Bright Past, Fragile Future

The Henry Ford

Conserving Paper Political Lanterns at The Henry Ford

Late 19th-century political parties rallied their followers by holding torchlight parades.

Organizers raised banners, decorated wagons and sought out bands, uniformed precision marchers and groups of local supporters to take part in the hours-long event.

In the evening, marchers lit up the street carrying torches, lamps and lanterns.

Screen printed paper lanterns held candles and glowed with patriotic imagery or the image or name of the party's candidate(s).

These delicate lanterns were intended for one-time use. Made of inexpensive paper and cardboard with metal wire handles, their survival for more than 100 years is remarkable.

Finely pleated construction, acidic paper materials, and harsh environments threatened the relatively few paper lanterns that did survive.

By 2014, the paper lanterns in The Henry Ford’s collection were in danger of crumbling.

Tears and missing fragments threatened their already fragile condition.

Skilled conservators began the risky, time-consuming process of stabilizing the lanterns.

They gently removed surface dirt and stains, then exposed the lanterns to humidity in a controlled environment.

Conservators carefully unfolded the lanterns’ collapsed layers.

They inserted thick, rolled paper to support them from the inside.

To slow the degradation process, the lanterns were de-acidified and – after being photographed – placed in custom made acid-free boxes.

Though they may not survive another hundred years, thanks to the efforts of The Henry Ford’s conservators and photographers these rare and delicate examples of America’s political past will live on in digital form.

Credits: Story

From The Henry Ford Archive of American Innovation™.

Text adapted from "Conserving Our Paper Lanterns," a blog post from The Henry Ford Conservation Department.

Credits: All media
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