Dr. Kilmer’s Swamp Root Cure

Greetings from Fourth Cone! It’s been a very long and busy summer for us, but we’re finally taking time out to share a recent project with you.

Dr Kilmer's Swamp Root advertising poster, before mounting and restoration.

Dr Kilmer’s Swamp Root advertising poster, before mounting and restoration.

This is an advertisement for a patent medicine invented by a Dr. S. Andral Kilmer in late 19th Century Binghamton, NY. Kilmer was bought out by his brother and nephew, W.S. Kilmer, who in 1903 built the Swamp Root HQ, or Kilmer Building, in downtown Binghamton, a building which still stands today. W. S. Kilmer was a cousin of the poet Joyce Kilmer, who was in turn a distant cousin to actor Val Kilmer. My point being that this poster does have a connection with the famous actor. At least according to the internet.

Anyway.

The poster came to us with rusting metal strips attached to the top and bottom. This treatment was popular with paper advertisements of the time, such as free railroad or Boy Scouts calendars. It was also mounted to a thin cheesecloth-like backing. Both these encumbrances have to be removed before our work can begin.

Following that, our plan is to wash, bleach, linen back, and restore the poster.

Dr Kilmer's poster before washing

After the metal bars have been trimmed off and just before washing.

Melissa begins by spraying a gentle soap on the surface of the poster. This makes the paper more permeable to water.

Melissa begins by spraying a gentle soap on the surface of the poster. This makes the paper more permeable to water.

She then flips the poster over, sprays the soap on the back, and massages it in to loosen the mesh backing.

She then flips the poster over, sprays the soap on the back, and massages it in to loosen the mesh backing.

Melissa ever-so-slowly peels the nasty mesh off the back of the piece. Tiny bits of poster can easily be lost in this process, so she has to make sure she doesn't miss anything.

Melissa ever-so-slowly peels the nasty mesh off the back of the piece. Tiny bits of poster can easily be lost in this process, so she has to make sure she doesn’t miss anything.

At this stage, a very gentle type of bleach is sprayed onto the paper. This will lighten the dark brownness, as well as brighten the appearance of the inks.

At this stage, a very gentle type of paper bleach is sprayed onto the piece. This will lighten the paper’s brownness, as well as brighten the appearance of the inks. Melissa covers the bleach-soaked poster with mylar and lets it sit for a few minutes.

The mylar is rolled back and the bleach is rinsed off the front and back with copious water.

The mylar is then rolled back and the bleach is rinsed off both sides with copious water.

Melissa then spends several minutes getting all the detached bits into their proper places.

Melissa then spends several minutes getting all the detached bits into their proper places.

A small paintbrush is used to spread paste onto the back of the fragmented area. She uses a larger brush and a roller to cover the less fragile parts.

A small paintbrush is used to spread paste onto the back of the fragmented area. She uses a larger brush and a roller to cover the less fragile parts.

The poster is mounted to the stretched canvas backing. An acid free barrier paper has been mounted to protect the poster from the canvas's acid content.

The poster is mounted to the stretched canvas backing. An acid free barrier paper has been mounted to protect the poster from the canvas’s acid content.

Minor adjustments are made to the fragments, to make sure all the small text lines up properly.

Minor adjustments are made to the fragments, to make sure all the small text lines up properly.

drkilmersmounted

Here’s what the piece looks like at this stage in the game. It now moves on to the restoration department.

In order to create a perfectly even surface, all the holes and areas of missing paper are patched using both archival paper and a filling compound.

In order to create a perfectly even surface, all the holes and areas of missing paper are patched using both archival paper and a filling compound.

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Melissa paints the patches to match the brown tone of the paper. The border will then be very lightly airbrushed to create a more seamless effect. The poster's center area has been covered in protective paper, or masking, in order to protect it from the spray of the airbrush.

Melissa paints the patches to match the brown tone of the paper. The border will then be very lightly airbrushed to create a more seamless effect. The poster’s center area has been covered in protective paper, or masking, in order to protect it from the spray of the airbrush.

The stages of airbrushing.

The stages of airbrushing.

Melissa then spends several careful hours replacing and recreating this highly detailed area. The poster's owner provided us with meticulous references, so we are able to make the missing pieces look almost exactly as if they were the original. This is the magical stage of any project, very rewarding to the restorer.

Melissa then spends several careful hours replacing and recreating this highly detailed area. The poster’s owner provided us with meticulous references, so we are able to make the missing pieces look almost exactly as if they were the original. This is the magical stage of any project, very rewarding to the restorer.

Melissa is even able to reproduce that tiny text in the bottom left margin. It is only one millimeter high.

Melissa is even able to reproduce that tiny text in the bottom left margin. It is only one millimeter high.

And here it is, the final product! Take a second to appreciate all the tiny details in this gorgeous advertisement. Aside from the amazing anatomical diagram, there are the labeled bottles on the shelves, and that cathedral-like soda fountain on the left. Makes you wish for former times when they really knew how to do things. Except medicine.

And here it is, the final product! Take a second to appreciate all the tiny details in this gorgeous advertisement. Aside from the amazing anatomical diagram, there are the labeled bottles on the shelves, and that cathedral-like soda fountain on the left. Makes you wish for simpler times when they really knew how to do things. Except maybe medicine.

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