Multiple maps and map overlays from HO193/75, showing signs of mechanical damage

Transparent papers are present in The National Archives' collection as maps, map overlays, artistic designs and engineering plans. The transparency of the paper is vital for the record to fulfil its intended function. Unfortunately, many of these records are in poor condition (frequently showing tears, holes, creases and folds), they are brittle and discoloured resulting from the methods of production of the transparent paper coupled with the heavy handling that often occurred if the records were working documents.

Treatment on a case-by-case basis

In many cases the condition of the transparent papers requires some form of conservation treatment to ensure that the records can be handled without undergoing further degradation. However, this is complicated by the wide variation in the condition of transparent papers, their susceptibility to damage by water or solvents that can be used in conservation treatments, and their dispersal throughout the collection. Many treatment options ranging from minimal to full-scale treatment are available, allowing the tailoring of the treatments to the specific record.

Each transparent paper must be considered individually as the treatment for one may not be suitable for another, particularly as the manufacturing process of the papers can greatly affect the stability of the paper with respect to water and solvents. However, for institutions such as The National Archives where full-scale treatment of all transparent paper documents is not a viable option for the reasons mentioned above, the question of when a transparent paper should be treated, and to what extent, is very significant. The current absence of an answer to this question in the context of The National Archives will be addressed in a one-year fellowship, which began in October 2012.

Conservation Research Fellowship

The aim of this fellowship is to develop a decision-making framework to help conservators consider whether a transparent paper needs conservation treatment and if so, what options are available, based on the use of the records in The National Archives.

The fellowship has the following objectives:

  • interview conservators to determine the issues they face at The National Archives regarding the conservation treatment of transparent papers
  • undertake readers' and staff surveys to determine the typical conditions of transparent papers at The National Archives and identify the location and type of the most popular transparent paper records
  • examine accelerated ageing of modern transparent papers of similar production methods to those at The National Archives to assess their degradation process.
  • evaluate the long-term effects of a range of treatments on transparent papers of similar type to those present in The National Archives' collection.
  • develop the decision-making framework

The outcomes will be:

  • creation of a decision-making framework for the preservation and conservation of transparent papers at The National Archives
  • greater understanding of the condition and location of transparent papers in The National Archives' collection
  • wider dissemination (web page, poster, peer-reviewed publication, presentation to conservators and preferably also the public)
  • identification of areas for future research

If you would like further information on this fellowship, please email collectioncare@nationalarchives.gov.uk.