By MARK ROOSA
The Bicentennial exhibition "John Bull and Uncle Sam: Four Centuries of British-American Relations" features a marvelous assortment of materials important to the history and culture of both countries.
The exhibition, which includes a mix of 200 books, manuscripts and broadsides, traces the special relationship between Great Britain and the United States. It draws on collections housed at the British Library and the Library of Congress and will include some items that have never been on public display.
Select items from the Library's collection were reviewed prior to the exhibition. This has provided conservation staff with a unique opportunity to treat some of our nation's top cultural artifacts. So far, about half of the items slated for display have been stabilized for the exhibition, which is to travel to the British Library at a later date.
Since the scope of materials selected includes both book and paper formats, the review and treatment of items was distributed throughout the conservation division. Included in the first round of items treated are some fascinating works with special conservation needs.
Probably one of the most important Library of Congress documents to be included in the exhibition is Abraham Lincoln's draft of the Emancipation Proclamation. Considered one of the Library's "top treasures," this one-page manuscript has received conservation attention on several occasions to protect it for future generations. It and a handful of the Library's most valuable items are stored in a temperature- and humidity-controlled vault to retard degradation. The November exhibition is one of the rare times that the document will be on public display.
A copy of the Stamp Act, published in London in 1765, is also included in the exhibition and, according to the curator, James Hutson, is notable because, "it laid taxes on the American Colonies and initiated the dispute that led to the American Revolution." The Stamp Act is in the form of a pamphlet that had been bound into a volume. The title page had been lined with a modern machine-made paper and all of the folios were guarded with heavy white machine-made paper. The title page lining sheet and all previous mends were removed by immersing the pages in water. The pages were deacidified with magnesium bicarbonate. They were mended and folios guarded with Japanese paper and rice starch paste. The pamphlet was resewn and placed in a new handmade paper cover.
Also included is the first American edition of Shakespeare's Plays, published in Philadelphia in 1795. To prepare the title page and frontispiece of this volume for exhibition some small tears were mended with Japanese paper and wheat starch paste. The frontispiece was removed, repaired and guarded with a hinge so that it could be opened without creasing and breaking the page.
The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon by Gentleman Washington Irving (1819) is included in the exhibit because, "it was the first book written by an American that was well received by English critics" says Mr. Hutson. Like many volumes produced during this period, the leather covering material (calf) was badly deteriorated and both covers were detached from the textblock. To prepare the book for exhibition, it was rebacked with new leather and then boards were reattached.
Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn (London 1884), notable because it was extraordinarily popular in Great Britain, is bound in full publishers cloth decorated with colorful stamped impressions. The cloth used for the cover had become brittle and pieces of the spine were breaking off. The cover was carefully removed and the spine reinforced with two layers of Japanese paper. Pieces of the spine that had become detached were reattached. The case was then refitted to the volume.
Mr. Roosa is the chief of the Conservation Division.