Now that we are getting close to wrapping up our Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) Museums for America grant to conserve, photograph, catalog, and rehouse artifacts from our collection, some of the staff who have worked on this grant would like to share interesting objects they’ve encountered over the course of the grant.
Marlene Gray, IMLS Project Conservator, has three objects she would like to share.
Dodge & Zuill Easy Model C Washing Machine, circa 1912 / THF186088
As the IMLS Project Conservator for the last year of the grant, clearing space for larger objects in storage was our main priority. However, there were chances to conserve some interesting objects, one of which was a copper electric washing machine from the early 20th century. The dazzling copper tub was a sight to behold while in the conservation lab. While cleaning it, I remember thinking how grateful I am that technology has come such a long way in making tasks simpler!
Next is this footwarmer from the mid-19th century:
This footwarmer was a cute object to conserve because of the decorative elements in the wood frame and pierced tin stove box. One of the wooden columns had separated from the rest of the object. The opportunity to completely reassemble the object and give it a thorough cleaning made it feel as though the little stove could still be heated for the approaching cold months.
The great thing about conservation is that you are always learning about history through ordinary objects. While the conservation treatment of this object involved relatively simple metal polishing and glass repair, learning about the inventor of the lubricator cup, Elijah McCoy, and his connection to Detroit was fascinating. I highly recommend exploring his story, like I did!
Next up are Susan Bartholomew and me, Laura Myles, Collections Specialists in the Registrars’ Office. We have worked closely cataloging and researching the objects that have been selected for the grant. It was hard to narrow down our favorite objects, or at least the ones we think are the most interesting, but here is a brief overview of some of the objects we enjoyed working with the most.
My name is Susan Bartholomew. I am a Collections Documentation Specialist and simply put, my role in this project was to update or revise catalog records for objects selected for the grant. This included identifying and applying accession numbers, which allow us to track an object both physically and digitally using our database, as well as conducting provenance research, and creating or modifying existing records in our database using cataloguing standards.
My personal highlights for this grant include the following.
Model of a Hook and Ladder Truck, circa 1900 / THF170406
This incredibly detailed handmade model of a turn-of-the-century fire truck is complete with removable ladders, firemen’s tools, and what are possibly the world’s tiniest leather fire buckets.
From the tiny to the huge, this is a shop sign in the form of a giant gold-painted tin teapot. It stands over three feet tall and four feet long from spout tip to handle. For more information about this unique giant teapot, check out this blog post Senior Conservator Louise Beck wrote about its surprising discovery.
A very early example of a type of telephone that had no batteries, this device operated on the same principle as two tin cans connected by a string, an idea that had been around for centuries. They were used in pairs and were connected over a short distance by a tightly stretched wire. With no dependence on electricity, they were advertised as being more reliable than battery-operated telephones. This unit was one of a pair used by the father of the donor to connect the flour mill he operated to the boats he used to ship his flour. One set would be at the mill and the other was placed on the wharf boat half a mile away.
And now, Laura Myles shares her favorites.
Like Susan, I have assisted with cataloging, but I also research objects more in depth to uncover missing dates and/or manufacturers, as well as approving records to go online into our Digital Collections. Working on the grant over the last three years has been a wonderful learning experience, as the objects are so varied you really have no idea what to expect.
Megalethoscope Slide, "St. Mark's Square," lit up / THF179346
Perhaps my most favorite object is the megalethoscope and its slides. One of the best parts of my job is rediscovering hidden treasures in the collection. While we knew this was something special by looking at it, it was not until we were working on the slides that we knew how truly special it was.
At first glance, it looks like the megalethoscope is a fancy magic lantern device—merely projecting the images on slides. The megalethoscope was designed by Charles Ponti while he was living in Venice, Italy circa 1862. Ponti photographed his travels through France, Switzerland, Italy, and Egypt, and it was these photographs that he turned into transparencies for his megalethoscope, costing five francs each at the time. These transparencies look like normal slides until they are inserted into the megalethoscope and manipulated to show night views painted onto the backs of the images but hidden by a dustcover. One of the 22 slides can be seen above. For even more information about the megalethoscope, here is a blog post written about its conservation and photography.
Another object that I enjoyed researching was this naval cannon. While we know this cannon was accessioned in 1929, we do not have information about who made it or where it was used. Based on its estimated manufacture date, circa 1780, and similar design to British artillery, I reached out to the Royal Armouries, which helped eliminate the possibility of it being British in origin. Unfortunately, we do not know its history, but at least we know it was very likely made in the United States to be used on a merchant marine vessel.
This sign advertising the O. H. Perry Inne is one of my favorites just for its connection to the War of 1812 and Oliver Hazard Perry. On the front of the sign is a portrait of Perry, there is an eagle with seventeen stars above (although there were eighteen states by 1813, further adding to the mystery), and the words “Lake Erie” below on the reverse. Perry was regarded as a hero after defeating a British squadron in Lake Erie, which led to Detroit being freed from British control. Unfortunately, this sign’s history has been lost to time, although there are similar signs that have come up for auction. It seems likely that some local establishment capitalized on Perry’s name, probably along Lake Erie. We can only imagine the building it adorned.
One of the more recent objects to make my short list, and Susan’s as well, is this turtle spittoon. We think it is one of the cutest objects to have come through the IMLS pipeline, especially since spittoons themselves are not the most elegant of objects. Apparently turtle designs for spittoons were quite popular in their time, as well as remaining popular among collectors. The one in our collection is functional: pressing the turtle’s head flips open the shell to reveal the bowl.
If you would like to know more about the cataloging process, you can read more about that here (and see a few more interesting objects we have worked on as a result of this and a previous IMLS grant), and if you would like to know more about the provenance research Susan refers to, check out Associate Registrar Aimee Burpee’s blog post.
This is but a small sampling of some of our favorite objects from this grant. Over the course of the grant so far, we've digitized nearly 3,000 objects, and cataloged and conserved over 4,300 total objects. Unfortunately, this means that we had to be a little bit picky in what we shared here, but hopefully you will discover more of the treasures from our Collections Storage Building yourself while searching our Digital Collections.
Marlene Gray is IMLS Project Conservator, Susan Bartholomew is Collections Documentation Specialist, and Laura Myles is Collections Specialist, all at The Henry Ford.
Adult changing table in one of our two new accessible companion-care restrooms.
As for so many others, the year 2020 was not easy for The Henry Ford. The pandemic brought many challenges that we had to face as an institution. Despite those challenges, we remained committed to reaching strategic goals that we had set to improve accessibility and inclusion for all of our guests. Through teamwork and determination, we were able to stay on track toward this commitment.
We are excited to share that we received a three-year grant from the federal Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) to support sensory programming initiatives. With this grant, we will be able to expand our current programming and build on what we have learned with new programming for guests with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and sensory processing disorder (SPD). The grant will allow guests to have improved on-site experiences and access to our collections in all of our venues.
In addition, we are excited to announce that, within the next year, we are planning to launch a new program for teens and young adults with ASD and SPD that will include activities aimed at social skill-building and networking.
The inclusion of all guests is one of the main pillars of our strategic plan. We believe that this is an important component that will help all guests feel welcome and comfortable on our campus. Because of this, we are expanding training for both current and new staff members. We are developing a module that will use information from the Autism Alliance of Michigan, as well as other organizations, to help our staff become more aware of those with disabilities. As an institution, we understand that it is our responsibility to become more aware of disabilities, as well as how we can modify our unique educational experiences for guests who may need additional support. It is important that guests of all ages, backgrounds and abilities have equal access to the collection and our campus.
Another example of how we are making a more comfortable experience for our guests with disabilities is with the installation of two new accessible companion care restrooms, located at both ends of the main promenade of Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation. Our accessibility specialist, Caroline Braden, partnered with the Madison Center to help design these restrooms. The Madison Center has partnered with The Henry Ford for over 10 years through our Community Outreach Program. The project was supported in part by grants from the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs and the Ford Foundation.
Toilet in one of our new accessible companion-care restrooms.
The work done on the companion care restrooms goes above and beyond compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. The restrooms are barrier-free and include power-operated doors, extra space, and a power-adjustable adult changing table. These tables will be able to accommodate guests with physical and cognitive disabilities. As an institution, we are very proud of this construction, and we are very grateful to those who worked so hard on this essential project.
Caroline Heise is Annual Fund Specialist at The Henry Ford.
For nearly 20 years, The Henry Ford has sought to provide safe, unique, and engaging experiences for our members and guests on the autism spectrum and their families. It has been a long journey, with a slow start and a positive twist during a worldwide pandemic in 2020, an otherwise extremely challenging year. We are pleased to share with you a brief history of our efforts and an exciting announcement about opportunities for future visits to The Henry Ford.
Early efforts at specialized programming began in 2000 with a partnership event with the Autism Society of Michigan during one of our first Day Out With Thomas events and later with safety trainings led by the Autism Alliance of Michigan (AAoM). Guest-facing staff and security personnel were trained on the impacts of autism spectrum disorder and sensory processing disorder (ASD/SPD) and given basic instruction on how to interact with caregivers and assist in keeping these guests safe while visiting. The focus was on improving service and engagement for guests with ASD/SPD who were already visiting, not necessarily on drawing more families and guests with ASD/SPD to our venues and programs.
Sensory-friendly entrance sign in Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation.
By 2015, our desire to serve more guests with disabilities had evolved into concrete initiatives and plans with the addition of Caroline Braden, now our full-time accessibility specialist on the Guest Services Team. Caroline's background in museums and accessibility programming allowed us to build and deliver a broad range of services, programs and accommodations designed for guests with disabilities, both on-site and online. I personally have had the privilege of working with Caroline and many outstanding partners and colleagues who have contributed to the growth of accessibility programming over the years. Additionally, this work has been a personal passion, as my youngest child has been diagnosed with ASD.
At The Henry Ford, our current sensory-friendly programming began in 2016. Since then, we have had at least three or four sensory-friendly events a year. These events have included such offerings as pre-visit materials (i.e., social narratives), sensory-friendly maps, noise-canceling headphones and earplugs, quiet zones, and turning loud sounds down or off. We have also offered exclusive access times to some of our exhibits and events, such as our Hallowe'en in Greenfield Village event—one of our most popular sensory-friendly events of the past few years.
Sensory-friendly entrance sign at Hallowe'en in Greenfield Village.
Which brings us to our exciting news and the most positive twist in this story—a substantial grant that The Henry Ford received this past fall from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS). This grant will enable us to significantly expand our current sensory-friendly programming to provide access to over 18,000 guests with ASD/SPD and their families within the funding period of three years.
To do this, The Henry Ford will increase the number of sensory-friendly events to 13–15 a year, including more access and accommodations for our special annual events. We will also develop and launch a new program for teens and young adults with ASD/SPD that will include activities aimed at social skill-building and networking. This programming will include not only the successful access and accommodations we have provided in the past but free admission as well, removing any unique economic and/or social barriers.
As an additional component of the grant, we are developing new training for staff in partnership with AAoM. This training, combined with the yearly safety training from AAoM, will be designed to broaden awareness and develop programmatic and service skills around the unique needs of those with ASD/SPD.
The timing of this grant during the COVID-19 pandemic has made our delivery of sensory-friendly programming more complex. As safety is our number one priority, The Henry Ford is operating at 25% of normal venue capacities, and some venues and programming are not available at all. IMLS, however, has been extremely flexible in allowing us to modify our on-site programming and move certain aspects to virtual programming. For updates on virtual opportunities and onsite events in 2021, continue to follow The Henry Ford’s social channels and website.
Amy Louise Liedel of The Henry Ford receives AAoM’s Seal of Approval from AAoM President & CEO Colleen Allen.
We are also proud to have recently received AAoM’s Seal of Approval endorsement. The endorsement is given by AAoM to businesses and organizations in Michigan who demonstrate a conscious effort to accommodate and include individuals with autism in community activities that all families enjoy.
We look forward to continuing to expand our sensory-friendly offerings and hope to see you soon at The Henry Ford.
Amy Louise Liedel is Senior Director of Guest Operations at The Henry Ford.
For the entire month of November, we at The Henry Ford are celebrating the digitization of over 100,000 artifacts! To reach a goal of 100K artifacts digitized takes many people and departments coordinating and working together. Let’s look at how our conservation department contributed to this momentous achievement. I’ll be highlighting one of the current projects in which digitization is a crucial step.
This graphic shows the various steps in The Henry Ford's digitization process, and where conservation fits in.
As Project Conservator on a three-year Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) grant awarded to The Henry Ford, I work with other conservation and collections specialists to clean and stabilize 3D objects from our Collections Storage Building. These objects oftentimes have never been on display, let alone photographed. As conservators, it’s our responsibility to make sure the objects are not only camera-ready but are structurally sound for exhibition or museum storage.
For this IMLS grant, the objects undergo a multi-step process involving many hands in order to get to digitization. First, objects are tagged by collections or conservation staff with a Tyvek label that states the object number (if known), description/identifying name, and location found in storage. This tag stays with the object throughout the various stages and is updated with staff initials as tasks are completed.
Objects are then vacuumed to remove surface dirt and/or mold before moving from the storage building to be cleaned thoroughly in the Conservation Lab. If the object is too large to handle, it stays in the building for conservation treatment performed in a section that has been zoned off as a clean room. Outside contractors bring in heavy-duty equipment to lift and move the bigger and heavier objects.
A Herschell-Spellman steam engine (27.139.1) rigged up for moving out of storage.
Caravan of large objects being moved out of storage!
If the object is an appropriate size for the IMLS team to handle and move by forklift or box truck, we bring it back to the Conservation Lab for cleaning and stabilization.
Due to the number of objects we conserve, not all get photographed in the lab. That will happen later! However, we do take before, during, and after conservation treatment photos for some objects that have interesting conservation treatments and/or a significant change from start to finish.
Check out a recent blog on the conservation treatment of this Megalethoscope (32.742.113).
Other staff are also involved in the IMLS grant, including registrars who catalog and attach a unique accession number to each object.
Quick photographs are often taken at this stage in order to research and find more information about the object.
Finally, the object is ready for its close-up! It moves down to our photography studio to be photographed under the proper lighting and with a professional grey backdrop. Sometimes the object is so large that is easier to photograph it in its new storage location. You can find all of these images in our Digital Collections on THF.org.
Here is a Pratt & Whitney Gear Cutter and Lathe, circa 1900, getting set up for photography in storage.
Click here to visit our Digital Collections and search for digitized artifacts!
As we are all facing challenges this year brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, we have had to adopt new procedures to keep the process running smoothly! It has not been possible to photograph all objects included in the grant. Before the object leaves the conservation lab and moves to storage, though, it gets quickly photographed, and that image is attached to the record in our collections database.
At a later date, our photographer will take the beauty shot for Digital Collections and keep the tally rolling on our digitization numbers! As of today, over 3,500 objects have been pulled from storage, conserved, and rehoused during this three-year grant. Close to 3,000 of those objects have been digitized and are available online.
Photographer Rudy Ruzicska taking the perfect image.
The final step for these objects is moving to a new home in storage, going on loan, or display for THF visitors to see up close. We work with collections management staff to box, palletize, and wrap the objects before finding the perfect location in storage or sending them on their next adventure for public viewing. The objects from this IMLS grant are just a small portion of the 100,000 artifacts that have been digitized, but they also include some of the largest objects we have in the collection!
A couple of generators sitting in front of boxed and palletized objects in storage.
Let’s end with a blast from the past of The Henry Ford’s early digitization days in 2012. Here are a few images of what it took to digitize an abundance of hubcaps! Some of these you may have seen on display in the Driving America exhibit. The rest you can find in Digital Collections.
For an in depth look at hubcaps, check out this blog post.
Congratulations to all who have helped over the years to get so many of The Henry Ford’s artifacts digitized and accessible!
Sometimes, the objects we find in storage surprise us.
Imagine this: the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) project team is working in the Collections Storage Building, selecting objects to be conserved as part of our grant-funded work. From the top level of pallet racking, about 15 feet above the ground, we remove some pallets of boxes and bring them down to ground level to unpack. We then climb the moveable stairs to take a peek at the area that we have exposed. The sight that greets us is confusing, but intriguing: a giant, golden-toned teapot, sitting in the center of the racking, far enough back that it was not visible from the ground. It was almost like revealing a magic lamp! We test-lifted it and realized that it was very light for its size, and must be hollow, so we carefully moved it off of the racking and to ground level
The giant teapot trade sign as we found it in the Collections Storage Building (after we had moved it down from the top shelf).
From the bracket that we found on the handle, it quickly became apparent that this was some sort of a trade sign, likely for a tea shop or coffee house. The body of the teapot occupies a space about three feet on every side – it would have been a very eye-catching sign! A little bit of research led us to some other interesting examples, including one that currently hangs above a Starbucks in Boston and is set up to blow steam out of its spout!
Our teapot has some mysteries, though – the golden paint has some texture to it, as if there were at one point a stripe along the widest part of the teapot’s body, with vertical stripes reaching from that stripe to the lid. Was the teapot originally painted a different color, or with a pattern? We did some minor tests to see if we could isolate different layers of paint, but we were not successful. We might decide in the future to do a more thorough analysis, but that would be after discussion with the curators. We also noted that our giant teapot does not have a hollow spout, and therefore, despite being hollow, probably never had the mechanism to blow steam in the same way as some others.
The giant teapot on the table in the lab - you can really get a sense of how large it is!
Ultimately, we don’t know a lot about where the giant teapot was originally used, or where it may be displayed in the future. We treated this object with nothing more than a simple cleaning – it was overall very stable to begin with, just dusty and dirty from being in storage. By minimizing treatment to the point of only stabilizing the object, we are leaving the option open for a future conservator to do more work while still ensuring that it’s going to be safe and sound in storage. It also allows us to treat more objects from storage as we progress through the grant. Maybe someday in the future we’ll see the giant teapot again, but for now it’s safe and sound in the Main Storage Building! You can check it out in our Digital Collections.
The giant teapot after treatment, ready to go back to storage. Louise Stewart Beck is Senior Conservator at The Henry Ford.
Over the last two years, if you happened to peek through the windows of The Henry Ford’s conservation lab windows, you might have seen a large, wooden, box-like object on the table. You may have speculated about what it was – a camera, a projector? The answer is that this device is called a “Megalethoscope” – a Victorian photography viewer created optical illusions using light and photographic images.
The Megalethoscope during treatment in the lab.
The Megalethoscope is one of thousands of objects from The Henry Ford’s Collections Storage Building (CSB) that is being conserved, digitized, and rehoused thanks to a ‘Museums for America Collections Stewardship’ grant from the Institute of Museums and Library Services (IMLS), received in October 2017. Heading behind the scenes, this blog will explain the process that an artifact moves through from conservation to photography—and eventually, becoming viewable on Digital Collections.
Once an artifact is selected, tagged, and inventoried, it is given a preliminary cleaning with a vacuum and transported into the Conservation Lab.
(Left) Photo of how the Megalethoscope was found in storage; (Center) The instruction panel that shows how the Megalethoscope works; (Right) The Megalethoscope mounted correctly on its stand.
The top panels on the Megalethoscope before and after it was cleaned and waxed.
Prior to cleaning, a small spot was tested to determine the best method and materials to use. A mild detergent, diluted in distilled water did the best cleaning job without damaging the wood. The cleaning solution was gently rubbed on the wood surfaces with swabs to remove all of the dirt and grime, and then the surface was cleared with distilled water to remove soap residue. To bring back the shine of the wood finish, furniture wax was applied and buffed.
Years of storage on its end had caused the joints of the Megalethoscope’s viewer to separate (highlighted in red). Damaged areas were repaired removing the old, dried-up glue, and replacing it with fresh glue.
Large shrinkage cracks had developed in the two side panels that serve as light reflectors, and in the back panel that covers a large pane of glass. Shrinkage cracks develop when wood expands and contracts because temperature and humidity levels fluctuate too much.
Since the cracks were big enough to see through (approximately 1/8th inch wide) thin strips of Japanese tissue paper were soaked with a reversible adhesive, then dried, to fill each of the cracks. As each strip of tissue was compacted into the cracks, the adhesive was activated with solvent. This caused the dry paper to adhere to the edges of the crack and create a bridge. This fill was smoothed down flush with the rest of the wood panel, providing an even surface that could be in-painted to match the adjoining wood panels.
Using Japanese tissue to fill shrinkage cracks.
Watercolor and acrylic paints were used on the paper fills to hide the repairs and to paint in the large scratches and abrasions that covered the body of the Megalethoscope. To give the painted areas the same shine as the wood finish, a topcoat of acrylic gloss medium was applied.
(Left) In-painting the paper filled cracks; (Right) Paper fills after they were painted (in green).
To finish the treatment, the glass and mirror pieces of the Megalethoscope were cleaned with a solution of ethanol and distilled water, then wiped with microfiber cloths to prevent streaking. Any metal parts were cleaned with a mild solvent to remove small areas of corrosion and then waxed and buffed them to bring back their shine.
The Megalethoscope (Left) before and (Right) after conservation treatment.
Investigating Megalethoscope Slides During treatment, an original photographic slide left inside of the Megalethoscope was discovered. This led to additional investigation. The slide depicted is of thePonte dei Sospiri in Venice (the Bridge of Sighs). We wondered if there were more of these slides in the collection and after checking our collections database, found a box labeled “Megalethoscope Slides” in the Benson Ford Research Center (BFRC). The contents of the box were not catalogued, so we decided we needed to go to the Archives to see for ourselves!
When the box was brought to the Reading Room at the BFRC, we opened the box and found 21 slides, all in good condition! Many of the slides were photographs of Italy and Paris, plus a handful depicting interiors.
(Top) The Ponte dei Sospiri slide with handwritten inscription (Bottom) inside the Megalethoscope after it was taken out of storage.
Megalethoscope slides are large, multi-layered assemblies. Each slide consists of an albumen photographic image with pin pricks matching the areas where there is a light source or reflection (ex. an illuminated cityscape). Behind it are layers of colored tissue or cellophane and sometimes extra imagery when lit from behind; finally, there is a backing of a thinner, translucent canvas. All of this is stretched over a curved wooden frame. The curve creates a stereo view of the image which encompasses the viewer’s sight lines when they place their head into the Megalethoscope, much the way today’s virtual reality goggles work. Light is directed onto the slide to create different effects.
Cross section of a Megalethoscope slide. (Image courtesy of The American Institute for Conservation & Artistic Works, Photographic Materials Group Journal, Topics in Photographic Preservation 1999, Vol. 8, Art.5 (pp.23-30).
The slide that was found with the Megalethoscope in storage did not have any color effects, so we were excited to find that the majority of the slides in our archives had variations in color and optical illusions. The slides were moved to the conservation lab, where their surfaces were gently vacuumed. A smoke sponge removed any remaining dust and dirt. A few of the slides had small punctures or tears to the canvas, but since they were stable, we decided to not repair them at the present. We were thrilled to be able to reunite the slides with the Megalethoscope and have a fully functioning artifact!
(Top Left & Right) In "St. Mark's Square” you can see how people appear when light is applied to the image.
Photographing the Megalethoscope
The Megalethoscope on a cart for ease of movement during photography.
There are many steps that artifacts go through to be digitized and made available online, especially for objects as complex as the Megalethoscope. After the slides were conserved and cataloged, they were brought to the photography studio. For 3-D artifacts like the Megalethoscope, photography typically includes an image of the front, the back, and each side, if necessary. Photos serve as a reference material for historical researchers, and they document the condition of the artifact at that time. The slides needed to be photographed in two ways: as they appeared in normal light, and as they would be seen through the Megalethoscope. Our senior photographer Rudy Ruzicska came up with a very clever arrangement to recreate this effect by placing two sets of milk crates with a sheet of Plexiglas suspended between them. He placed lights directly under and at an acute angle above the Plexiglas. The slides were placed in the middle of the Plexiglas with black paper border around the edges to prevent any light glare.
Light arrangement for photography of Megalethoscope slides. (Left) Rudy shooting with his custom set-up during the dark shot of the “St. Mark’s Square” slide; (Right) A closer view of the set-up.
The Megalethoscope images were then photographed under normal (“daytime”) light to document their appearance, and with their “nighttime” illumination effect by turning off the studio lights. The first time we saw the images illuminated in the dark, we all gasped – they became so vibrant and magical!
A selection of the final images, with color and effects as they would have been seen inside the Megalethoscope.
The Megalethoscope was re-housed in a specially designed box which will store the unit and its base together safely, along with all of the slides. It was then moved to permanent storage in the Main Storage Building (MSB), as have most of the artifacts that we have worked on during the IMLS grant.
Thank you for joining me on this behind-the-scenes journey of an artifact from storage, to conservation, and through to digitization. I hope you enjoyed the ride!
Alicia Halligan is an IMLS Conservation Specialist at The Henry Ford
This blog post is part of an ongoing series about storage relocation and improvements that we are able to undertake thanks to a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS).
A typical aisle in the Collections Storage Building before object removal.
Autumn of this year marks the end of a three-year IMLS-funded grant project to conserve, house, relocate and create a fully digital catalogue record for over 2,500 objects from The Henry Ford’s industrial collections storage building. This is the third grant THF has received from IMLS to work on this project. As part of this IMLSblogseries, we have shown some of the treatments, digitization processes and discoveries of interest over the course of the project. Now, we’d like to showcase the transformation happening in the Collections Storage Building (CSB).
A view of the aisle and southwest wall before dismantling to create a Clean Room.
Objects were removed from shelves allowing an area in the storage building to be used as a clean space for vacuuming and quickly assessing the condition of these objects before heading to the conservation lab. Since the start of the grant in October 2017, 3,604 objects have been pulled from CSB shelves along with approximately 1,000 electrical artifacts and 1,100 communications objects from the previous two grants. As of mid-March 2020, 3,491 of those objects came from one aisle of the building. As a result, we were finally at a point of taking down the pallet racking in this area.
Pallets of dismantled decking and beams. A bit of cleaning before racking removal.
While it has taken multiple years to move these objects from the shelves, it took only three days to disassemble the racking! Members of the IMLS team first removed the remaining orange decking. On average, there were four levels of decking, separated in three sections per level. Next, we unhinged the short steel beams that attach the decking to the racking. Then was the difficult part of Tetris-style detachment of the long steel beams directly by the wall from the end section of height-extended, green pallet racking. As you can see this pallet racking almost touches the ceiling! After that, the long beams could be completely removed before taking down the next bay. Nine bays were disassembled this time to reveal the concrete wall and ample floor space. Just as the objects needed cleaning to remove years of dust and dirt, so did the floor!
The aisle in 2018. An open wall and floor!
What’s next? We will methodically continue pulling objects and taking down racking until no shelf is left behind! We are grateful to the IMLS for their continued support of this project and will be back for future updates.
Marlene Gray is the project conservator for The Henry Ford's IMLS storage improvement grant.
This blog post is part of a series about storage relocation and improvements that we are able to undertake thanks to a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services.
In the course of our work as conservators, we get some very exciting opportunities. Thanks to a partnership with Hitachi High Technologies, for the past few months the conservation lab here at The Henry Ford has had a Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM) with an energy-dispersive x-ray (EDX) spectroscopy attachment in our lab.
What does this mean? It means that not only have we been able to look at samples at huge magnifications, but we have had the ability to do elemental analysis of materials on-demand. Scanning electron microscopy uses a beam of electrons, rather than light as in optical microscopes, to investigate the surface of sample. A tungsten filament generates electrons, which are accelerated, condensed, and focused on the sample in a chamber under vacuum. There are three kinds of interactions between the beam and that sample that provide us with the information we are interested in. First, there are secondary electrons – the electron beam hits an electron in the sample, causing it to “bounce back” at the detector. These give us a 3D topographical map of the surface of the sample. Second, there are back-scattered electrons – the electron beam misses any electrons in the sample and is drawn towards a positively-charged nucleus instead. The electrons essentially orbit the nucleus, entering and then leaving the sample quickly. The heavier the nucleus, the higher that element is on the periodic table, the more electrons will be attracted to it. From this, we get a qualitative elemental map of the surface, with heavier elements appearing brighter, and lighter elements appearing darker.
Conservation Specialist Ellen Seidell demonstrates the SEM with Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation volunteer Pete Caldwell.
The EDX attachment to the SEM allows us to go one step further, to a third source of information. When the secondary electrons leave the sample, they leave a hole in the element’s valence shell that must be filled. An electron from a higher valence shell falls to fill it, releasing a characteristic x-ray as it does so – the detector then uses these to create a quantitative elemental map of the surface.
A ‘K’ from a stamp block, as viewed in the scanning electron microscope.
The understanding of materials is fundamental to conservation. Before we begin working on any treatment, we use our knowledge, experience, and analytical tools such as microscopy or chemical tests to make determinations about what artifacts are made of, and from there decide on the best methods of treatment. Sometimes, materials such as metal can be difficult to positively identify, especially when they are degrading, and that is where the SEM-EDX shines. Take for example the stamp-block letter shown here. The letter was only about a quarter inch tall, and from visual inspection, it was difficult to tell if the block was made of lead (with minor corrosion) or from heavily-degraded rubber. By putting this into the SEM, it was possible a good image of the surface and also to run an elemental analysis that confirmed that it was made of lead. Knowing this, it was coated to prevent future corrosion and to make it safe to handle.
Elemental analysis is also useful when it comes to traces of chemicals left on artifacts. We recently came across a number of early pesticide applicators, which if unused would be harmless. However, early pesticides frequently contained arsenic, so our immediate concern was that they were contaminated. We were able to take a sample of surface dirt from one of the applicators and analyze it in the SEM.
An SEM image of a dirt sample from an artifact (left) and a map of arsenic within that sample (right).
The image on the left is the SEM image of the dirt particles, and the image on the right is the EDX map of the locations of arsenic within the sample. Now that we know they are contaminated, we can treat them in a way that protects us as well as making the objects safe for future handling.
We have also used the SEM-EDX to analyze corrosion products, to look at metal structures, and even to analyze some of the products that we use to clean and repair artifacts. It has been a great experience for us, and we’re very thankful to Hitachi for the opportunity and to the IMLS as always for their continued support.
Louise Stewart Beck is the project conservator for The Henry Ford's IMLS storage improvement grant.
Timber Scribe: A small tool, a timber scribe, helps inform us about resourcefulness and entrepreneurship.
The Oxford English Dictionary confirms use of the term “timber scribe” by 1858 as “a metal tool or pointed instrument for marking logs and casks.” Another tool, a “race-knife” (also spelled rase knife) performed a similar function, “marking timber,” but the tools differed in detail.
The race knife had a “bent-over, sharp lip for scribing,” according to Edward H. Knight who compiled the Practical Dictionary of Mechanics, a nearly 8,000-page behemoth containing 20,000 subjects and around 6,000 illustrations, published in 1877. The timber scribe included two pieces with bent-over sharp lips as well as a point. The combination made it possible to scribe Arabic numbers, not just gouge Roman numerals, into logs and casks and timber, as shown below.
This tool has a wooden handle, a brass band that helped stabilize the wooden end where the forged steel was inset into the wooden handle, and the steel point with a cutter/gouge and separate “bent-over sharp lip”/gouge Dimensions: Length 7.25 inches; Height 2 inches; Width 1 inch.Object ID: 2017.0.34.625
Simply stated, a timber scribe included the components of the race knife. Lumbermen, shipbuilders, house wrights and carpenters, coopers, and surveyors, all used the timber scribe to make uniform marks on wood, but they could also use the elongated cutter/gouge to make free-hand marks. They used the race knife to make free-hand marks.
Appearances mattered. The timber scribe at The Henry Ford combines three natural materials – iron/steel, brass, and wood – all processed and refined in ways that make the tool pleasing to the eye, and useful to the woodsman or craftsman. The maker chamfered the edges of the wooden handle and scribed the brass collar.
An 1897 catalog from a Detroit hardware distributor, the Charles A. Strelinger Company, advertised a “rase knife or timber scribe.” The company sold three variations: a large size (though the catalog provided no dimensions), a small size, and a pocket rase knife. The large timber scribe included all three steel components (point with cutter gouge and “bent-over sharp lip” gouge) while the small version included just two of the three (point and gouge). The pocket rase knife likely consisted of just the gouge, which folded into the wooden handle of the knife, as seen below.
Rase Knife or Timber Scribe. Detail from Wood Workers’ Tools: Being a Catalogue of Tools, Supplies, Machinery, and Similar Goods used by Carpenters, Builders, Cabinet Makers, Pattern Makers, Millwrights, Carvers, Ship Carpenters, Inventors, Draughtsmen, and [also] all “Wood Butchers” not included in Foregoing Classification and in Manufactories, Mills, Mines, etc., etc. Detroit Michigan: Charles A. Strelinger & Company, 1897, page 662. In the collection of the Benson Ford Research Center, The Henry Ford, Dearborn, Michigan.
The tool in The Henry Ford's collection compares to the large timber scribe illustrated in Strelinger & Company’s 1897 catalog. The tool’s dimensions (7.25 inches long) inform us about the size of a “large” scribe.
Charles A. Strelinger was born in Detroit in 1856. The 1897 catalog Charles A. Strelinger Company indicated that the company had 30 years of experience in manufacturing and selling tools, supplies and machinery. Strelinger’s approach to advertising his wares through print media indicated how little change occurred in the tool business. The front page of the catalog had a blank space to write in the date, and, as he explained in “This Year’s Catalogue”: “our 1895 catalogue is also our 1896-’97-’98, and perhaps, 1899 catalogue. If we were selling Seeds and Plants, Ladies’ Hats and Bonnets, Patent Medicines, etc., we would, doubtless, find it necessary to issue a new catalogue every year, but our goods are of a stable nature, changes are comparatively few, and we are not warranted to going to the expense of printing a new book every year.”
The timber scribe and the Strelinger Company catalog confirm the need for specialized tools that serve many in various wood-working trades. The Company was resourceful in advertising, because the hand tools in woodworking were remarkably standardized by the late-nineteenth century and remained useful despite industrialization.
Debra A. Reid is Curator, Agriculture and the Environment at The Henry Ford.
The Henry Ford received funding from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) in 2017 to support a three-year project to conserve, rehouse, and digitize thousands of objects. This is work, supported through IMLS’s Museums for America Collections Stewardship project, will continue over three years as The Henry Ford consolidates offsite collections into a new location on campus. The work “will improve the physical condition of the project artifacts through conservation treatment, rehousing, and removal to improved environments.” Finally, IMLS funding “will facilitate collections access through the creation of catalog records and digital images, available to all via THF's Digital Collections.”
A series of blogs shares the stories of small items that tell big stories of innovation, ingenuity, and resourcefulness, and that relate to other collections and interpretation at The Henry Ford.
Bergmann & Company Edison Chemical Meter, Used at the City Hotel, Sunbury, Pennsylvania, 1883. THF164679
As work progresses on the Electrical Collection thanks to an Institute of Museum and Library Services grant, the fascinating context in which these objects were used is discovered. This Edison chemical meter used at the City Hotel in Sunbury, Pennsylvania, the first hotel commercially wired for electricity, and was part of the first three-wire power system in the world.
Following the success of the Edison Electric Illuminating Company of New York, the first central power station in the world, Thomas Edison sent his agent, P. B. Shaw, to find other ideal locations for more central power stations. The locations needed to have high gas prices to make the switch to electric lights appealing, and inexpensive fuel to help compete in the lighting business.
Shaw traveled the Coal Region of Pennsylvania to find a place that met the criteria, and organized multiple Edison Electric Illuminating Companies including Shamokin (1882), Sunbury (July 1883), and Mount Carmel (November 1883). The site selected in Sunbury backed up onto a stream flowing down from Shamokin, which would deposit coal on its banks after heavy rainfall or melting snow. Sunbury’s high cost of gas, free coal, and proximity to water meant that it was the perfect location for a power plant; however, the location was outside the town’s business center, which would add to the cost due to the length of wires needing to be strung from the power plant to potential customers.
To offset costs, Edison took a party of potential donors on his electric railway to demonstrate his innovative technology. After the demonstration, Edison was inspired to improve his two-wire system in use in New York by adding a third-wire to act as a neutral line, as well as using two dynamos to generate 220 volts while still allowing 110 volt lamp usage to ensure consistent distribution of power throughout the long wires. After a brief test, Edison applied for a patent and the three wires with conductors were strung to the City Hotel, thus making it the first building to be commercially wired for electricity and Sunbury the first city to have three wire commercial direct current incandescent lighting and overhead conductors.
On July 4, 1883, the City Hotel of Sunbury became the first building lit with incandescent carbon-filament light bulbs using the three wire system. To measure the electricity used by the hotel, an Edison Chemical Meter, one of the first electric wattmeters, was installed. These electrolytic meters measured electricity through electroplating, but needed to be removed and measured at the central station in order to bill customers. The meters were reliable, despite the cumbersome method for billing, but were phased out in the 1890s and replaced by mechanical meters, which were easier to read.
Laura Lipp Myles is Collections Specialist at The Henry Ford.