Conservation of Vintage Alice in Wonderland Poster

November 14, 2018 | Wendy

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One must-see item in TD Gallery's new exhibit, Alice Opens the Door, is a poster known to staff as "The Bennett Print." This charming poster depicts 40 scenes from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland  and Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There. Following the numbers lets you join Alice on her adventures with the White Rabbit, the Gryphon, the Dodo, the Caterpillar, the Queen of Hearts and more.

But the Second World War era poster was in rough shape prior to the exhibit — it needed professional treatment by Toronto Public Library's conservation team before it could be reproduced for display. 

Illustrated poster of several colourful characters, with a ripped piece missing in the upper right
Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, Designed by Richard Bennett (1899-1971) based on the drawings of John Tenniel (1820-1914), [New York]: E.P. Dutton & Co., 1945.

 

Treatment 

The poster is a halftone offset colour lithograph printed on a thick brownish paper. The paper quality is poor, a testament of its production during the last year of the Second World War when high quality paper was scarce. As a result, the paper became weak and brittle. Its fragility combined with its large size (approximately 86 x 104 cm) caused significant tears along the edges and lost pieces (a large loss in the top right corner and smaller losses elsewhere). Other issues: a well-meaning individual had applied tape which had discoloured; and the paper surface was simply dirty. 

Treatment started by cleaning the paper's surface then gently removing the old discoloured tape on the back of the print using a poultice.

Fortunately the inks were stable and the print could safely be washed, a procedure that would not only lighten the paper's appearance, but strengthen the paper by reactivating some of its damaged chemical bonds. 

Large table in conservator lab with woman holding a tool with a nozzel

The print was gradually moistened on each side by Conservator Tessa Thomas prior to the bath by misting purified water with a dahlia sprayer. 

 

Poster in shallow bath in a conservation lab

The print was bathed twice between supportive sheets of spun-bonded polyester in neutral pH, purified water.

 

Large glass panel on top of papers in conservation lab

Following its bath, the poster was placed between felts and under glass to dry. 

 

Transparent paper being pulled by two sheets of hands to reveal a brown poster                 

Conservators carefully peeled back the supportive polyester after the bath.

                 

Larger poster with multiple detached pieces on table in conservation lab

The damaged poster was comprised of many pieces! 

 

One woman working on poster on a lighted surface with another woman looking on

 Conservators Erin Dawson (left) and Tessa Thomas (right) align tears atop a light table.

 

 Large white paper and a woman applying substance with a tool in a conservation lab

The final step — a lining of high quality Japanese Haini Kozo paper adhered with wheat starch paste. This ensured proper alignment of tears, reintegration of loose pieces and imparted even more strength to the poster. After treatment the poster is brighter and stronger, and all of the pieces are reunited by the new lining. 

 

After treatment

A reproduction was displayed in the exhibit to keep the original out of harmful daylight. For the reproduction, a digital "fill" of the lost text and image was added in the top right corner. Our Photographer found online images of the entire poster. We wanted a complete poster in terms of content and illustration, but did not want to "restore" it— the fill was left uncoloured to indicate it was not original to the poster.   

Bennet for blog

...the result is a lighter, brighter, more complete poster — don't miss the chance to see it in-person! 

 


 

Located in TD Gallery at the Toronto Reference Library, the exhibit Alice Opens the Door (November 17, 2018 - January 27, 2019) explores the enduring literary classic Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. It's a book that opened the door of reading for generations of children.

Curated by Martha Scott, Services Specialist, Osborne Collection of Early Children’s Books, the family-oriented exhibit is a visually stunning and interactive experience with books, colouring sheets, scavenger hunt and even a fun house mirror! Admission is free.

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