!)
Tyrone, our intrepid assistant facilities manager, went up on the roof in the rain to determine what was happening. He returned, soaked through, to report that he'd cleaned out the drains around our air handler and that we should be okay now. Everything seemed fine--no more dripping--but today, as we were working across the room, I thought I heard the pattering of rain drops. We looked over at the table to find water dripping onto boxes.

Luckily, we have a leak diverter nearby! We had never used it, and so I accidentally put it upside down and the threads were on the wrong side. We turned it over carefully, and got everything flowing in the right direction. Seems like things are okay for the moment. Here's what our processing table looks like today:

Chew childhood

I find it interesting that the voices of the Chews' children turn up in the collection, usually in the form of writing exercises, like the one below, or a section written on a parent's (usually a mother's) letter to a family member. These glimpses of children are formal since formality was expected in such exercises. However, they do indicate that the Chews' children were eager to please the adults around them and to communicate with loved family members, whether a father away on business or an out-of-town aunt or uncle.

Elizabeth Henrietta Philips, daughter of Henry and Sophia (Chew) Philips, wrote this exercise at the age of eight.

Incidentally, this document also illustrates the Chews' propensity for careful note-taking. The back of this exercise was re-used to make notes on shares of stock, presumably held by Sophia, and used as a wrapper for financial documents.

May 7, 2008

"...she is made the Heaven on Earth to which we most aspire..."

(You can click on the image to enlarge it to a readable size.)

Since Mother's Day is nearly here, I thought I would share a gem I found in Benjamin Chew Jr.'s papers extolling the virtues of Woman!

To give you just a sense of this document's flavor, here is a wonderfully florid quote:

"nay, more, she instills into the young Soul those Principles, those Sentiments, which give real Life, and which alone make the care-worn sojuournment in this vale of Sorrows worth enduring--She unfolds the Lilly, Honor, and teaches us to preserve its Leaf stainless, or wash it clean with the Drainings of our Arteries--The Mother's Tenderness assists the opening ideas in their expansion--the Sister's affection smoothes the angry Brow, and checks the Sigh of Vexation--The Mistress gives exertion in the Cause of Virtue and then repays us with her Love--"

They don't make 'em like they used to

If all goes well, I should be closing on my first house on Friday. But I bet that my mortgage papers will not be this classy.

May 2, 2008

Occupational Hazards

The Chew papers demonstrate the hazards of archival work. Many of the boxes were likely stored in the basement at Cliveden for decades. As we sort through them, we face what at times may be centuries worth of dust, dirt, and sometimes mold. For archivists without allergies, wearing masks and/or gloves are important precautions to take when handling these materials. Archivists who are particularly sensitive to dust or mold should take more care to protect themselves from allergens. Because she is allergic to dust, Cathleen often wears a respirator (below) when handling documents that are covered in substantial particulate matter. We also operate air purifiers in our processing space. Along the way, we clean documents that are moldy or covered in heavy dust or dirt so that researchers will be able to safely access them in the future.

The stacks (and stacks) of papers spread across our tables at the moment are legal and estates documents. For about a week now we've been untangling all sorts of legal affairs, many related to the Chew family's land speculation ventures around the turn of the 19th century.