Climate Control: Preserving the HHS Permanent Collection

By Executive & Curatorial Assistant, Caitlin Cummings

For over two years now, the Object of the Week blog has allowed us to bring you a closer look at some of the most special pieces within our permanent collection. This week, we take the time to explain a behind the scenes aspect of collections care: climate control and preservation efforts within our historic structures! A key responsibility of any curatorial department is keeping museum artifacts safe, and with a collection as large as ours (with over 10,000 diverse objects), that can sometimes be a challenge. What many may not know is that different types of materials react differently to environmental variables, and as a result it is crucial that they are housed and handled appropriately in order to remain in excellent physical condition. Especially during these summer months, we are constantly battling heat, humidity, sunlight, and pest issues that could easily threaten the condition of historic artifacts.  Low levels of humidity can, for example, cause desiccation and embrittlement of paper, leather, and textiles, as well as the splitting/cracking of wood. High levels of humidity on the other hand can promote the corrosion of metals, and increase the chances of mold and insect activity.

Our main collection storage area on Huguenot Street is located in a 20th century building, and as a result we have little to no problems maintaining proper climate conditions in that space (with a temperature safe range of 61-68°, and a relative humidity range of 35-55%). Unfortunately stone houses, such as those that line Huguenot Street, are not equipped with insulation, HVAC systems, or any of the other structural amenities we are now reliant on to keep us comfortable at home. This means that the Huguenot houses are particularly dry and freezing in the winters, and alternatively moist and hot in the summers.  Because many pieces within the HHS permanent collection are kept on display in the stone houses to accommodate our recently re-vamped tours, we must ensure that the temperature and humidity within those environments are kept as stable as possible. If we failed to do so, our visitors would have less to enjoy as priceless pieces within the collection could begin to fall apart.

Traditional museum spaces and art galleries have long-been accustomed to measuring environmental conditions with tools called hygrothermographs. These devices are comprised of human or synthetic hair (for measuring humidity) and a bi-metallic strip (for measuring temperature), typically resembling small boxes that sit on the floor. Each sensor is attached to a separate pen which in turn moves up or down in response to a change in humidity or temperature. Because of the sensitive nature of the mechanism, the hygrothermograph requires frequent calibration and is simply not a suitable way for us to measure environmental conditions in all eight of our historic buildings. Historic Huguenot Street, like many other house museums, has instead turned to a new type of technology that provides the same exact data as hygrothermographs; digital climate data loggers. For the past decade, HHS has been evolving alongside these digital trackers, and we are pleasantly surprised to find that the technology is continually improving. Produced by a company called Onset, our curatorial department utilizes a brand of data-reading devices aptly called “HOBO loggers.” These loggers are initially hooked up to a software system that allows us to program their settings; here, you can change the intervals at which temperature and humidity readings are being taken and also specify a loggers “home location”. After the loggers have been digitally set-up, they are taken out and placed into each of the eight buildings. Once they are placed in the correct room (based on their “home location” as it was programmed in the computer), the loggers are turned on and they immediately begin to record the climate changes within those spaces. The best part of these new-age digital loggers is that you only need to collect the data once a month, as opposed to once a day (as was necessary with the hygrothermographs). Thus, once a month we visit each of the loggers and simply connect it to a data reader via a USB cord. Then we simply bring the data reader back to a computer, upload all the recorded information from all of the historic houses, and voila! The climate condition data analysis can begin!

hygrothermographHOBO
A traditional hygrothermograph (left) and the digital HOBO logger (right) used on Historic Huguenot Street.

Now I know that at this point many are wondering, “so what,” and “who CARES about climate data anyway!?” I guess all I can say is that I used to agree with you; this entire process once seemed tedious and unimportant to me as well. That is until I began to see the devastating effects of environmental variables with my own eyes! This past winter it came to our attention that three of our most prized portraits were succumbing to the significant fluctuations in temperature and humidity that they had been subject to since they were painted in the early 19th century. These fluctuations resulted in the chipping of paint, the buckling of canvas, and in some areas, paint discoloration. We were forced to take action quickly in order to preserve these paintings, and thus had to hire the services of a trained conservator who specializes in painting restoration. Another example is the current situation we face with the Jean Hasbrouck House. Erected in the early 18th century, the Jean House has been a longstanding “face” of Huguenot Street and remains one of the most popular stops on our daily tours. Visitors regularly enjoy the newly re-furnished Storeroom, our impressive collection of Dutch kasten, and of course, the large wooden loom that sits in the Garret. What visitors don’t realize is that all of those beautiful collections pieces are in grave danger due to the deteriorating roof that covers the Jean Hasbrouck House. Although we have managed to catch this problem in the nick of time, structural issues such as a leaky roof or a cracked window are always more devastating when there are museum pieces involved.

While digital climate control is an ever-changing field for historic house museums such as HHS, we enjoy protecting our collection and welcome the publics’ help in that regard. As always, please refrain from touching or handling museum objects while on our guided tours and continue to support our mission by donating online.

Campaigning in the 20th Century

By Ciara Bohan

Getting in to the spirit of our oncoming elections and the national conventions, we have examples of American campaign pins. Buttons and pins were used by supporters of a campaign to show enthusiasm and to market a nominee. It is a brilliant way to advertise politicians without spending too much money, since pins were and still are cheaply made, mass producible, and could be worn on people’s shirts for the public to see. This strategy has been a successful and is still used to this day. Now campaigns will not only use pins, but also print their promotions on flags, hats, bumper stickers, and other easily and cheaply made items.

One pin out of our large collection is one the 1964 Presidential Election between Barry Goldwater and Lyndon B. Johnson. The pin is red, white, and blue with a picture of Barry Goldwater (on right) and William Miller (on left). Miller was Goldwater’s Vice Presidential pick. The words “Een Ploeg Voor Vryheid” is written across the top, which means “A Team for Freedom/ Liberty” in Dutch.

Goldwater Miller

Before running for president, Barry Goldwater represented Arizona in Senate for thirty years. Goldwater was known for being a fiscal conservative, which meant he supported fewer government regulations, little government spending, and low taxes. It wasn’t very clear why he chose William Miller to be his vice president, since many people didn’t know who his was or what his political views were. William Miller was a New York politician who served in the House of Representatives as a Republican. He was known for criticizing John F. Kennedy while he was in office in 1961-63. The Democratic Party led one of the most famous campaigns called the “Daisy ad,” which stated electing Barry Goldwater would result in a nuclear war occurring during the Vietnam War. This ad was successful in causing public fear of the Republican Party winning, which secured Democratic victory. Lyndon B. Johnson won the majority of the votes, making the Barry Goldwater campaign one of the most unsuccessful presidential campaigns in American history. It remains a mystery why the caption “Een Ploeg Voor Vryheid” is in Dutch, especially since this pin was made to promote an American election. Dutch was not the only language that The Goldwater/Miller campaign produced buttons in. An online antique dealer shows the same pin with the same translation in languages such as Ukrainian, Latvian, Greek, Chinese, Hungarian, Lebanese, and Estonian.  Although not certain, some of the languages were of countries under a communist regime, something that the Goldwater campaign was avidly against. The goal may have been to promote ideals of democracy.

Buttons and pins are not only used for campaigns, they are often used for commemorations and anniversaries. This next pin we have is a 1962 commemorative pin which celebrated the 100th anniversary of the Union victory in the Battle of Antietam, and the 200th anniversary of the foundation of Antietam, Maryland. The pin has the American flag on one side and the Union flag on the other. Around the perimeter of the pin are the words “Antietam-South Mountain Centennial *Hagerstown 200th Anniversary*.”

Battle of Antietam

The Battle of Antietam took place during the Civil War in 1862 one-hundred years after the town was founded by Jonathan Hager. In this battle, Robert E. Lee led the Confederate Army to Maryland, meaning it was the first battle to be fought on Northern soil. The opposing General George McClellan led the Army of the Potomac against them and stopped the Confederates from advancing farther into the North. This battle was known for being one of the bloodiest in American history. Many conclude that there was no real victory to this battle, as there were thousands of casualties on both ends. In total, historians estimate there were around 22,717 soldiers who died. This battle resulted in the creation of the Emancipation Proclamation, issued by Abraham Lincoln. It was passed on January 1st of 1863 after three years of the Civil War. The Emancipation Proclamation declared “that all persons held as slaves” (with in all states that had rebelled against the Union) “all and henceforward shall be free.” Although the Emancipation Proclamation was not powerful enough to free all slaves, it was one of the first steps in abolishing slavery.

Maryland Commemorative PlateVia Etsy

The Historic Huguenot Street Permanent Collection holds a number of other patriotic campaign buttons along with the aforementioned. Some include the classic and widely known, “I Like Ike” slogan, from the 1952 election for Dwight Eisenhower. We also hold a few buttons promoting liberty bonds, which were bonds sold in World War I to support the allied cause. They were advertised as a patriotic duty to those on the home front in the United States.

19602 Campaign Buttons

Sources:

History & Culture.” Antietam National Battlefield Maryland. National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior: Washington, D.C., n.d. Web. 20 July 2016.

Antietam.” Civil War Trust. Washington, D.C., n.d. Web. 20 July 2016.

Emancipation Proclamation, January 1, 1863; Presidential Proclamations, 1791-1991; Record Group 11; General Records of the United States Government; National Archives.

Barry Goldwater and William E. Miller.” The Los Angeles Times: Los Angeles, n.d. Web. 20 July 2016.

Biography.com Editors. “Barry Goldwater Biography.” Biography.com. A+E Television Networks, n.d. Web. 20 July 2016.

Land of the Free

By Ciara Bohan

As part of our celebration of Independence Day, this week’s object is a traditional powder horn; an item commonly used during the Revolutionary War.  Selected for our patriotic theme of the week, this elegantly detailed powder horn symbolizes our countries victory and separation from England in 1776.

This powder horn in particular was made in the early 19th century, meaning it was not made until after the Revolutionary War. Carved into the side are the American flag and the British flag, as well as the words “Liberty” and “Land of the Free”. “Land of the Free” came from the National Anthem which was written in 1814 by Francis Scott Key, meaning the horn was probably not carved into until after this year. Along with this are two sailboats, four tulips and a row of ten houses. The houses appear to have been built in the style of European architecture, especially with Dutch influence. Beside the houses is a church, which was likely illustrated to symbolize Christianity. This technique of carving is called scrimshaw, which normally takes the form of illustrated engravings or letters. After this, the artist would rub ink/pigment into the carving to highlight the detail. Interestingly, the bottom of the horn was carved to be in the shape of an acorn. The small opening at the end allows a small amount of gun powder to be loaded, making it an artistic object and a utilitarian tool. Its exterior has remained in a remarkably good condition since it has been well preserved. Powder horns to this day are considered highly valuable as they were all individually designed.

1985223001

1985223001-4

1985223001-5

1985223001-9

1985223001-10

Although it was not used in the war, many powder horns like this carried gun powder used in battles at war. Powder horns have been used for thousands of years, mainly since they were so effective and useful. Soldiers, gunman, hunters, etc. all favored this tool for its highly valuable characteristics.  They were light and portable, waterproof, and most importantly spark proof.  Powder horns also helped soldiers pass time in winter camps. It wasn’t until Colonial times where it became common to carve into powder horns. They would normally use knifes or needles stuck into a stick to get the precise detail they needed, especially in this powder horn. Each powder horn was unique to its owner, commonly illustrated the status of their life.

Typically using the horns of cattle or buffalos, soldiers and other powder horn users favored its unique shape as a resourceful tool. The horns were naturally hollow on the inside, making it easier to use. The function of the powder horns was to have a wider opening on one end, and a smaller end. The wider end acted as the part where the powder could be loaded into the horn. The smaller end was used to pour the powder into the gun, acting as a funnel. This technique of loading powder was handy and could be done quickly, which helped at battle. Powder horns were mainly used for muskets during the Revolution. They could also be used for pistols and rifles which later became more popular in the United States.

Sources:

Guild, Rich. “A Bit of Horn History.” Investment Grade Decorated Powder Horns. 2002. Web. 30 June 2016.

Powder Horns.” Firearms History, Technology & Development. 21 Jan 2013. Web. 30 June 2016.

Linberry, Cate. “The Story Behind the Star Spangled Banner.” Smithsonian.com. Smithsonian: 1 March 2007. Web. 30 June 2016.