A Low-Oxygen Capable Storage and Display Case for the Proclamation of the Constitution Act
The first half of the talk was presented by Michael Smith, Collection Manager, Textual and Cartographic, Unpublished and Unbound, Library and Archives Canada, who discussed the construction of storage and display cases for the two original copies of the Proclamation of the Constitution Act.
There are two original copies of the important document, sometimes referred to as the “raindrop” and the “red-stain” copies. It was raining on April 17, 1982 when Queen Elizabeth II and Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau signed the Proclamation of the Constitution Act outdoors, and raindrops smudged the ink on one copy. The other copy, signed later indoors, was pristine until July 22, 1983 when Peter Greyson, a young art student from Toronto, requested to see the document at the Public Archives of Canada under the pretense of studying its design and calligraphy. As he leaned over the document, a pool of red substance spread over its surface. This was later found to be red paint coming from an Elmers glue bottle hidden in Greyson’s coat pocket. Greyson had defaced the Proclamation of the Constitution Act to protest a decision allowing the United States to test cruise missiles over Canadian air space. Conservation attempts to remove the stain from the paper were unsuccessful, and while suggestions were made to cut out the damaged area and replace it with a newly inscribed piece, the decision was made to keep the stain rather than carryout out a procedure would affect the document’s authenticity and integrity. The act of vandalism was the first time a document in the Public Archives of Canada had been willfully damaged, dramatically changing security and viewing procedures at the Archives.
The inks on both copies of the document were tested for light sensitivity, and studies concluded that the ink was extremely light sensitive. While designing the case for the Act in collaboration with CCI, Michael decided to segregate preservation components from security components, reasoning that it was stored in a secure vault for the majority of the time where security requirements would be fulfilled. The storage case with built-in compartments for silica gel and activated charcoal was designed to control humidity and oxygen levels, using OptiView™ UV filter/anti-glare glass to reduce UV levels. The document was secured in place using custom magnetic clips. The case was fitted with a Marvelseal® bag that expanded or contracted in relation to the atmospheric pressure in order to reduce stress on the glass. A display case was then designed to limit light exposure and for security during exhibition, using a layer of security glass, VariGuard Smart Glass™, and a top layer of glass for scratch protection. The VariGuard Smart Glass™ remains opaque to block light levels until a button is pressed to make the glass clear. In combination, the storage and display case made up two halves of one system for the security and preservation of the documents.
Design of a Counterbalance Supporting Mount for the Book of Remembrance
Eric Hagan, a conservation scientist at CCI in the Preservation Services Division, presented the second half of the talk on the design of mounts for seven books of remembrances displayed in the Memorial Chamber on Parliament Hill. A high profile project to craft six new altars for the books using stone, bronze and glass led to a condition assessment of the books by Christine McNair, who recommended a better support system for the books when displayed. As the pages of the books are turned daily during the Turning of the Page Ceremony, the books have to be fully movable and go through a range of motion. To provide suitable support for these working books was a fascinating design challenge.
The counterbalance support system for the First World War book served as an inspiration for the versions used to support the remaining books. Eric’s new design relied on a linkage connection using four bars to form a gravity-activated mechanism, mirroring the motion of the book while the leaves were being turned. The low-profile mounts were each made of 24 pieces of custom-made aluminium parts and other parts sourced from outside Canada. A different design for each book had to be made due to varying dimensions. A surface of bonded Volara® foam was used to provide cushioning for the books. Eric ended his talk by describing the completion of the mounts with a black powder-coated fabric cover. It was amusing how he thought the anodized aluminium was quite appealing, and had not thought of the need to make a cover until the topic was raised up! A difference in aesthetics—I suppose the sleek, matte-black look of the aluminium did not match the more traditional look of the Memorial Chamber.
It was fascinating to listen to Michael and Eric describing their problem-solving process to deal with the requirements and challenges they faced. I was particularly intrigued by Eric’s counterbalance support mount, since a book cradle that adjusts according to how a book opens seems to be the dream everyone tries to achieve in book supports. While the mounts were amazing, the high profile project of the Books of Remembrance meant that there wasn’t really a budget limit. In hopes of finding a more affordable solution, I asked Eric afterwards what the previous supports for the books were like, but was told that none had been used before—hence a real need for the new supports! I’m curious how sensitive the mounts are, and whether they only respond to the movement of the books they were made specifically for. The concept of a cradle that adjusts its shape according to the book could possible be great for digitization projects or for the idea of reusable cradles.