Harvard University attracts some of the brightest minds from all over the world. With those bright minds come world-class facilities, incredible research projects, and priceless collections. At the end of the 19th century, the Harvard College Observatory in Cambridge started to receive glass photographic plates taken by the university’s telescopes in Massachusetts, California, Peru, and South Africa. The collection of plates allowed for astronomists to measure the variability and colors of stars over the full sky for the first time. The project continued until 1992, resulting in a collection that consists of more than half a million images.
In January of 2016, an underground Cambridge city water pipe burst. The burst resulted in flooding that submerged about 61,000 plates. With 12% of the collection at risk of being damaged beyond repair, university faculty consulted faculty at Harvard’s Weissman Preservation Center for how to best handle this extremely unfortunate situation. On the preservation center’s advice, the damaged plates were packed into boxes and moved outside to freeze in the cold Northeast winter. From that point, it was clear that restoration specialists would be absolutely necessary to returning these priceless plates back to their original state.
Polygon got the call for this very important project. While working with glass plates wasn’t something our team had done before, we were up to the challenge. After taking the time to consider all the options, our restoration specialists, with close communication and oversight from Harvards' team of conservators, came up with a system that would keep the glass plates from breaking while they were thawed, cleaned, and dried. Due to the unique characteristics of the damaged contents, special systems were put into place for each step of the process. Nine months after the pipe had burst, the first delivery of restored plates arrived back at the Observatory. Shipments would continue for several months until the project was completed and all the plates were restored on schedule.
This is one example of a time when Polygon has been brought in to restore irreplaceable items. Our specialists understand that unique problems require creative solutions. We have the technology and expertise to clean items damaged by water, fire, and mold. Our desiccant air dry distribution system thoroughly dries hard copy documents and multimedia. For books, Polygon uses a vacuum-freeze system with even distribution, so that books won’t warp in the restoration process. Our team is ready to work with you to ensure that the restoration process goes smoothly.
When it comes to restoring priceless items to their original state, it’s important to contact experts immediately. Missteps early in the process can result in irreversible damage. Click here for more information on our recovery process.