Sunday, 29 June 2014

Time Capsule Opened - June 19, 2014

June 27, 2014

85 year old time capsule
On June 19, 2014 at the Kings County Museum in Kentville, Nova Scotia I had the opportunity to open a time capsule 85 years to the day when it was deposited in 1929.  The capsule as shown in the photograph consists of a metal box approximately 10 cm wide, 10 cm high, and 25 cm long (exact measurements will be posted at a later date).  It was deposited in a granite block with a carved out space specifically made for it.  The capsule was one of two found on the site of the Kings County Academy, a decommissioned school demolished recently in Kentville, Nova Scotia.  It has corrosion on the outside and what appears to be patches of cement throughout the exterior.  The corners of the lid show gaps which introduced the possibility of moisture getting inside.  The other time capsule found onsite in fact was opened by demolition staff and was a mass of muddy brown watery material.  It has not been processed to see if anything solid is inside but will be at a later date.

First view after opening
I will explain the best approach in conservation of this historically precious artifact and its contents.  Keep in mind that the museum has a mandate to preserve and protect the cultural history of Kings County which means we must take the safest approach in examining, evaluating, documenting and exhibiting historical artifacts.  Most activities of this nature would be done in a laboratory setting where environmental conditions can be carefully controlled.  These photographs show the artifact outside of the sealed plastic envelope it was stored in.  It is kept in a humidity and temperature controlled and secure area until worked on and returned to it when done.  It is critical to maintain moisture levels at a steady state  to ensure the artifact and its contents do not dry out or become moist in high or low humidity levels too rapidly.  This latter condition can rapidly deteriorate some artifacts.

Documents close-up - water marks
Paper tearing from lid removal

The lid came open relatively easy with very little pressure applied.   As shown in photograph "First view after opening", inside was found two distinct collection of papers: one a handwritten letter of several pages folded and stuffed on top; below it is a newspaper page.  In both cases the papers show evidence of effects of moisture: both black and red spots as well as some other obvious water marks.  In addition both of these papers are obviously "fused" to the sides of the capsule and the bottom newspaper could be "fused" to something unknown below it.  The accompanying close-up photograph shows these in detail.  How did this occur?  It is quite possible that this is the result of repeated freezing and thawing cycles over 85 years.  Condensation will form on the surface of metals below 10 degrees Celsius.  The fusing presents a significant problem to their removal.  There is the possibility that the two documents could be fused together which means they could tear apart and destroy some of the writing if removed separately.  With some parts fused to the side it introduces more chances of tearing.  Another photograph (see lid inscription below) shows evidence of tearing in the corner of the handwritten page.  It is likely this occurred when the lid was removed.  

The best approach is to use a tool which is flat and narrow with a sharp edge to carefully break apart the papers fused to the sides and then carefully try to remove the papers as a package.  The other option might have been to apply a small amount of steam to the edges which might facilitate releasing them from the sides.  There are steam tools that can be used with a wand to pinpoint accuracy.  However, this is not a good choice in this case since the handwritten sheets are already showing evidence of moisture damage.  Where documents are "water fast" this would be a viable option.

Interior lid inscription
The inside of the lid shows bits of paper and an inscription initially transcribed as:

Ben (or is it Eric?) Schofield 
Rockwell Mtn 
June 19/29

On the left, centre in the photograph is a fragment of the handwritten paper torn from the pages.  This occurred when the lid was pulled off.

I will be doing further work on the capsule over the next few weeks and will post the results over time.  In all cases the contents and the capsule will be carefully measured, the handwritten letter transcribed, everything photographed and catalogued.  It is anticipated that an exhibit will be put together to show the results to the public at a later date.