Think ink!

Bright green husks of black walnuts sitting in paper bag

The Preservation Lab was approached recently by Carey Champion, Director of the Wylie House Museum, to collaborate on an upcoming First Thursday event in October, 2019. She had the idea to present writing materials as they existed in the 19th century for students to try out, along with correspondence (or facsimiles) by members of the Wylie family during this time. We rose to the occasion and said we could make some ink out of Black Walnuts (Juglans nigra). In spite of what one can find online, I don’t know of any reliable historic source or scientific analysis that has definitively attributed walnut ink to historic documents or artwork. If anyone out there can send me a citation to a reliable study, I’m interested! Nevertheless, it was likely used as a quick ‘frontier’ ink and is certainly fun to make.

Here in southern Indiana, the green husks of Black Walnuts are coming into maturity and even falling from a few tree specimens around campus and county.  We gathered about 40, and gathered around the bag with smashing implements in gloved hands to strip the green husks off of the nuts themselves. The hulls sat in a bucket overnight to oxidize a bit. The next day they were beginning to turn quite black. The hulls were about 4 liters in volume and were boiled in several stages with additions at certain points. Although the recipe follows, it’s worth pointing out a couple of things:

-Steel wool (ie. iron) was added in order to darken the ink and create what is called a ferric tannate pigment which is insoluble in water. The ink we created is not too dissimilar from iron gall ink, which those of us who work around historic documents are all too familiar. IG ink was the chief manuscript ink for at least the first half of the 19th century.

-Gum arabic was added not as a binder or gloss agent, but as a suspension aid to keep the very fine precipitate particles of ink floating around in solution.

-A small amount of alcohol was added as a preservative, and cloves were added for the same purpose as well as to improve the smell.

People gathered and removing the husks from walnutslarge beaker filled with husks and water, ready to be boiled to extract color

Please stop by the Arts Plaza the evening of October 3 to say hi and try out our ink!

writing samples using the ink


Shop Tools and Tips

As Necessity is the Mother of Invention, I thought I’d share with the wider preservation world some tools and tips we’ve developed in the lab to solve some very specific problems. Undoubtedly other labs have their own solutions to similar problems; I know I’ve travelled with a few from place to place. *Anyone out there know of the NEDCC paper towel roll method to absorb excess water from a lining?
First off is the Clam-Rule. This tool developed from the need to measure a stack of manuscript materials in order to construct a clamshell box for storage. Numerous papers of varying sizes are all but impossible to fit into a MeasurepHase. What is actually needed is a height gauge, such as this Mitutoyo 514-102 Vernier Height Gauge, but with a further reach.

I developed this decidedly lower-tech version, using a shop ruler, some wood, woodstain, brass and a bubble level. Once the horizontal arm is placed level on the stack, the height is read across the top edge of the bar, where it meets the millimeter gradations.clam rule

Along similar lines of box making is this simple jig- utilized when creating build-ups for the interior of clamshells. We make ours out of cloth-covered corrugated board. Multiple layers of board are laminated together; it helps greatly if two sides of this laminated stack are jogged up, ensuring less cutting in the end, and a neater product. Our jig is made out of scrap MDF counter-top, screwed together.
build-up jig

For gluing items and keeping tabletops clean, many labs use scrap paper under constructions while they dry. The trouble is, the paper ends up sticking and can only be used once. Much better are scrap sheets of polyester film (generated from encapsulation trimmings or errors). PVA peels readily off plastic film, so the sheets can be used again and again. An alternative to both of these solutions is waxed paper. We get ours from ULINE. It’s relatively inexpensive, can be used repeatedly, and my colleagues in the book unit tell me it is a much better product than conventional white butcher paper or translucent waxed paper. We’ve found another use for it too, in interleaving rolls of archival double-sided tape. Over time, the adhesive can creep a little, sticking rolls to each other if you have them stacked up. Dust also gets adhered. The interleaving solves both problems.
wax paper

Finally, and perhaps most used, is the Brass Nevada. Though not invented by us, the moniker was apparently one Garry Harrison gave to it. It is indispensable in trimming cloth to fit interior corners of box constructions. The Nevada allows for 45 and 90 degree angles, provides an edge to cut against and has a much more satisfying weight during use compared to plastic, or card.
brass nevada

What sorts of tools and methods have been developed in your lab that may be unique to your institution?

Doug Sanders