Discovery in the lab!

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I believe it has been said before on this blog and I have no doubt that it will be said again. Conservation is not a career for those who desire instant gratification in the work place. Treatment times tend to be long, especially for marine archaeological material where desalination is perhaps the most important process. That being said, every now and then there are days where discovery and success happen in an instant. Last week I was lucky enough to have one of those days.

I’m currently working on a copper alloy bicock valve that was removed from the front of the condenser.   Read more

Heigh-ho, heigh-ho, into the tanks we go. . .

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Out in the tank farm deconcreting copper alloy objects.
Out in the tank farm deconcreting copper alloy objects.

This week the time had come to get back into some of our larger tanks, and so tank farm season began. We were last out in the tank farm in the summer of 2014, how time flies! This summer we will be dry ice blasting all of the wrought iron artifacts that live in tank farm.

We spent this week in Tank 1, which holds copper alloy artifacts. All of the copper alloy objects, mostly pipes, were taken out the tank, examined, weighed (this helps with desalination calculations), given a brief round of flame deconcretion. By the end of week all the artifacts were back in the tank, snug as a bug in a rug, and with a freshly prepared solution.   Read more

The Metals Survey 2016

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Shelves with objects waiting to be surveyed.
Shelves with objects waiting to be surveyed.

Hello everyone! As promised, this week’s post is all about the metals survey. This was a great opportunity for me, having joined the conservation team in December, to have an in-depth look at our collection.

For the last month and a half, Will, Mike, and I have opened over 300 containers as we examine all the small inorganic artifacts awaiting conservation. The majority are iron and copper alloys, but there are other metals and glass as well. The purpose of the survey is to assess individual artifacts’ conditions and create a record of the current state of the collection. This allows us to prioritize. If something is very fragile and actively corroding, we want to focus on it, before it declines further. Inversely, if something is in great condition we want to treat it before we lose any more information. All of our organic material underwent a similar survey in 2015. As we check-in periodically, it establishes a timeline for the object throughout its life in storage. Conservation takes time. It is important to keep an eye on the whole collection, especially those which aren’t in active treatment.   Read more

Another part of the story

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Copper alloy valve before treatment.

When we speak of the story of the USS Monitor and the people involved in that story, more often than not we are referencing the crew. There is however, another group of people who played a key role in the history of the Monitor and their stories are not always heard. I am referring to the people who built her; the craftsmen who actually created the parts that were brought together to build the USS Monitor. In the process of conserving artifacts recovered from the wreck site, we do from time to time encounter maker’s marks. Researching the people who created those marks tells a whole other side to the Monitor story.

I am treating a copper alloy valve that was removed from the front of the condenser. One of the first steps in treatment was the removal of the concretion still attached to the artifact. The removal of some concretion near the handle revealed a name and a place stamped in tiny block letters: John Powers New York. This is a name we had heard before as it also appears on a manometer. Our curator at the time, Anna Holloway, was able to find a reference to John Powers in an 1875 Goulding’s Business Directory of New York City. This was like finding the Yellow Pages’ ad for his business. John Powers is listed as the proprietor of the Manhattan Brass Foundry located at No. 438 East Tenth Street near Avenue D, New York. The entry states that the company does castings in brass and composition and that “All kinds of Ship and Boat work made to order” and “Repairs to Marchinery, etc punctually attended to.” Now having a name, address and an approximate date it was possible to use city directories and census records to put together the story of the life of John Powers.   Read more

Help Identify a Mystery Artifact

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Over the past 13 years, NOAA archaeologists and Mariners’ Museum conservators have discovered hundreds of amazing artifacts within USS Monitor‘s revolving gun turret. Some artifacts, like the Dahlgren guns, gun carriages, and gun tools, are undergoing conservation as I type this blog entry. Others have already been fully conserved and are now on display within the USS Monitor Center at The Mariners’ Museum or have been loaned to other institutions around the country to help share Monitor‘s fascinating stories.

However, there are handful of artifacts that continue to mystify us in the lab, particularly those that have been fully conserved but not properly identified. It may sound strange or surprising that in the last 13 years we have not successfully identified every single artifact from the turret. But this is often the case when many materials are excavated from an archaeological setting.   Read more