Conservation of Samuel Holland’s 1765 map of Prince Edward Island

In 1765 Samuel Holland created the first truly modern and accurate map of Prince Edward Island, Canada, which had a considerable impact on the island – one that continues to this day.

To celebrate this anniversary the Confederation Art Centre Gallery, Charlottetown, Canada asked to borrow the National Archives CO 700/PrinceEdwardIsland3, Holland’s map of Prince Edward Island (then St. John’s Island) for their exhibition ‘Imperial Designs: Holland’s map and the Making of Prince Edward Island.’

 To prepare the map for this major exhibition the Collection Care team initiated a one-year project in 2014. Given the size (3×4 metres) and physical state of the map, this conservation presented considerable challenges.

The map was first conserved in 1973 following the protocols typical of the period, including the addition of a waterproof linen lining, a silk facing, the addition of a paper boarder and unsympathetic repairs applied to the front.

This treatment was designed to be sufficiently strong to prevent any physical damage when it was handled.  Unfortunately, the incompatibility of papers, linings and adhesives caused significant undulations, tenting, stiffness and discolouration and the silk facing had yellowed, compromising the visual interpretation of the map and preventing display.

The complexity of the conservation treatment and the display logistics required the team to find creative solutions, develop innovative techniques, and use some unusual materials.

The conservation treatment included removing the materials and adhesives from the earlier treatment, including washing, repairing, and realigning the map using three layers of thin Japanese paper.

A bridge and a platform were built to reach the centre of the map. The platform was also used to dry it under tension. Coordinated team work was required throughout the project.

Last but not least, the map had to be transported to Canada for display. A width-adjustable cardboard roll, rare earth magnets and a purpose-built wall for hanging the map on open display in Prince Edward Island provided solutions to these additional challenges.

The successful treatment  means the map is now accessible, visually engaging and better preserved for the future.  If you would like to learn more about this project, see our blog post.

We have also launched a project ‘Mind the Gap: Rigour and Relevance in Heritage Science Research‘, which investigates collaborative research practices between academic researchers and practitioners.