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University of Iowa News Release

March 10, 2006

Barrett Receives $15,000 Kress Grant For Historical Paper Research

A $15,000 grant from the Samuel H. Kress Foundation will help a University of Iowa researcher develop non-destructive methods for analyzing the paper on which priceless works of art and historically important documents are found.

Tim Barrett, a research scientist with the University of Iowa Center for the Book, is beginning the first of a three-part project with the help of a $15,000 grant from the Samuel H. Kress Foundation and the UI Office of the Vice President for Research. The second and third parts of the project will depend on additional funding.

Barrett anticipates that his non-destructive techniques will yield a wealth of information relevant to the care and conservation of rare books and works of art on paper, and add new insights into papermaking history and the production of durable archival papers.

"The paper itself holds a lot of secrets about how it was made that can be unlocked," Barrett said. "Our present day view of paper history and contemporary archival papermaking is based in large part on the 30-year-old analysis of historical paper specimens undertaken by the William Barrow Laboratory."

The Barrow study showed that earlier papers -- those found to be in the best state of preservation -- were made from a pure form of cellulose (rags), were neutral or slightly alkaline in pH, contained an alkaline reserve and were sized with gelatin, a material that left the paper with a non-acidic pH. Both accelerated aging studies and research on short-term naturally aged papers have verified that neutral or slightly alkaline papers last longer.

Because the Barrow study used destructive techniques for its analysis, it was unable to analyze some exceptionally stable papers made in the 15th century. Barrett says that is the reason nothing is known about the gelatin content of these papers even though it was a key ingredient in the early history of papermaking. Likewise, chemicals that affect the stability of paper -- calcium, magnesium, copper, iron, potassium, aluminum and sulfur - could not be analyzed in the Barrow study.

"The particular papers of that time have an integrity and an aesthetic appeal that you don't see in modern paper," Barrett said. "They're exquisite samples of paper making and my analysis will hopefully discover how they were made."

Barrett's non-destructive techniques include using near-infrared (NIR) for percentage of gelatin content, X-ray fluorescence (XRF) for residual metals and ultrasonic (US) for gelatin content and paper strength. During the first phase, Barrett hopes to use NIR methods to show that gelatin is a key component in many papers in the best present day condition. 

In the second phase of the project, he plans to confirm XRF instrumentation and methods for metals analysis. The third phase of the project, will allow him to purchase key pieces of instrumentation and undertake a field study of 1,500 papers made between 1400 and 1800 using the new non-destructive methods he is developing. The second and third phase will depend on additional funding.

Barrett is a research scientist at the UICB Oakdale Paper Production and Research Facility and also teaches classes in papermaking history and technique as an adjunct professor. He served as director for the UI Center of the Book from 1996 to 2002. The UI Center for the Book is housed in the Division of Interdisciplinary Programs that is part of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

The Samuel H. Kress Foundation devotes its resources to advancing the history, conservation, and enjoyment of the vast heritage of European art, architecture, and archaeology from antiquity to the 19th century.

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Services, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 371, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-2500.

MEDIA CONTACT: Tim Barrett, 319-621-2493,; Writer: Larry Mendenhall