Collections Labeling: Simple Kit

November 25, 2011

Collections label kit for small museums

This is the kit I made for a workshop at the Museums Alaska conference in Valdez, September 2011.  The kit is designed for small museums with wide-ranging collections with everything from natural history specimens to fine art, where limited staff must wear many hats.  I made 24 kits, since many things can be ordered in a case of 12, and each kit cost about $50.  The workshop was funded through a grant from the Alaska State Council on the Arts.  The kit includes a manual, which can be found at the posting Collections Labeling: Material by Material. Other adhesive choices can be found on the posting Collections Labeling: Alternate Adhesive Testing.

 CONTENTS:

Acetone in dropper bottle (I got the bottle and acetone from Fisher Scientific)

  • Used for removing B-72.
  • Reagent Grade.
  • Hardware store acetone has petroleum distillates, other impurities.  Will work, but may make paper translucent and hard-to-read on dark materials. Could behave unpredictably with B-72.
  • Acetone is main ingredient in nail polish remover.  Fumes may be irritating.
  • Flammable.

Cotton swabs (Local grocery store)

  • Simple Q-tips.
  • Think twice about rubbing solvent on the surface of your artifact.

Funnel, mini (I bought these on the internet from Amazon.com)

  • For transfer of adhesive into smaller brush bottle, like polish bottle.
  • When B-72 dries on tools or jars, it can be soaked in water overnight, and then peeled off.

Needles, assorted (Local fabric store)

  • Sharps are good for piercing Tyvek label, but could stab through fibers.
  • Blunts or ball points are good for getting in between the weave gently.
  • Cheaper needles often have poorer quality “eyes”.

Paraloid B-72 adhesive  (I ordered pre-mixed for labeling from Talas)

  • Use to apply the paper label.
  • Synthetic acrylic resin: 70% ethyl methacrylate 30% methyl acrylate copolymer.
  • Works best no thicker than maple syrup most of the time.  Even thinner is often fine.
  • If you want to mix B-72 yourself, Howard Wellman describes how on the SHA website.
  • Soluble in acetone, but does not go into ethanol easily.  Ethanol sometimes added to slow drying time.
  • If it bubbles, try adding more acetone to your jar of adhesive.
  • If the top coat smears the writing, try loading brush well and applying in single thick stroke.
  • If it still smears, could try artist acrylic gloss medium as a top coat, applied smaller than barrier coat.
  • B-67 is similar to B-72 but in mineral spirits instead of acetone. This is sometimes used a top coat.
  • Aquazol is sometimes used to coat or size the label paper first, making the ink less likely to smear.
  • B-72 is thermoplastic, so if the lid sticks, running under hot water or using a hairdryer can help get it unstuck.

Pen, Zig Millenium  (I ordered online from MarkerSupply.com)

  • Use this pen for writing on tags and Tyvek.
  • “Permanent” boasted by many pens often just means waterproof, not lightfast or non-bleeding.
  • Dye-based inks often smear.
  • Carbon black ink is lightfast: India ink or rapidograph ink.
  • Quill pens take practice, can be gloppy, sharp, and may scratch.
  • Technical pens are fussy (clog, need cleaning fluid, delicate tip, may scratch).
  • IdentiPen also recommended for writing on plastic bags.
  • Helen Alten has a good article about testing pens for artifact labeling.

#2 Pencil  (Local office supply store)

  • HB pencils are also OK.
  • Wonderfully reversible on many surfaces, especially paper, if you don’t press too hard.

Photo Pencil  (I ordered from Hollinger Metal Edge)

  • Use these for marking the back of photos printed on plastic.
  • If you have a plastic photo, the right balance of sharp/dull regular #2 pencil may work if the plastic isn’t greasy from fingerprints or plasticizers.

Polish bottle with brush lid for B-72  (I ordered online from Amazon.com)

  • Nail polish is no good…yellows, cracks, peels, ages poorly, crosslinks.  Remember, how long is it meant to last on your fingernails?
  • Correction fluid or Wite Out is also not OK, it peels off too easily, ages poorly, proprietary mix varies widely.
  • Nice to buy B-72 already made, but the wide lid container causes it to dry out too fast.
  • Use mini-funnel to transfer from bigger container into polish bottle.  Also, if one jar dries out you have a back-up.
  • When applying, think of a sandwich made by two layers of B-72 with label in the middle.

Small scissors  (I got these from Fisher Scientific, but McMaster Carr also has them at a good price.)

  • Cut your labels into fringe for ease of handling multiple small numbers.
  • Rounding the corners makes labels less likely to snag and pop off.
  • Sewing scissors work well for this use, too.

Small paper tags  (I ordered these from Amazon.com)

  • Don’t use colored string.  Sometimes it runs or bleeds.  Replace with white string.
  • Avoid tags with wire, wire edges, or metal grommets around holes…risks of scratching and rust stains.
  • If your budget permits, you might want to upgrade to artifact tags from archival supply companies.  However, these are about 13 cents each as opposed to 1 cent each for the Avery brand office-supply variety, which test slightly more alkaline (pH 7-8) than the expensive ones (pH 6-7).  Both come with white cotton string.

Thin labeling paper  (I ordered from Hollinger Metal Edge, sold as “Photo-tex”)

  • Interleaving tissue is nice.
  • As thin as will go through your printer or photocopier.  Might need to experiment with feed.
  • Write the method that will work on your equipment on the cover of the folder you keep paper in.
  • Some Japanese tissues may be too thin to print, or may get translucent with adhesive.
  • Snipping your list of numbers into fringe helps keep track of tiny labels.
  • Manipulation by curling over the fingernail to conform to curves or folding lengthwise for long items.

Thread, white cotton  (Local fabric store)

  • Rule of thumb, tie material should be softer than the object, so abrasion will damage the tie and not the artifact.
  • Cotton is non-abrasive.  Polyester is a little bit abrasive.
  • Don’t use with beads that have glass disease, it may help wick moisture inside.
  • “Glide” or other brands of Teflon dental floss OK. Plumber’s Teflon tape is OK.
  • Regular dental floss not so good.  Usually made of nylon and ages poorly, becoming brittle and breaking.
  • Plastic zip ties usually too rough, and are also usually nylon and degrade, get brittle, break.
  • PVC plastic degrades and releases acids.

Tweezers  (I ordered them from McMaster Carr)

  • Pointy ones are helpful for manipulating paper labels.

Tyvek, for labeling textiles  (Local office supply store)

  • Tyvek is spun-bonded from olefin fibers, an inert plastic.
  • Mailing envelopes and home wrap are usually Tyvek and it is OK to use the non-printed, bare areas.
  • Needle punch “soft” Tyvek and smooth “hard” Tyvek both OK.
  • Alternatives: twill tape, Reemay.  Twill tape sometimes hard to write on without ink bleeding.

White vinyl eraser   (Local art supply store)

  • For removing pencil marks.
  • Can be helpful for removing tape residues from price tags or stickers as well.

REFERENCES

Alten, Helen “Numbering Museum Collections: Labeling Ethnographic Objects.”  ICOM Ethnographic Conservation Newsletter Number 17, April 1988 pp.18-21.

http://www.collectioncare.org/cci/ccin.html

Braun, Thomas J. “An Alternative Technique for Applying Accession Numbers to Museum Artifacts.” Journal of the American Institute for Conservation Vol 46. Summer 2007. Pp 91-104.

http://www.mnhs.org/preserve/conservation/docs_pdfs/ApplyAccessionnos.pdf

Buck, Rebecca A. and Jean Allman Gilmore.  MRM5 Museum Registration Methods 5th Edition.  AAM Press. American Association of Museums. Washington DC.  2010

 Davidson, Amy, Samantha Alderson and Marilyn Fox. “Assembling an Archival Marking Kit for Paleontological Specimens.” 2006 (and more too!)

http://collections.paleo.amnh.org/34/labeling

 Wellman, Howard “Mixing Resin Solutions.” Society for Historical Archaeology website 2006.

http://www.sha.org/research_resources/conservation_faqs/documents/MixResin.pdf

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Collections Labeling: Material by Material

November 25, 2011

This is the manual included in a kit I made for a workshop at the Museums Alaska conference in Valdez, September 2011.  The 2011 workshop was funded through a grant from the Alaska State Council on the Arts.  The kit is designed for small museums with wide-ranging collections with everything from natural history specimens to fine art, where limited staff must wear many hats.  My preferences come from (1) labeling thousands of artifacts while I was a curator at the Juneau-Douglas City Museum and (2) providing outreach assistance to museum staff statewide in Alaska who need easy simple solutions to collections management issues.  In general, I follow the paper label technique described by Thomas Braun in JAIC Summer 2007. The text below is from the little manual I enclosed in each kit.  If you want the little manual, just print out this manual for collections labeling , cut it in quarters and staple it together.  The contents of the kit are listed and explained in the posting Collections Labeling: Simple Kit.   Some adhesive choices are described in the posting Collections Labeling: Alternate Adhesive Testing.

Here's a labeling challenge: a box of muskox fur!

The back cover of the manual includes these questions to help determine the best labeling technique:

1. Will applying this label cause damage such as new holes or dissolving the surface?

2. Will future removal of this label cause damage?

3. Will the labeling materials run, fade, abrade, corrode or age in a way that will damage the artifact?

4. Is the label readable?

5. Is it easy to find the label without having to handle the object a lot?

6. Is it easy to hide the label during exhibition or photography?  Is the label ugly?

7. What will happen if the label gets wet?

8. Is the label likely to come off with normal handling, running, or abrasion?

9. Is there a compelling and urgent reason to remove any existing labels that may be important to the history of the item? 

ANTLER, BONE, IVORY, TOOTH

  • Beware, sometimes synthetic materials are made to look like this.  See “PLASTIC”
  • Locate a smooth area that is not flaking, powdery or decorated.
  • Choose a location that will not show during exhibit or photography.
  • Apply base coat of B-72, paper label, top coat.
  • Use paper tag, labeled bag/ box as redundancy and to reduce handling.

BALEEN, CLAW, HOOF, HORN

  • Beware, sometimes synthetic materials are made to look like this.  See “PLASTIC”
  • Locate a smooth area that is not flaking, powdery or decorated.
  • Choose a location that will not show during exhibit or photography.
  • Apply base coat of B-72, paper label, top coat.
  • Use paper tag, labeled bag/ box as redundancy and to reduce handling.

Sometimes the tag is the redundant label on a basket, sometimes it is the only label.

BASKETRY

  • Typically, the underside of a basket is labeled and the inside of the lid, if present.
  • Choose a location that will not show during exhibit or photography.
  • For baskets with very large elements, like cedar bark mats or bark containers, apply base coat of B-72, paper label, top coat.
  • For baskets with a finer weave structure, do not use adhesive but instead a small hanging tag sewn in between the weave with a needle that may pass through easily.
  • Use labeled bag/ box as redundancy and to reduce handling.

Redundant label on the folder means less handling for the item itself.

BOOKS and PAPER

  • Inside cover and reverse of title page are the common places to mark a book. Writing on the top outer corner means the book doesn’t have to be opened all the way.
  • Number is usually applied to the back upper right corner of a sheet of paper such as a document or a print/drawing/ watercolor.
  • Choose a location that will not show during exhibit or photography.
  • Avoid labeling in an area that already has information written there (price, owner’s name, signature, etc.)
  • Apply number with a #2 or HB pencil, taking care not to press hard enough to make indentations. Write on a firm surface.
  • Use a labeled bag/ folder/ box as redundancy and to reduce handling. Insert an acid-free paper bookmark with number in pencil at the top to fragile books.

CERAMIC

  • Typically, the underside of a ceramic is labeled unless it is unusually large or heavy, and then a place is chosen low on the “back” side.
  • Locate a smooth area that is not flaking, powdery, painted or decorated. The smooth, hard, shiny exterior of some pottery, called glaze, is made of glass and can be labeled.
  • Beware painted surfaces and do not mark or adhere onto them.  Do not mark break edges of sherds.
  • Choose a location that will not show during exhibit or photography. Do not obscure maker’s marks on base.
  • Apply base coat of B-72, paper label, top coat.
  • Use paper tag, labeled bag/ box as redundancy and to reduce handling.

It is possible to safely label leather and gut, but I consider it a more advanced skill set and generally recommend a paper tag.

FEATHER, FUR, GUTSKIN, LEATHER

  • Feathers of significant size may be labeled on the quill with a small font paper label.
  •  Most feather and skin artifacts have delicate surfaces and the removal of an adhesive label will leave a stain.
  •  Many feather and skin artifacts are connected to composite objects with other parts that may be labeled instead.
  • Some feather and skin items are sewn and a Tyvek label sewn through original stitch holes with white cotton thread may work, using the technique recommended for garments and textiles.
  • Stitch each end of the label so minimal snips are needed for removal.
  • No new holes shall be made. If no technique above will work, use a paper tag or label the enclosure.
  • Taxidermy is typically labeled with a tag around the leg, and also the mount support if present.

I like the collections management solutions offered by labeling a coin holder used for glass beads.

GLASS

  • Typically, the underside of a glass vessel is labeled.
  • Large beads may be labeled with a tag on a string.
  • Locate a smooth area that is not flaking, powdery or decorated. Do not mark glass that suffers from glass disease (weeping, crizzling, etc).
  • Choose a location that will not show during exhibit or photography. Small font size on paper label helps.
  • Apply base coat of B-72, paper label, top coat.
  • Use paper tag, labeled bag/ box as redundancy and to reduce handling.

I think B-72 loves metal more than any other material.

METAL

  • Typically, the underside of a metal item is labeled. If the metal item is very heavy, the “back” may be labeled instead.
  • Locate a smooth area that is not flaking, powdery, rusty, decorated, or coated. Musical instruments are often coated, for example.
  • Coins are usually not labeled directly. Edges may be labeled if large enough.
  • Choose a location that will not show during exhibit or photography. Small font size on paper label helps for smaller objects.
  • Apply base coat of B-72, paper label, top coat. Avoid artist acrylics and adhesives containing ammonia with copper or alloys with copper such as sterling silver.
  • Use paper tag, labeled bag/ box as redundancy and to reduce handling.
  •  Jewelry may be especially difficult to label, even with tiny font size. Redundant tags are helpful.

Did I mention I love redundant tags to minimize handling?

PAINTINGS

  • The back upper right hand corner of a painting is a good place for the number.  Large paintings may be marked on diagonal corners.
  • Artworks are sometimes removed from frames, so the back of the painting support is the best location for marking. Select a section of the wooden stretcher or strainer, plain wood if available.
  • Avoid touching the back of the canvas corresponding to the painted area. Label the rigid edges or backing board if the support is not visible.
  • Apply base coat of B-72, paper label, top coat.
  • In addition, use a paper tag attached to the screw eye, D-ring or other hanging hardware. This allows a painting to be identified without excessive handling.
  • Collector and exhibition labeling/ marking on paintings has a long and important tradition.  Avoid removing old labels from the backs of paintings.

PHOTOS

  • Number is usually applied to the back upper right hand corner, in a non-image area along the edge.
  • For paper, apply number with a #2 or HB pencil, taking care not to press hard enough to make indentations. Write on a firm surface.
  • For photos made of plastic, use the blue photo pencil.
  • Sometimes, the right amount of dullness on a graphite pencil will also work on plastic but care must be taken not to scratch the plastic.  If the plastic has oily fingerprints, plasticizers, or coatings, pencil will not work well.
  • Use a labeled enclosure such as a bag or folder as redundancy and to reduce handling.

Acetone damaged all these plastics. Water-based labels often peel off too easily. I prefer tags for plastics.

PLASTIC

  • Many kinds of plastic are vulnerable to the solvent acetone used in B-72 labeling adhesive, so this adhesive should not be used.  Some older plastics are sensitive to water-based adhesives.
  • It can be difficult to identify specific plastics.  Rubber, vinyl, plastics, and synthetic materials should be marked with great caution as removal can cause damage.
  • Adhered labels often pop off of flexible plastics.
  • Many plastic items are connected to composite objects with other parts that may be labeled instead.
  • For a completely plastic object, the most conservative recommendation is to only use a paper tag with a labeled bag/ box as redundancy.  Enclosures also reduce handling, and many plastics age poorly so the less handling the better.
  • Some museums use water-based acrylic adhesive labels, or B-67 in petroleum distillates, but removal of these labels is not risk-free.

This Melvin Olanna marble sculpture (ASM 2000-6-2) is heavy! Don't put the label underneath, or you risk damaging the artwork or yourself looking for it.

STONE

  • Typically, the underside of a stone item is labeled. If the stone item is very heavy, the “back” may be labeled instead.
  • Locate a smooth area that is not flaking, powdery or decorated. Porous or rough surfaces are difficult to label. Avoid use edges of stone tools.
  • Choose a location that will not show during exhibit or photography.
  • Apply base coat of B-72, paper label, top coat.
  • Use paper tag, labeled bag/ box as redundancy and to reduce handling.

Blank Tyvek tag showing loops at the ends that are easy to snip for removal.

 

These are labeled at the inner back of the collar, but a redundant tag on the hangar reduces handling.

 

For rolled textiles, redundant tags are really needed.

TEXTILES and GARMENTS

  • For textiles robust enough and large enough to hold a label, a sewn technique with Tyvek and white cotton thread is recommended.
  • Garments are typically labeled where a manufacturer’s label might be found, such as at the back of a neck or the waistband.  Labeling diagonal corners is helpful for large rolled textiles.
  • Choose a location that can be hidden during exhibit or photography.
  • Cut a piece of Tyvek, write the number by hand with a Zig Millenium fade-proof and waterproof pen in the center, leaving room for stitches at each end.
  • Use seams and original stitch holes whenever possible. Second best is to pass the needle between the weave without piercing the yarns.
  • Stitch the label with a loop through two holes at each end so minimal snips are needed for removal.  Sharp needles work well to pierce Tyvek, while ballpoint needles are less likely to damage the textile fibers.

Each rattle also has its number written in pencil on the pallet that holds it.Redundant paper tags in each dish reduce handling and facilitate locating an item.

WOOD

  • Wood items are often painted, varnished or otherwise coated.  Avoid applying a label to those areas and seek out an inner, underside, or back surface that is bare wood.
  • Locate a smooth area that is not rough, splintery, or decorated.
  • Choose a location that will not show during exhibit or photography.
  • Apply base coat of B-72, paper label, top coat.
  • #2 or HB pencil may also be used on wood if the number can be applied without denting the wood and if it may be removed again with an eraser. Pencil, however, tends to be harder to read.
  • Use paper tag, labeled bag/ box as redundancy and to reduce handling.

Collections Labeling: Alternate Adhesive Testing

November 25, 2011

 Ellen Carrlee (Conservator Alaska State Museum), Anna Marie Weiss (student, Queen’s University) and Samantha Springer (Conservator, Cleveland Museum of Art)

1. INTRODUCTION:

B-72 is the adhesive conservators recommend for museum labeling of archaeological artifacts.  Postings on labeling basics and suggestions for assembling a labeling kit are also posted on this weblog.  Properly done, the B-72 technique is legible, durable, reversible, and chemically stable.  However, the handling properties of the B-72 technique cause frustration, including unpredictable bubbling and the sensitivity of many inks to solvents in the adhesive.  There is great temptation to utilize other adhesives in pursuit of better handling properties, ease of application, and local availability.  As a follow-up to discussions at the 2010 Alaska Anthropological Association seminar on Collections Curation, several conservators independently tested several popular adhesive alternatives on bone, wood, metal, stone and unglazed ceramic to assess their performance.  Here are our observations, with some notes on our methodology if others want to test more adhesives.  Gallery of images at the end, you can click to enlarge.

2. SUMMARY:

Water-based adhesives had better handling properties for application.  These included ease of cleanup, single-step application, little odor or fumes, and the ability for the water component of the adhesive to penetrate the paper structure and cause it to drape and conform to uneven surfaces easily.  The thicker water-based acrylics and gels (those that were white and thick) also had the advantage of self-positioning easily.  The labels stayed where they were placed and did not move readily when brushed with a topcoat.  The thinner water-based adhesives tended to pool themselves up (from the water tension) when used on metal samples.  Among water-based adhesives, Golden Acrylic Gel had the best application properties of any adhesives tested.  However, many of these properties that are nice for the short-term convenience of the person applying the labels come at a long-term trade off for the best interests of the artifact.  Some corrode metal, some come off easily in moist conditions, and some are hard to remove without damage to the artifact.

Solvent-based adhesives tend to be more difficult to apply.  Disadvantages to the person applying the label include stickiness, more complicated cleanup, possibility of smearing inks or bubbling, disagreeable odor or fumes, poorer ability of the paper label to conform to uneven surfaces, and tendency to slip around when placed and brushed with a topcoat.  Application with adhesive of higher concentration gave a better result in conforming to uneven surfaces and corners staying down, but has sometimes been reported to be associated with bubbling.  Using a different topcoat with a B-72 barrier layer made the labeling process take longer, required more elaborate cleanup, and petroleum-distillate based topcoats were sticky, smelly, drippy and took a long time to dry.  However, the solvent-based adhesives tended to be better for survival of the label and removability without damaging the artifact.  To put it bluntly, the trade-off is: ease of application for the human comes at the cost of optimum preservation of the label and artifact.

3. RESULTS

PARALOID B-72 (ACRYLOID B-72)

B72 (marketed as Acryloid or Paraloid B-72) is a solvent-based acrylic resin.  It was tested in both reagent grade acetone and hardware store acetone.

PROS

  • Good aging properties, does not yellow
  • Pure formulation
  • Good durability in flood or high RH
  • Minimal staining after removal
  • Readily reversible with solvent
  • Hardware store acetone less likely to smear inks (likely due to impurities)
  • Reasonably neutral pH around 5-7
  • Paper label alone remains slightly flexible, adhesive film cracks a bit

CONS

  • Not locally available
  • Solvent fumes
  • Flammable
  • Can be sticky, stringy, require practice to apply
  • Acetone can evaporate too quickly to fully manipulate label
  • May bubble unpredictably, with no obvious fix that always works
  • Hardware store acetone results in mottled look
  • Harder to apply on bumpy surfaces than water-based adhesives
  • Label does not always self-position well
  • Corners of label sometimes lifted, risk for snagging
  • Poorer adhesion to wood than other substrates
  • Can cause some inks to smear
  • Cleanup is not as easy as water-based adhesives

B-72 with Soluvar or Regalrez top coat

Because B-72 is such a desirable barrier layer, alternate topcoats were explored to solve the smearing problem.  Soluvar is made of acrylic resins B67 and F10 in petroleum distillates, used as a picture varnish.  Regalrez is similar, but made of low molecular weight resins in petroleum distillate.  While solving the smear issue, the alternate topcoats caused other frustrations.

PROS:

  • Good aging in general
  • Pure formulation
  • Good durability in flood or high RH
  • Minimal staining
  • Readily reversible with solvent
  • Does not make ink smear the way acetone-based B-72 can.
  • Does not bubble
  • Reasonably neutral pH around 5-7
  • Paper label alone remains slightly flexible, adhesive film cracks a bit

CONS:

  • Not locally available
  • Soluvar sometimes leaves drips on surface of artifact after applied
  • Lingering paint-thinner type odor
  • Flammable
  • Top coat makes paper translucent or mottled, hard to read on dark surfaces
  • 2 step application: B-72, dry, then topcoat
  • Soluvar / Regalrez stay sticky for more than 24 hours
  • Soluvar yellowed a bit during artificial aging
  • Corners of label tend to stick up, risk snagging
  • Stickiness of topcoat annoying
  • Cleanup is not as easy as water-based adhesives

At the Cleveland Art Museum, conservator Sam Springer reports that printed labels are first given a coating of Aquazol to prevent the ink from smearing.

At the Alutiiq Museum in Kodiak, Alaska, registrar Marnie Leist reports they use B-72 as a barrier layer and art store acrylic as the topcoat.

ART STORE ACRYLICS

Water-based acrylic media including Daniel Smith Acrylic, Golden Fluid Matte Medium, Golden Gel, Golden Self-Leveling Gel, Liquitex Gloss Medium, Liquitex Matte Medium were tested as examples of art store acrylics.  Golden Gel is used by several museums in Alaska.

PROS

  • Easy application and cleanup
  • Locally available
  • Does not bead up as much as Acrysol WS-24 or Aquazol
  • Tacky, so label stays put when topcoat added
  • Good on bumpy surfaces
  • Does not smear inks
  • Does not bubble
  • Paper label alone remains flexible

CONS

  • High pH (alkaline) Measured from 8 – 10 in our tests
  • Most contain ammonia
  • All can corrode metals, especially copper and Cu alloys (tuned adhesive green)
  • Proprietary (impure formulations, can change anytime)
  • Yellows with age
  • Removal by swelling with solvents, then rubbing off
  • Removal can cause surface loss, since it doesn’t dissolve but swells
  • In flood/ high RH tended to become gummy and white, sometimes peeled off

RHOPLEX

Because water-based adhesives are more user-friendly than the solvent-based adhesives, conservation-grade water-based acrylic adhesive Rhoplex (also marketed as Primal) 33 or its replacement B-60-A was tested as an alternative to B-72 and art store acrylics.  Rhoplex is often used as a stone and plaster consolidant. Note that WS-24 is a different product.

PROS

  • Easy application and cleanup
  • Good on bumpy surfaces
  • Good aging
  • Pure formulation
  • Good durability in flood or high RH
  • Does not smear inks
  • Does not bubble
  • Paper label alone remains flexible

CONS

  • Not locally available
  • Cannot ship in freezing weather (product will be ruined)
  • High pH (very alkaline) Measured around 9-12 in our tests
  • Can corrode metal, adhesive turned yellow-green on aging.
  • Can yellow with age, saw some pink tinting around ink
  • Difficult to remove

ACRYSOL WS-24

Because water-based adhesives are more user-friendly than the solvent-based adhesives, conservation-grade water-based acrylic adhesive Acrysol WS-24 was tested as an alternative to B-72 and art store acrylics.  It is sometimes used as a consolidant for waterlogged archaeological bone.  Note that it is also sometimes sold as Rhoplex  or Primal WS-24.

PROS

  • Easy application and cleanup
  • Good on bumpy surfaces
  • Good aging
  • Pure formulation
  • Does not smear inks
  • Does not bubble
  • Reasonably neutral pH around 6-7

CONS

  • Not locally available
  • Can corrode metal (turned green-brown in aging test)
  • Can be watery when applied and label slips around
  • Yellows with age (more than other adhesive we artifically aged)
  • Weaker bond with age
  • Difficult to remove from porous surfaces
  • Paper label alone is brittle, cracks and shatters easily when flexed

AQUAZOL

Because water-based adhesives are more user-friendly than the solvent-based adhesives, conservation-grade Aquazol (a non-acrylic water based plastic) was tested as an alternative to B-72 and art store acrylics.  It is soluble in either water or alcohol.  It is commonly used as a paintings consolidant.

PROS

  • Easy cleanup
  • Good on bumpy surfaces
  • Good aging
  • Pure formulation
  • Does not smear inks
  • Does not bubble
  • Reasonably neutral pH around 5-7
  • Paper label alone remains flexible

CONS

  • Not locally available
  • Falls off readily in flood test
  • Messy and sticky to handle
  • Gets sticky or falls off in high RH (80%)
  • Corroded metal in some tests (adhesive turned green)
  • Can be watery when applied and label slips around

AYAF

AYAF is marketed pre-mixed as “PVA Marking Varnish” by MuseuM Services Corporation.  AYAF is a solvent-based polyvinyl acetate (PVA) resin equivalent to the European products Mowilith 50 and Vinylite A.  It is most often used as a consolidant for various materials.

PROS

  • Pure formulation
  • Reasonable aging properties (not as ideal as B-72)
  • Does not smear inks
  • Does not bubble
  • Easer to apply than B-72, but with many of its benefits
  • pH 5.5 still in the OK range
  • Paper label alone slightly flexible, does not crack

CONS

  • Not locally available
  • Not as easy to apply and cleanup as water-based adhesives
  • Harder to apply on bumpy surfaces
  • Solvent fumes
  • Peels off easily in flood test

NAIL POLISH

Fingernail polish is still occasionally seen in obsolete museum practices.  It was tested here with expectation for poor performance to gauge other adhesives against a “known negative.”  I tested Sally Hansen “Hard as Nails”

PROS

  • Locally available
  • Easy application and cleanup
  • Does not bubble

CONS

  • Proprietary (impure formulations, can change anytime)
  • Yellows with age
  • Acidic pH of 2-3
  • Strong odor
  • Smears ink
  • Corners of label tend to stick up, risk snagging
  • Paper label cracks, tears when flexed

4. METHODOLOGY

ELLEN CARRLEE (Conservator, Alaska State Museum)

Substrates:

  1. Metal: Penny coins dating after the year 2000, fresh from normal use without pre-cleaning.
  2. Stone: Dark gray slate from a museum diorama.
  3. Ceramic: Plain terracotta flowerpot, had been in outdoor use one summer.
  4. Bone: Mammal, mainly beach finds.
  5. Tooth: Mammal, from the museum educational collection.
  6. Wood: Plain popsicle sticks from craft store.

Adhesives:

B-72 in reagent grade acetone

B-72 in hardware store acetone

B-72 in reagent grade acetone with Soluvar topcoat

B-72 in reagent grade acetone with Regalrez topcoat

“PVA Marking Varnish” (AYAF in alcohol)

Aquazol 500 in ethanol

Daniel Smith Acrylic Medium (at least 10 years old, in the lab supplies)

Rhoplex B-60-A

Acrysol WS-24

Golden Self Leveling Gel

Golden Gel

Sally Hansen “Hard As Nails” nail polish

Abuse:

The tests involved submersion in a vat of water over a weekend (to simulate a flood incident), sealing in a bag at 80%RH for 24 hours, aggressively shake samples of each substrate together in a ziplock bag, aggressive abrasion with a dry toothbrush, and heating in an oven.  pH tested by adding a drop pHydrion pencil in solution to the wet adhesive Insta-check pencil “lead” dissolved in boiled, distilled water (see Odegaard, Carroll, Zimmt 2000).  Strip of pure copper painted with adhesives as a separate test for copper corrosion.  Tested paper label dipped in adhesive alone for durability.

Removal:

Removal techniques tested were dry scalpel removal (also called “mechanical” removal), water on a cotton swab, and acetone on a cotton swab.

ANNA WEISS (conservation graduate student, Queen’s University)

Substrates:

  1. Metal: pennies
  2. Stone: dark, fine grained stones from Lake Ontario beach
  3. Ceramic: terra cotta flowerpot (new)
  4. Bone: study samples from local archaeology group
  5. Wood: blocks of pine lumber

Adhesives:

B-72 in reagent grade acetone

B-72 in hardware store acetone

B-72 in hardware store acetone with Soluvar topcoat

Aquazol 500 in water

Rhoplex 33 (aka Primal)

Aquazol WS-24

Liquitex Acrylic Gloss Medium and Varnish

Liquitex Matte Medium

Abuse:

The tests involved submersion in a vat of water for two hours (to simulate a flood incident), sealing in a bag at 80%RH for 72 hours, aggressively shake samples of each substrate together in a ziplock bag, aggressive abrasion with a dry toothbrush, accelerated aging in over for 4 days to simulate 12 years, pH testing with pH strips using dried label mashed in water.

Removal:

Solvent removal with cotton swab, poultice or solvent gel, mechanical removal with scalpel, bamboo stick or dental tool.

SAMANTHA SPRINGER (Assistant Conservator of Objects, Cleveland Museum of Art)

Substrates:

  1. Metal: brass sheet
  2. Stone: smooth fine grained stones from museum campus
  3. Ceramic: terra cotta flowerpot (new)
  4. Glass: pyrex glassware
  5. Wood: pine 2 x 4 scrap wood

Adhesives:

B-72 in reagent grade acetone using Aquazol-coated label

Golden Polymer Medium Gloss

Aquazol 500 in water with B-72 topcoat

Rhoplex WS-24 Acrylic Dispersion (sprayed, reactivated with isopropanol)

B-67 in reagent grade Naptha (petroleum distillate)

B-67 in reagent grade Naptha using Aquazol-coated label

B-67 in acetone using Aquazol-coated label.

For some tests, the “Aquazol-coated label” was first spray-coated with two coats of 12% Aquazol 200 in reagent grade ethanol and allowed to dry.  This is to prevent smearing of the ink.

Abuse:

The tests involved submersion in a vat of water for two hours (to simulate a flood incident), sealing in a bag at 80%RH for 72 hours, aggressively shake samples of each substrate together in a ziplock bag, aggressive abrasion with a dry toothbrush, accelerated aging in over for 4 days to simulate 12 years

Removal:

Solvent removal with cotton swab, poultice or solvent gel, mechanical removal with scalpel, bamboo stick or dental tool.

5. THANK YOU!

Big thanks to our Alaskan museum colleagues and to the folks who discussed this with us on the American Institute for Conservation Objects Specialty listserve.  Apologies if I miss your name, but here’s my best shot: Helen Alten, Barbara Applebaum, Victoria Book, Scott Carrlee, Chris del Re, Dave Harvey, Katie Holbrow, Rick Kerschner, Steve Koob, Marnie Leist, Susan Lansing Maish, Katie Myers, Teresa Myers, Steven Pickman, Dennis Piechota, Monty Rogers, Linda Roundhill, Patrick Saltonstall, Monica Shah, Tony Sigel, Julie Unruh, and Jim Whitney.

Questions? Ideas? Feedback?  Ellen.Carrlee@alaska.gov


XRF: Why Should We Get One?

November 18, 2011

Scott Carrlee and Ellen Carrlee test an arctic tern specimen for arsenic at the Alaska State Museum

The Alaska State Museum has decided to pursue funding to purchase a portable XRF machine.  I’m typically skeptical of technology and reluctant to commit to learning elaborate and expensive techniques I would rarely use.   But in this case, I think YES we should get one.  Here’s a timeline of the decision-making process and what’s made me come around. 

Bruker handheld XRF analyzer

June 24, 2011  Handheld XRF Workshop at the Pratt Museum in Homer.  Dr. Holly Cusack-McVeigh (curator) had been talking with paper conservator Seth Irwin about her concerns loaning out potentially pesticide-contaminated natural history specimens.  Seth knew that some archaeologists in Fairbanks (Jeff Rasic and Josh Reuther) had been using a Bruker XRF for obsidian studies and geological questions. They helped Holly connect with the Bruker scientific rep, Bruce Kaiser.  Bruce was already coming to Alaska to do a training for the Fairbanks archaeologists, and Holly sweet-talked Bruce into an extra training in Homer, with promises of scenic beauty and fish dinner.  The Fairbanks archaeologists attended the Homer training too, and so did Scott Carrlee (Alaska State Museum outreach curator, trained as a conservator) who happened to be doing a survey in Seldovia at that time.  After the training, Bruce Kaiser offered to send the XRF to Alaska on loan.  Smart move, Dr. Kaiser.

July 29, 2011 The XRF arrived at the ASM on loan, where Crista Pack was still doing her summer internship.  As a conservation grad student from the U Delaware/ Winterthur program, Crista had already had some XRF training with Bruce Kaiser.  She was doing a project for the ASM, “What’s That White Stuff?” and helped us kick the tires and take it for a test drive.

Alaska State Museum collection II-A-77 Siberian Yupik pipe from St. Lawrence Island

August 9, 2011  One artifact in particular, a leather tobacco pouch attached to a pipe, brought home to me the utility of the XRF.  I wanted to know if the white crytals on the leather were from lead corrosion that was prevalent on  many of the pipe bowls in the drawer, or perhaps a fatty bloom from a long-ago leather dressing, or maybe arsenic to prevent insect infestation.  What would the XRF say?  It told us we did not have arsenic or lead, but we did have a significant amount of potassium, which made me think about potash in the tobacco mixture the bag would have carried.   This kind of info is really helpful for treatment decisions and handling protocols as well as artifact interpretation, and the XRF was so much faster than the other techniques I know of…without sampling!  I could test for lead with plumtesmo papers, and test for arsenic using potassium hydroxide/ hydrochloric acid/ zinc with mercury bromide test papers…but just those two tests would have taken me more than an hour, and I still would not have known about the potassium.  And really, I probably would not have occasion to spend so much time determining “what’s that white stuff” for this artifact.  But if it is quick like this, there are so many more questions I am able to pursue.

September 2-3, 2011  In addition to analysis like pesticide testing (the arctic tern had arsenic), pigment examination (a mysterious atl atl had mercury in the red pigment, suggesting cinnabar which would be appropriate for an authentic old throwing board), material identification (a woody-looking fiber contained sulfur, suggesting baleen instead of a plant), looking at potential exhibit and storage materials (vulcanized rubber gaskets), and “what’s that white stuff”, we managed to pull off some educational programming. We went on the radio and in the newspaper to promote a “science gun” public program, inviting the public to bring a small metal artifact to the museum for testing.  I cobbled together a cheat sheet of various metal alloys and the mineral content of certain gemstones, and we looked at over 100 artifacts from people in the community, right there in our exhibition gallery.  The conversations were really dynamic and engaging, and we were using the XRF in conjunction with a couple of other techniques, like UV light to see fluorescence of certain gemstones.

Scott describing a silver alloy during the public program.

September 6, 2011 Just before we packed the machine up to send to Monica Shah at the Anchorage Museum, a group of high school students came to the conservation lab for some science-meets-art demos.  We chatted about the periodic table, elements, valence electrons, and the like…then used the XRF on various student bling and discussed the results. 

No, we didn't actually use this event notice. It was a joke from Paul and Jackie in our exhibits department...

September 26, 2011 Several of us attended another training on the way home from the Museums Alaska conference. For Monica Shah (head of collections and conservation at the Anchorage Museum), Scott Carrlee, and Holly Cusack-McVeigh, it was their second training. It was my first, and I was thrilled to get some of my questions answered after taking the XRF for a spin back in Juneau with Scott and Crista.  Monica had the loaner XRF at this time, and it was heading to Holly next.  We encouraged Holly to try the public program angle we had done in Juneau, and gave her my “cheat sheets”.  Upon my return from the training, I wrote the following for the Alaska State Museum Bulletin:

“Ellen Carrlee and Scott Carrlee attended a day of XRF training September 26, 2011 at the Anchorage Museum at the invitation of Head of Collections/ Conservator Monica Shah.  They were joined Holly Cusack-McVeigh and Bill Walker from the Pratt Museum in Homer.  The training was led by Dr. Bruce Kaiser, a name well-known in museums and universities for connecting institutions with handheld X-ray fluorescence  technology provided by the company Bruker AXS.  One of these “science guns” has been traveling between the Alaska State Museum, the Anchorage Museum and the Pratt Museum, on loan from Bruker.  The device shoots photons (or low-energy X-rays) at a sample, analyzing them non-destructively by measuring the movement of electrons.  After a few seconds, a graph of peaks appears on the computer screen and the software helps identify which elements are present in the sample.  Knowledge of physics and an understanding of how the machine works greatly enhance the interpretation of the data.   Museums worldwide have been using XRF extensively in recent years to explore questions of alloy compositions of metal artifacts , pesticide contamination on ethnographic and natural history collections, pigment identification , and other questions that can investigated with elemental analysis. We’ll keep you posted as we discover the potential benefits offered for Alaskan collections.”

Some of the white powder that was making Holly nervous

October 21, 2011  The Pratt Museum in Homer hosted a free evening public program called “Trinkets or Treasures?”  Holly says it was huge success and great fun for staff and visitors alike.  During the time she had the machine, Holly focused on arsenic testing of taxidermy.  Now she is turning her attention toward possible organic pesticides, but the pile of work has been narrowed down from the first round of XRF testing.  She no longer feels bad about turning a school down for a loan of puffins now that she knows for certain they have arsenic on them.  She tells me that as user-friendly as the instrument is, she knows there is even more information to be pulled from the data that she isn’t trained enough to extract yet.  I have that same feeling…we are getting amazing info, but it is the tip of the iceberg.  I also agree with Holly in her observation that the XRF is so helpful for collections research not just in answering questions we already have (Is this really silver? Is there arsenic here?) but also in sparking new questions we never would have thought of before. Holly sent the loaner XRF over to State Archaeologist Dave McMahan.  He and Dr. Charles Holmes have been using it to examine glass trade beads and glazes on ceramics.  I believe the touring XRF is now back with Bruker.

November 18, 2011  Scott and I are working on a grant proposal to buy the XRF.  Not only could we use it for public outreach and researching our own collection, but Scott could take it out on site visits to museums and cultural centers statewide and loan it out to institutions with staff who have had XRF training.  Holly suggests we might be able to have an XRF training workshop at the next Museums Alaska conference to increase the number of museums in Alaska who could get the XRF on loan from the Alaska State Museum.  As I write this, Scott Carrlee is soliciting letters of support for the grant.  I’ll keep you posted if we get it!