In most cases, the inner glass box containing the specimens was separated
from the outer book binding. The book binding was then sent off to be treated
by book and paper conservators at the Conservation Center for Art and
Historic Artifacts (CCAHA). Documenting every phase of the process with notes and photographs, Ms. Hawks then opened the boxes and cleaned all accessible
surfaces. Repairs were made to damaged specimens whenever possible. Fragments of specimens that were loose and not associated with a specific specimen were
gathered up and placed in envelopes to remain with, but not inside the boxes.
While the boxes were open, they were photographed in their entirety, and
each specimen was individually photographed and measured. The cleaned and
repaired boxes were then re-sealed. All materials used by the conservator for
cleaning, repair and reassembly of the boxes have long term stability (they will not break down over time, or release any damaging vapors) and reversible using safe solvents (water or acetone). The boxes were then replaced in the cleaned and repaired book bindings.
Finally, each box is now housed in a special protective, individually fitted case. These cases contain special enclosures for the parts of the boxes and
specimens that were kept separately from the reassembled boxes. This
material includes fragments of the specimens themselves, pages of specimen identifications that were not glued into the bindings, as well as shims and tin
sealing material that were not replaced during the reassembly process. The boxes in their protective cases and all the documentary materials created during
the project are now stored in new tightly sealing cabinets which will shield
them from fluctuating environmental conditions, damaging insects, dust and
Some "worst case scenarios" included boxes such as the one shown in
the photograph to the right (a). Virtually all of the specimens were loose
due to dessication or other failure of the adhesive used to attach
the cork pinning bases to the rear glass. Repairs and reallignment
of specimens in boxes like this one were often quite a challenge and
in some cases where there were numerous conspecific individuals with
extensive damage, reassociation of loose appendages was not possible.
After restoration (b),
the arrangment of specimens in the above box approximates the
original positioning of specimens intended by Peale. Specimen
arrangement was based on evidence of adhesive residue on the rear
glass panel (used to position detatched cork bases) and comparison
with the orientation of specimens in other intact boxes.
Conservation technician Devon John pastes a strip of toned Japanese tissue over a split in the marbled paper of a Peale Butterfly Box. Photo credit: Sue Bing.