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Inside Spencer: The KSRL Blog

Books on a shelf

Welcome to the Kenneth Spencer Research Library blog! As the special collections and archives library at the University of Kansas, Spencer is home to remarkable and diverse collections of rare and unique items. Explore the blog to learn about the work we do and the materials we collect.

Ribbon Roundup

August 31st, 2015

Among the many treasures in the Kansas Collection are the Fowler-Rose-Thompson Collection ribbons. These beautiful silk ribbons depict Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt and commemorate the Almena, Kansas Congregational Church’s “Old Folks Day.” The over 100-year-old ribbons arrived in the conservation lab stored vertically in an archival folder. Due to their age and fragility, the ribbons were torn, fraying, and wrinkled. After the ribbons were flattened and mended by Whitney Baker, Conservator for KU Libraries, their storage situation needed to be addressed.

RH MS 88_Silk ribbons

Three ribbons from the Fowler-Rose-Thompson Collection, call number RH MS 88. Click image to enlarge.

To better preserve these delicate ribbons, an entirely new housing arrangement was in order. The priorities for the new housing were to 1) ensure that the ribbons were stored horizontally to prevent any sagging or further wrinkling of the fragile silk and 2) to minimize the need for direct handling of the ribbons. A hinged, floating mount achieves both requisites.

The floating mount arrangement that Whitney advised allows for the attachment of the ribbons to a piece of mat board without the use of damaging adhesives. Instead, strips of polyethylene tape run through slits on either side of the ribbons. The polyethylene tape acts like a seat-belt, holding the ribbons in place without obstructing the view of the ribbons.

RH MS 88_Silk ribbons

Detail of polyethylene strapping over bottom of ribbon. Click image to enlarge.

Hinged to this first piece of mat board with gummed tape is a mat board frame. The frame allows the entirety of the ribbons to remain visible, which reduces the need for handling, while acting as a buffer for the floating mount’s cover. The cover, a third piece of mat board, is also hinged with gummed tape to the first piece of mat board to further protect the ribbons.

RH MS 88_Silk ribbons   RH MS 88_Silk ribbons

Left: Attaching mat frame to back board with gummed tape. Right: The final three-part mat. Click images to enlarge.

This book-like housing arrangement was then placed into a plastazote-lined archival box for added protection and to ensure that the ribbons remain horizontal.

Brecken Liebl
Conservation Intern
KU Museum Studies Graduate Student

Housing the Zodiac Club Doll Collection

July 13th, 2015

One of my favorite group of objects that has come to Conservation Services for housing is the Zodiac Club peanut doll collection, housed in the Kansas Collection. As the name implies, it is a series of dolls made from shelled peanuts for heads, with wire bodies and intricate, period-appropriate dress.

The Zodiac Club was founded as women’s studying group, organized on February 5, 1878, by nine women from the Lawrence, KS area. Over the years the club met in members’ homes every Tuesday to read and discuss items relating to “cultural improvement.”

In 1943, when the Zodiac Club celebrated its 65th anniversary, twelve dolls were made to represent the original members of the Zodiac Club. The dolls are made of a frame of covered wire with peanuts for faces and dressed in costumes from the 1870s. Besides the dolls, the collection includes miniature period furniture, as well as leather-bound books, a tea service, spinning wheel, tintype photographs, needlepoint, and braid rug.

Zodiac Club doll collection,before rehousing, Kansas Collection      Furniture from Zodiac Club doll collection, Kansas Collection

Left: Zodiac Club doll collection before housing. Right: Examples of the other items housed with the dolls.
Kansas Collection, call number RH MS Q61.

All the dolls, furniture, and other items were wrapped in paper towels and placed together in a box, making it difficult to tell what was in the box and to access particular items. A museum studies student intern was assigned to rehouse the collection into a more usable form.

Doll in paper towel from Zodiac Club doll collection, Kansas Collection

Peanut-headed doll wrapped in paper towel. Note the fine detail in the costume.
Kansas Collection, call number RH MS Q61.

I asked her to create a housing that would keep the dolls and the other items in one box. She devised an ingenious two-tray system: the furniture and other items that are less frequently accessed are on the bottom layer, and the dolls are in a removable tray on top. Featured on the outside and inside of the box is a diagram that indicates how everything fits in the housing. Now the peanut ladies will be better protected and more easily displayed for many years to come.

Zodiac Club doll collection, after rehousing, Kansas Collection  Zodiac Club doll collection, after rehousing, Kansas Collection

Left: Top tray with dolls and housing guide. Right: Bottom tray with furniture and other items.
Kansas Collection, call number RH MS Q61.

Whitney Baker
Head, Conservation Services