One Man’s Junk is the GLO’s Treasure: Conserving a Donated Map
On one of the last working days of 2013, a man by the name of Roger Defoe walked through the doors of the General Land Office Archives and Records with a large tube, and said he had a Christmas gift for us.
Within the tube was a rolled map of the United States from 1854, wrapped in an old, heavy plastic tarp. Mr. Defoe indicated that the map had been in his garage for years, and he didn’t know what to do with it. Unfortunately for this map, the next stop, if the GLO didn’t take it, would most likely be the trash.
Mr. Defoe brought in a wall map, which may have belonged to a relative who was a teacher. The map, titled New Map of that portion of North America, exhibiting the United States and Territories, the Canadas, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Mexico, also Central America and the West India Islands compiled from the most recent surveys and authentic sources, was published by Jacob Monk in 1854.
He got our attention. GLO staff eagerly anticipated what would be unrolled and possibly donated. As he slowly unrolled the item, it became obvious that there was more than just the map rolled in that tube — a stowaway, creepy-crawly bug had made the trip as well. Whatever the bug was, it didn’t survive long enough to be identified. It darted out of the loosely-rolled map across one of our research tables, ultimately meeting its demise with a crunch. After the death of the bug, brown craft paper was placed on top of one of the research tables so the unrolling process could resume.
The map was in rough shape. The paper was discolored and the surface coating, a layer of varnish, had yellowed and darkened with age. The areas across the top were covered with multiple large mottled dark brown stains, likely due to water damage. The hand applied watercolors were diminished in these areas of staining. The paper was very brittle, with cracks, and had separated from the backing along the edges. There were numerous small creases and surface abrasions all over. The margins were broken, with losses and separation from the backing, and there was moderate grime across the surface.
Upon initial inspection, the large map, measuring 63”x60”, and was not very attractive — but it was obvious that there was some potential. The grime, varnish, water damage, and time had really done a number on this item. There were, however, details that stood out. An ornate border and title block captured the attention of everyone who looked. In the Gulf of Mexico, as well as the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, shipping vessels indicated trade routes. All of the states and territories of the United States were identified, including Texas, with counties, cities, roads, rivers and other geographic features named. The same was done with Mexico and islands in the Caribbean.
Underneath it all, this map really was something special — it just needed some care. Despite the commitment in time and money that this map required for conservation, the GLO Archives and Records accepted the donation from Mr. Defoe because it filled a strategic need within the collection. The map was prioritized for conservation, along with other maps housed in the Archives.
Because of the size and condition, archivists knew that conservation would not be cheap, and it would take some time. It was sent to the Northeast Document Conservation Center (NEDCC) in Andover, Massachusetts, along with another large map that came in under similar circumstances.
Conservation professionals at NEDCC got to work immediately. The wood mouldings at the top and bottom of the map were removed. Surface soil, fly specks, and accretions were reduced as much as possible using dry cleaning techniques. The varnish on the surface was removed in a solvent bath. After confirming that the map would permit washing, it was humidified and immersed in a filtered water bath to clean the paper and reduce staining, discoloration, and acidity. The map was lined with Japanese paper and wheat starch paste and was mounted on linen for additional support. Finally, the map was stretch dried flat on a board after lining, and tears were aligned and loose pieces were inserted.
It’s not often that a nearly 160 year old map comes through the door looking for a new home, but that happened at the General Land Office thanks to a donation by Roger Defoe. Because of his forethought and generosity and the efforts of the Save Texas History program, this excellent map of the United States and Mexico was conserved so future generations will have access to it.
If you have an original map of Texas that you would like to donate and have conserved for future generations, please contact the Texas General Land Office at firstname.lastname@example.org.
 According to WorldCat.org, there are only six known copies of this 1854 map of North America. Other institutions that have a copy of this map include the University of Texas at Arlington Central Library, the University of South Dakota, the Ohio Historical Society, the William Clements Library at the University of Michigan, and Yale University Library.