Rubber bands

James Gardner archive, University of Brighton Design Archives
A detail from one of James Gardner’s illustrations with collaged elements

For the past few months I have been kept busy continuing to go through the materials in the James Gardner archive – discovering some beautiful things in the process! I am slowly but surely making my way through it, compiling initial condition assessments and notes on content. This assessment period has flagged up conservation issues for some of the materials to be challenging as Gardner loved to work by collaging many types of materials together. While this has given his visions and illustrations a different kind of depth and beauty, the mix of materials can potentially become a real conservation headache. Interestingly, he continued to work in this manner all the way into the 1990s, where a computer might have become a companion to many designers. I am sure I will be writing more about his archive as time goes on – I can not wait to start planning for the preservation, re-housing and digitisation of the materials.

Icograda archive, University of Brighton Design Archives, Sirpa Kutilainen
A disintegrating rubber band stuck onto an archival document

As a kind of follow-up to my blog entry about rusty paperclips, I wanted to flag up an issue over the nuisance that is the ageing rubber band. Our Archives Cataloguer Ellen Taylor has been working with the Icograda archive, cataloguing some of the materials. On a few separate occasions, she has come to me with stack of these documents ‘bound together’ with a rubber band that has completely lost its elasticity over time and started to disintegrate.

Icograda archive, University of Brighton Design Archives
A disintegrating rubber band causes discolouration on the surface of the archival materials

As you can hopefully see from the images, the disintegrating rubber band can really ‘glue’ itself onto the surface of the documents it holds together causing not only staining but if not removed correctly, abrasion to the surface of the paper. So far, I have found the brittle rubbery material relatively quick and easy to remove but major discolouration is always left behind on the surface of the original. Lesson? Archives and rubber bands do not sit well together!

The rubber band as an invention was patented in 1845 by an Englishman called Stephen Perry and according to one website, the U.S. Post Office is the largest consumers of rubber bands in the world. I also read that clay can be used as a filler in the manufacturing – which would certainly explain the disintegration! I fear I could spend hours (if not days), delving deeper into the world of rubber bands but the chemistry enthusiast in me has to be silenced for now!

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