As keeper of the Crane archives, I get to see first-hand both the ravages of time and environment on paper documents as well as their survival in the face of adverse conditions.
I had a double dose late last week, when I received an e-mail from a conservator at the British Library in London. She was inquiring about the paper on which Rudyard Kipling wrote the manuscript for The Jungle Book (1894). She noted that the watermark read: CRANE & CO. Dalton Mass. 1890 No. 21. This was Crane’s Bond, 100% cotton, in an azure blue, made in 1890. The number 21, I believe, is the basis weight of the paper, being 21 pounds to the ream.
I inquired as to the condition of the manuscript after 116 years, and here is her assessment:
“The manuscript is in great condition, I haven’t had to deal with any issues with regards to the writing paper itself. It has a light blue colour and has not discoloured, obviously good quality cotton paper.
“The conservation issues are with the inlay paper that was used when it was bound into a volume when it was donated by his family to the British Museum.
“I have had to remove it from this inlay paper as it was discoloured and had foxing, this could affect the original in time. I have found a very good quality cotton paper with a suitable grammage from a supplier in London, I have inlayed the manuscript using current conservation methods and techniques. It will then be bound back into the ‘original’ leather binding.”
I’ve seen this so many times. The 100% cotton paper surviving in perfect condition, with the preservation techniques creating the preservation issues. Nobody knew this would be a problem in the late 1800s when wood pulp was commercialized. Nobody really knew this would be a problem until well into the 20th century.
Except maybe a family in Dalton, Mass., who decided not to jump on the wood pulp bandwagon, knowing full well their papers would stand the test of time.