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NEH Challenge Grant

About the Award

The National Endowment for the Humanities has awarded the Boston Athenæum’s Conservation Laboratory a five-year Infrastructure and Capacity Building Challenge Grant of $182,500.

Grant-Funded Conservation Treatments

Combined gifts from donors and the grant match supported the acquisition of essential, state-of-the-art tools and materials, and allowed the Athenæum to hire a full-time conservator with an expertise in photography. So far, seventy-six items have been treated, including unique, fragile daguerreotypes. Here are just a few of them.

Daguerreotype portrait of a young husband and wife from 1856, by Charles V. Allen (Before) Daguerreotype portrait of a young husband and wife from 1856, by Charles V. Allen (After)

In 2019, a condition survey of the Boston Athenaeum’s collection of 363 daguerreotypes was completed by Tatiana Cole, the Paper and Photograph Conservator now funded by the support of people like you and the NEH matching grant. It was determined that almost 35% of the collection had cover glass that was unstable and experiencing “weeping”, a type of glass degradation that leads to the accumulation of highly corrosive alkaline products on the glass’s inner surface. This in turn posed a major risk to potential corrosion and degradation of the daguerreotypes and other case components, such as the brass mat. Weeping glass is a common issue that can be a result of poor environmental conditions at some point during the life of the cased daguerreotype, and/or innate instability from how the glass was manufactured.
Caption: Daguerreotype portrait of an unidentified man from ca. 1857, by Lorenzo G. Chase (Before)Caption: Daguerreotype portrait of an unidentified man from ca. 1857, by Lorenzo G. Chase (After)
These images exhibit two of such daguerreotypes that were treated as part of this larger project. The delicate daguerreotype packages were opened, corrosion products on the brass mats and preservers were reduced, and dust particles and more prominent copper corrosion particles on the front and back of the daguerreotypes were physically and painstakingly removed using a myriad of fine precision tools. Ultimately, the glass was replaced with a chemically stable sodium borosilicate glass.
You can learn more about daguerreotype materials by visiting the Graphics Atlas, a rich resource provided by the Image Permanence Institute of the Rochester Institute of Technology.
Harriet Hayden Albums
Harriet Hayden Albums Volume 1 (Before)Harriet Hayden Albums Volume 1 (After)
The Harriet Hayden Albums are two cartes de visite albums assembled by Harriet Hayden of Boston, featuring portraits of individuals involved with the antislavery movement. The binding structures of the albums needed to be reconstructed and repaired by the Boston Athenaeum’s Book Conservator, Graham Patten, and the cartes de visites needed overall dry surface cleaning by the Paper and Photograph Conservator, Tatiana Cole. Cleaning the cartes de visites also required their temporary removal from the albums in order to allow for access to their backs and sides. Furthermore, Curatorial, Cataloging and Digitization departments compiled, organized, and digitized a rich body of information surrounding the albums. This was truly a collaborative effort!
Harriet Hayden Albums Volume 2 (Before)Harriet Hayden Albums Volume 2 (After)
We hope we can count on you to make a gift or pledge of any amount today.

How You Can Help

Meet the challenge and help preserve the Athenæum's collections for generations to come. Your gift and a match from the National Endowment for the Humanities will provide the Conservation Laboratory with the tools and team it needs to stay on the cutting edge of collections care. For every $3 our community donates, the National Endowment for the Humanities will chip in $1.
You can donate online via the form below. If you have questions or wish to make a credit card gift by phone, please call 617-720-7639.
You can also make a pledge today and pay it later. Any pledge paid by the end of this calendar year will count towards the goal.  To make a pledge or request a postage-paid reply envelope to give by mail, call or email