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CarolinianaColumns
UNIVERSITY SOUTH CAROLINIANA SOCIETYSPRING 1998

Newsletter of the friends of the South Caroliniana Library.

Front PageAbout the SocietySouth Caroliniana Library


Conserving
South Carolina's Past
for its Future

by Henry Fulmer
The South Caroliniana Library has been in engaged in collecting and preserving books, newspapers, manuscripts, visual images, and other ephemera -- materials that together comprise a goodly part of the Palmetto State’s documentary heritage -- for well over half a century. Succeeding generations of library staff have done their best not only to provide access to a burgeoning collection that fills every nook and cranny of the building but also to store and handle these treasures in a way that ensures their availability to future generations of researchers.

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Illustration from The Carolinian Florist (1807) by John Drayton.

Even before the old library building was designated the South Caroliniana Library in 1940, W.P.A. workers bound pamphlets, fabricated document boxes, and painstakingly repaired manuscripts and newspapers. In more recent years, student assistants have worked to clean, flatten, silk, encapsulate, or otherwise stabilize incoming collections. While these in-house efforts went a long way toward guaranteeing that materials could be handled by researchers, they fell short of solving the long-term preservation needs of an aging collection that was receiving increasingly heavier research usage.

Henry Fulmer - 10.5 KManuscripts Librarian Henry G. Fulmer with James Henry Hammond's Silver Bluff Plantation Journal (1831-1855)

Only within the last few years has funding become available to underwrite the professional restoration of a few deteriorating but critically important items. Befitting its significance as the first manuscript acquired by the South Carolina College library in 1807, John Drayton’s botanical work The Carolinian Florist was the first item from the Caroliniana collection to undergo full-scale professional treatment. Subsequent manuscripts professionally restored by conservators Don Etherington, of Brown Summit, N.C., and Pamela Randolph, of Williamsburg, Va., have included plantation journals of James Henry Hammond and Davison McDowell, the Robert Nesbitt medical account book, and the John Izard Middleton sketchbook. Treatments have ranged from the washing, deacidification, and mending or guarding of leaves with Japanese tissue to the restoration of original bindings and the construction of clamshell boxes in which the originals are now housed. In addition, archival photocopies of several of these volumes have been made to serve as reference copies.

John Drayton's The Carolinian Florist was the first item from the collections to undergo full-scale professional conservation.title page - 6.7 K
Pretty_damaged - 39.1 K

Perhaps the most extreme example of a manuscript volume crying out for professional help was the Alexander Keith commonplace book, ca. 1730-1740. Purchased by the library in 1950, the volume had suffered from well intended repair efforts gone awry. The topmost signature had been reinforced with silk at the binding edge, most likely in an effort to hold the leaves intact within the binding. But the water soluble starch paste and South Carolina humidity had combined to stick together the remainder of the textblock. Attempts to turn any page would have proven fatal to the whole, so long before the volume could be conserved it had to be withdrawn from research use. Now washed, properly mended, and resewn, the pages of the restored volume are supple and turn freely, much as they must have two and a half centuries ago.

Leaf - 7.3 KMore views from John Drayton's Carolinian Florist (1807).

Click on image for full view.

Flower - 6.0 K

Endowment funds established by friends of the library through the University Libraries Development Office have made possible the preservation treatment of several other significant items. The William Gilmore Simms Endowment made possible the restoration of one of the author’s scrapbooks in which are mounted both newspaper clippings of his published verse and original manuscripts. The Arthur Elliott Holman, Jr., Acquisition and Preservation Endowment funded the repair of J. Rion McKissick’s personal copy of Frederick Dalcho’s An Historical Account of the Protestant Episcopal Church in South Carolina.

Before - 9.9 KWilliam Gilmore Simms scrapbook, before and after conservation.
After - 19.2 K

Most recently, a generous gift from Simms Oliphant underwrote the restoration of William Gilmore Simms’s Don Carlos manuscript, and Philadelphia researcher Scott Wilds funded the much needed conservation of a Brockington family plantation journal among the library’s holdings of Bacot family papers. Much like the Alexander Keith commonplace book, deterioration of the Simms literary manuscript and the Brockington plantation journal was so far advanced that neither could be handled without causing further irreparable damage.
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Title page of William Gilmore Simms' Don Carlos manuscript.

The library staff and society membership are indeed grateful to those persons whose financial support is making possible the preservation of these and other archival treasures. We look forward to expanded preservation efforts in the near future, in particular a close working association with Holly Herro, the University’s new librarian for preservation services, who will head a fully equipped and staffed conservation lab at the University’s remote storage facility. Outside funding remains another crucial part of the library’s overall preservation and access strategy. A federal grant funded in 1997 by the National Endowment for the Humanities is making possible the rehousing of more than five hundred manuscript collections, among them the library’s most frequently used antebellum plantation papers. As collections are rehoused in archival folders and boxes and their contents re-examined for expanded subject content, preservation needs are being assessed. This assessment will allow the staff to identify materials requiring simple in-house treatments, those needing to be routed to the remote storage conservation lab, and those requiring more extensive treatment. Efforts to secure similar federal funds for the rehousing and preservation of the library’s photographic and visual images collection continue.

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Flowering vine, 1807, by John Drayton.
The archival holdings of the South Caroliniana Library are today one of the most important sources for the documentation of South Carolina history and culture, and even more broadly for the study of the American South and the United States. While our ever expanding influx of researchers attests to the significance of the library’s holdings, the stress placed upon materials through research use is of increasing concern. Whether they survive intact for future generations depends largely upon our commitment to preservation. Library staff and society members must work together to do everything within our power to ensure that the scholars of tomorrow and the day after are not shortchanged of the riches we hold within our storehouse.


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