Can I save these old manuals?
July 15, 2012 3:18 PM   Subscribe

I found two old user manuals in an old sewing machine. Is it possible to open them up and preserve them?

I bought an old sewing machine today. The serial number dates it to 1901. When I opened a drawer on the sewing machine cabinet I found a lovely surprise...the user manuals were still there!

One of the manuals had a printing date of October 1901 on it. Both manuals had been folded in half and stuffed in the drawer for who knows how long. Both are a little crumbly and I was hesitant to mess with them too much, but I was able to open one and page through it a bit.

If possible I'd like to flatten the manuals so I can page through them. An extra special bonus would be preserving them so I can show them to other interested people. My current strategy is to ease them open and then put them under a heavy book in hopes that they'll flatten. I have no idea if this is a good idea.

Is there a way I can accomplish this? Or should I just give it up?
posted by christinetheslp to Grab Bag (7 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Cool! This page has many original Singer manuals in PDF format to download, free. If they have the same ones, it could be easier to just download those.
posted by caclwmr4 at 3:29 PM on July 15, 2012

A quick Google search turned up this page:

posted by SpiralT at 3:56 PM on July 15, 2012

This page might help (toward the bottom). Essentially, you need to rehydrate the pages before working with them.
posted by youknowwhatpart at 6:03 PM on July 15, 2012

I work as an archivist and I have flattened things by placing them either completely under heavyish objects or with specially designed weights on either side or at each corner. In lieu of special weights (which are usually made of metal pellets encased in velvet or linen). I've also flattened things by placing them under a pane of plexiglass with weights on top if necessary. Alot depends upon how stubborn the fold is. The one drawback to this method is that it can take weeks depending upon how stubborn the fold is. Honestly, while these manuals are neat and of interest to you, they aren't worth a lot, so flattening them under something heavy might be the easiest way to go, at least to start. If the fold doesn't release and you are still interested in trying to flatten them, they you could proceed with the hydration chamber.

I haven't looked at the links provided above, but I know people who have made ad-hoc hydration chambers and they said it wasn't difficult. While they are generally successful in flattening things, it isn't really a treatment for brittle paper. In other words you might be able to flatten the manuals without destroying them after they've been in the hydration chamber and the fold has "relaxed" (like steaming wrinkles from fabric), but my understanding is that once they are completely dried out again, the pages will revert back to their brittle state and should be handled as infrequently as possible.
posted by kaybdc at 8:57 PM on July 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

If the pages are crumbly and browned around the edges, they were printed on high-acid paper, which slowly destroys itself. You need deacidification as well as hydration.
posted by KRS at 5:28 AM on July 16, 2012

IAAArchivist, and like the others above I'd hydrate and then flatten -- get two airtight containers, one large enough to hold the other, like old tupperware or yogurt containers; poke holes in the lid of the smaller one; put a small amount of water in the bottom of the larger one (I use an inch in the bottom of a 32-gallon garbage can for big objects like posters); put the small one in the larger one and seal it all up; let it sit for a few days to a week, checking the flexibility and putting it back in if it's still brittle.

When you can flatten it out by hand and it doesn't feel like the center fold will crack, put it between sheets of wax paper and put a weight on it (a hardcover book large enough to completely cover the pamphlet with a (sealed!) gallon jug of water, or a bunch of canned goods works fine) for at least a week.
posted by nonane at 5:41 AM on July 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

Thanks everyone! I inspected the manuals further and was able to unfold them easily (they had been in a wooden cabinet in someone's basement for years, so it might have been pretty damp in there). They weren't as brittle as I thought, just torn and worn around the edges. I put them under some books to flatten.
posted by christinetheslp at 7:00 AM on July 16, 2012

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