Friday, 29 April 2016

The Humidification Chamber: conserving photographs and documents

In January, we blogged about photographs we had recently acquired after they were discovered at the former Paulist Ministry Centre (previously the Catholic Information Centre).

The photographs were part of a poster entitled "1957-1958 Building the New Information Centre." Receiving this poster gave us an opportunity to practice some basic conservation and use our favourite device: the humidification chamber.

This inexpensive tool is remarkably effective for softening documents and photographs that have been rolled or creased so they can be flattened. Essentially, a humidification chamber is a sealed container that holds moisture, while preventing the documents from actually coming in contact with water.

In this case, we wanted to see if humidity would soften the glue that was used to adhere the photos to the poster board.

This was the original poster when it was transferred to the archives. There were twelve photographs glued to a banged-up piece of foamcore, along with some labels. The bottom photo was missing.

We appraised the contextual value of keeping the poster in this format: the glue and the foamcore were not archival quality; the poster was not particularly informative or aesthetically significant; it would require a large storage space. Therefore, we decided to remove the photos and discard the backing, but first we took this photo for reference.

Two of the photographs are duplicates: can you spot the matching pair?

When we first went through the humidification process, we used only the two duplicate photos to make sure it would work safely. After successful results, we humidified the remaining ten photos.

Here is our step-by-step process:

Step 1: Using a knife, cut the poster into smaller pieces containing the individual photos.

Step 2:
Seal the photographs in the humidification chamber.

The chamber is a closed container that holds humidity, while preventing the documents from actually coming in contact with the water.

Our chamber is made from a storage bin with cooling racks (used for baking) raised off the bottom and secured to the walls with zip ties. Photos are placed on the racks, an inch of water is poured into the bin and plastic sheeting is secured with masking tape to seal in the air. 
As the water slowly evaporates at room temperature, the surrounding air becomes very humid and the documents absorb the moisture.

Step 3: Let the humidity work its magic. Check on the material periodically.

Materials absorb humidity at different rates. The clear container allowed us to check for progress. Over the course of the day, the photographs buckled and pulled away from the backing, indicating that the glue was sufficiently softened.

Step 4
: Lift the photographs from the backing using a conservator's scalpel. In this case, they peeled right off.

Step 5
: Place the moistened items between sheeting to be pressed.

The photos were placed on Reemay, a polyester used as a support for drying materials because it's non-stick. This was important because the glue on the back of the photos was reactivated by the humidity and quite tacky. Paper towels were placed on top of the Reemay, as a blotting material to absorb moisture.

Step 6
: Press the moistened documents between so they dry flat. Leave overnight.

Step 7
: Remove dry material from the press.

Bonus: we discovered extra labelling on the back of the photographs which helped us to further identify, date and describe the items.

Step 8
: Rehouse and store the material.

The photos were placed in plastic sleeves, housed in acid-free archival boxes, and stored in climate controlled storage.

We have also had success using the humidification chamber for flattening rolled blueprints.  We do this specifically for architectural drawings that are crumpled, torn and brittle, which makes them very difficult to flatten for viewing.

Architectural Drawings Special Collection, ARCH 008 C

Fragile and damaged 1926 blueprints of Corpus Christi church, Toronto, are placed in the humidification chamber overnight.

The blueprints absorb moisture, making them pliable enough to be unrolled and pressed so that they dry flat. 

(In this case, scotch tape had been previously used in spots to repair the tears. Unfortunately, the humidity had little effect on the tape's adhesive. We decided to leave it rather than risk further damage by trying to remove it.  Never use tape on important records! Tape is the bane of archivists' existence.) 

After drying overnight, the flattened drawing is supported with museum board, interleaved with acid-free tissue and stored flat in an oversize archival box.

DIY humidification chambers can be made in a variety of ways. You can use a sink or nesting storage bins. Read more on how to make a humidification chamber

Friday, 22 April 2016

Canada Book Day 2016

Tomorrow is Canada Book Day, which coincides with UNESCO's World Book and Copyright Day, an annual celebration to promote reading, publishing and the protection of intellectual property through copyright.

April 23rd was chosen for its significance to world literature. Both William Shakespeare and Miguel de Cervantes died on April 23, 1616, making this year the 400th anniversary of their deaths. It is also the birth or death date of several other international authors.

In honour of Canada Book Day, we offer selections from the Sol and Morton Eisen Book Collection, which was donated to the Archdiocese in 2010. 

Sol Eisen (1898-1974) was a Toronto lawyer and rare book collector who specialized in Americana, Mexicana, Canadiana and early printing. Sol Eisen's Canadiana collection was donated to the University of Waterloo in 1992. The majority of the books donated to ARCAT relate to the history of the Church and Sol's son, Morton Eisen, wanted to return them to a Catholic repository.

Sol and Morton Eisen Book Collection
Cartilla Y Doctrina Christiana by Fray Bartholomé Roldán, O.P., Mexico, 1580

Example of the "Ex Libris Sol Eisen" bookplate attached inside many of the books' covers. Eisen's collecting focus included Mexicana.
This is one of eleven books in the collection that were not digitized because they were too fragile for scanning equipment.

Digitization of thirty-one books was generously sponsored by the John M. Kelly Library; they are available through The remaining eleven books in the collection were deemed too fragile or stiffly bound for the scanning equipment to be used safely on them. 

Sol and Morton Eisen Book Collection
Breviloquium of St. Bonaventure, Venice, 1472

Four of the books in the collection are incunabula, which means "from the cradle" or infancy of printing, specifically those printed in Europe before 1501. The Breviloquium is the earliest book in the collection and an example of Bonaventure's classic writings on theology and prayer.

St. Bonaventure (1221-1274) was a pivotal figure in the early development of the Franciscan Order and of the entire Western Church. A contemporary of St. Thomas Aquinas, Bonaventure studied and taught at the University of Paris. As Master General of the Order in the years after the death of St. Francis, he was crucial to the developments that made the Franciscans one of the most active and influential teaching, service and missionary orders in the Catholic Church. Later named a Cardinal by Pope Gregory X, he played a major part in the union of the Eastern and Western Churches at the Council of Lyon (1274).  He was named a Doctor of the Church in 1587.    

Sol and Morton Eisen Book Collection
De Psalmodia Christiana Y Sermonario De Los Sanctos Del Ano by Bernardino de Sahagún, Mexico, 1583

This is considered the most valuable book in the collection. It is a first edition written almost entirely in Nahuatl by Franciscan Fray Bernardino de Sahagún (1499-1590). De Sahagún, a Spanish Franciscan missionary in Mexico, wrote catechetical and liturgical books in the language of the Aztec people to whom he ministered. Famous in Mexico and among historians and other social scientists of the Americas, he is also often called the first ethnographer, since he did a broad and systematic study, by interviews with Aztec people, of the culture, social structure, art, religion and other key aspects of their society prior to European contact.  

Sol and Morton Eisen Book Collection
Arte De La Lengua Mexicana con la Declaracion De Los Adverbios Della...,by Padre Horacio Carochi, Mexico, 1645

This first edition by Jesuit priest Horacio Carochi, Rector of the College of Saint Peter and St. Paul de Mexico, is an academic teaching tool in the Nahuatl Aztec language itself. 

Sol and Morton Eisen Book Collection
Viage De Jerusalen Que Hizo Francisco Guerrero, Racionero, y Maestro de Capilla de la Santa Iglesia de Sevilla by Francisco Guerrero , Seville, 1694

This is a travel memoir through Jerusalem written by a 70-year-old Spaniard who had had a highly significant career as chapel master and composer of sacred music.  First published in 1590, the book being republished in 1694.

Its stiff leather cover and bindings made this book too difficult to digitize.

Why not celebrate Canada Book Day by visiting the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library? To mark the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare's death, the library is holding a special opening of  the exhibition So long lives this’: A Celebration of Shakespeare’s Life and WorksHighlights include a selection of Shakespeare's printed plays and poems from the library's collection.

Thursday, 14 April 2016

Obscure Ecclesiastical Objects 101: The Results are In

Thank you to everyone who took the time to respond to our quiz here on Blogger, as well as on the Archdiocesan Instagram and Facebook pages. We were very impressed by your knowledge. A+ work!

#1: Chrism Oil Stock
This container is used to hold holy oil. The engraved letters "S.C." indicate that the oil in this container was Chrism (Sanctum Chrisma), which is used to anoint candidates for confirmation and holy orders, and during various blessings. Oil stocks generally come in a set of three, to hold the above mentioned oil, the oil of catechumens, and the oil of the sick. All three of these oils are blessed at the chrism mass on the morning of Holy Thursday.

This particular oil stock is sterling silver, and was made circa 1875 by the Benziger Brothers of New York.

#2: Bugia

This gilded, handled candlestick was used with a beeswax candle during mass. It was held by a server or attendant to the right of the book that a prelate was reading from during some liturgical celebrations.

This bugia was donated to ARCAT by the Sisters of the Good Shepherd and is dated to the 1920s.

#3: Sick Call Lamp

This candle holder with hurricane glass and bell set was meant to be used during sick calls to indicate that the blessed sacrament was being carried from the church to the home of the sick person.

This item dates to the 1920s.

#4: Sanctus Bells

The sanctus bells are so named because they were originally rung during the mass in two places: during the sanctus, and at the consecration. Because the mass was said in Latin, the bells were used to help the congregation understand when Christ became present in the consecrated sacrament.

This set of chimes dates from the 1920s.

#5: Thurible

The thurible is an incense burner that is swung on chains by the thurifer during the mass. The use of incense goes back to ancient Judaism, and helps to create an atmosphere of reverence and sacrifice.

This item dates to the 1880s, and was donated by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Toronto.

#6: Incense Boat

The vessel that holds the incense that goes in the thurible.

This item also dates to the 1880s and was donated by the Sister of St. Joseph.

#7: Sanctus Gong

The sanctus gong has the same purpose as the sanctus bells, but is rarely used today.

This item was donated by the Congregation of St. Basil and was used in their chapel at Clover Hill, Toronto.

#8: Pyx

Pyxides are containers used to carry the Blessed Sacrament when communion is given outside of the mass; for example, during sick calls. The pyx above is pictured with its carrying case, which would be tied around the priest's neck.


#9: Pax

The pax - also known as a pax-brede, pax-board, paxillium or osculatorium - dates from medieval times. Instead of the sign of peace, the kiss of peace was used. The pax would be passed around to the faithful to be kissed, and would often depict the crucifixion, the ressurection, the ascension, or the agnes dei.

This pax belongs to the Congregation of St. Basil, and dates from the late 1800s.
Courtesy of the General Archives of the Basilian Fathers

#10: Communion Paten

The communion paten is a precious metal plate with a handle. It is held under the chin of a person receiving communion to catch any stray particles of the blessed sacrament. It was more commonly used when communion was received on the tongue.

This communion paten was donated to the Sacred Objects Exchange.

Friday, 8 April 2016

Obscure Ecclesiastical Objects 101: Final Exam

At colleges and universities across the country, classes are wrapping up and students are getting ready to take their final exams. We felt inspired to come up with a quiz for you, dear readers.

Below you will find photos of objects from our collection. Some may be recognizable, but some won't be as familiar to you. See how many you can name, and come back next week for the answers. Good luck!









Courtesy of the General Archives of the Basilian Fathers


Friday, 1 April 2016

I Baptize You With Water

If you went to Easter Vigil mass this past Saturday, you may have witnessed some baptisms. We were inspired to highlight some of the baptisteries and baptismal fonts from around the archdiocese.

Baptism is a central part of the Catholic experience. Through this sacrament we are cleansed of sin, welcomed into the Church family, and reborn into new life in the Holy Spirit. Because of baptism's importance, many churches have a special area known as a baptistery within the sanctuary, which is a special area for the baptismal font. The font is a basin or pool of water that can appear in many different forms, as shown below.

The first baptisms would have happened in places like the River Jordan, where Jesus was baptized. A few centuries later, when churches were built, baptisms took place in nearby but separate baptisteries. Some examples still survive in Europe, including the Baptistery of St. John Lateran in Rome, the Baptistery of St. John in Florence, and the Baptistery of St. John in Poitiers. At that time, people were still immersed in the water during the sacrament. Eventually, when water was sprinkled or poured on the candidate, a smaller font was able to be used and the rite was moved into the sanctuary.

Since the Second Vatican Council, there has been a trend towards placing larger immersion pools in the sanctuary. As Monsignor M. Francis Mannon puts it, "Baptism by immersion makes tangible the theological motif of baptism as going down into the waters of death and rising again with Christ; it underscores the Exodus theme of crossing the Red Sea from slavery to freedom; it provides visible expression of baptism as encounter with the tomb of death, and the womb of new life."

The fonts shown below reflect different aesthetics and artistic sensibilities, but many of the same symbols are used. Fonts are often displayed with the paschal candle, which is representative of the light of Christ coming to the world. During the baptism, a smaller candle is lit from the paschal candle and presented to the newly baptized to represent the reception of the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Most of the images below are from a series of photos that were taken in 1986:

All Saints Parish, Etobicoke
Images of the Holy Family are a common motif for baptisteries.
Blessed Sacrament Parish, Toronto
PH 78/6S
Fonts are frequently octagonal in shape. In Christianity, the number eight represents new life.
Holy Rosary Parish, Toronto
The baptism of Jesus is often depicted in baptisteries. In Matthew 3:16-17 we read: "As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”
Immaculate Conception Parish, Port Perry
PH 78/27S
Images evoking water and aquatic life are often seen in baptisteries.
Our Lady of the Assumption Parish, Toronto
PH 78/35S
Some fonts allow for flowing water, which recalls early baptisms in natural bodies of water.
Our Lady of Fatima Parish, Brampton
PH 78/37S
The imagery of the dove in this baptistery also comes from the baptism of Jesus, when the holy spirit descended in that form.
Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish, Toronto
PH 78/S
Our Lady of Peace Parish, Toronto
PH 78/46S
St. Clare's Parish, Toronto
PH 78/88S
Baptistery windows.
St. Joan of Arc Parish, Toronto
PH 78/112S
Many parishes are now using immersion pools, which often have constantly flowing water. They serve as a strong reminder of our connection to Christ through baptism.
St. Joseph's Parish, Mississauga
PH 78/125S
Sts. Martha and Mary Parish, Mississauga
PH 78/145S
St. Patrick's Parish, Toronto
Ph 78/164S
St. Paul's Basilica, Toronto
PH 78/173S
St. Clare of Assisi Parish, Woodbridge
Cultural Heritage Inventory 

Bonus: The immersion pool at St. Francis Xavier Parish, Mississauga:
Photo from the St. Francis Xavier Parish website.

Which is your favourite?