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Emergency Preparedness and Response

Collection Recovery Methods: Manuscripts

Manuscripts include any loose (unbound) paper, vellum, or parchment.

Manuscripts made of loose parchment and/or vellum   -   Loose, plain paper with soluble inks and colorants   -   Loose, plain paper with insoluble inks and colorants


Manuscripts made of loose parchment and/or vellum

Recovery Priority during the first 24-48 hours

  • Immediately dry or freeze if there are too many to dry within 24 hours. Animal skin becomes very limp when moist and becomes gel-like if left wet for too long. Shrinkage and distortions increase with degree of wetness. Extremely wet vellum or parchment may be very fragile, so handle gently with even support.
  • Do not blot or tightly compress items with soluble inks.
  • Do not use absorbent interleaving with soluble media.

Freezing Procedures

Do not freeze-dry illuminated or gilded manuscripts.

  • Line containers with a plastic bag to prevent uneven drying prior to freezing.
  • Sandwich small groups of items between cardboard, strap with cotton tape, and place vertically in order inside packing container.
  • Pack oversize items flat.

Air Drying Procedures

Collection items in this category should be handled by staff (or a conservator) trained in the recovery of these materials. It is important to use controlled drying methods for parchment and vellum to avoid severe distortions and shrinkage.

  • If the inks are insoluble, then lightly blot items with an absorbent material.
  • Dry the materials between nonabsorbent sheets or sandwiched between blotters, with a light-to-moderate weight board on top.
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Loose, plain paper with soluble inks and colorants

Soluble inks include felt-tip pen, colored pens, ballpoint pens, and stamp ink.

Recovery Priority during the first 24-48 hours

  • Dry the materials immediately. (If there are too many sheets to dry within 24 hours, then freeze them). The amount of media that will bleed and run increases with the degree of wetness, time, and contact with other materials.
  • Do not blot or tightly compress items.
  • Do not use absorbent interleaving as it will aid the transfer or inks.
  • Handle soaked or thin papers with caution, use support screens or polyester webbing as needed.
  • Use extra caution with large objects; wet paper is easily torn. Support with screens or polyester webbing.

Freezing Procedures

  • Place non-absorbent interleaving (e.g., freezer paper) between items.
  • Pack oversize items flat.
  • Place rolled items separately and one layer deep to avoid crushing.

Air Drying Procedures

  • Gently unfold or unroll items when partially dry.
  • Separate items and place face-up on flat, absorbent materials to air dry.
  • When items are nearly dry, place between blotters or absorbent floor matting in stacks to reduce severe distortions during final drying.
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Loose, plain paper with insoluble inks and colorants

Recovery Procedures during the first 24-48 hours

These are generally stable to some water exposure. If the temperature is above 70°F or the relative humidity is above 70%, then you must dry or freeze the items within 24 hours. Otherwise, take action within 48 hours.

  • Handle soaked or thin papers with caution – cradle with hands and support while moving. Do not unfold or unroll the paper until partially dry.

Freezing Procedures

  • Pack intact storage boxes of the loose papers into cartons. If the original storage box is no longer intact, then sandwich the contents between rigid cardboard, strap with cotton tape, and pack vertically in order inside the carton.
  • Pack oversize items flat.
  • Pack rolled items separately and one layer deep in order to avoid crushing.

Air Drying Procedures

  • Lightly blot with an absorbent material.
  • Gently unfold or unroll items when they are partially dry.
  • As space allows, separate items and place face up on flat surface areas to air dry.
  • When items are nearly dry, place between blotters in stacks to reduce severe distortions during final drying.
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