George B. Post (1837-1913), an American architect trained in the Beaux-Arts tradition, is perhaps best known for his New York City landmark buildings, including the New York Stock Exchange, City College, and the Brooklyn Historical Society. After working as a draftsman for Richard Morris Hunt, Post opened his first architectural firm in New York City in 1860, in partnership with Charles D. Gambrill. In 1868 Post established his own firm, which specialized in commercial buildings. He also designed lavish mansions for clients such as Cornelius Vanderbilt and Collis P. Huntington.
The records of Post’s architectural firms were donated to the New-York Historical Society by his grandson, Edward E. Post, in 1956, with additions in 1972, 1978, and 2002. During a recent project focused on rehousing the Post collection, our conservation team came across an item that needed some attention: a presentation drawing of a proposal Post submitted for the New York Clearing House building.
The Clearing House Association, a banking and payments company that is owned by the largest commercial banks and still exists, was founded in New York City in 1853. In 1893 the Clearing House Association acquired the lots at 77-83 Cedar Street in order to build a new headquarters to meet their growing need for space. Designs and plans for the building were submitted by a number of prominent architects, including George B. Post, and were reviewed by the Clearing House Association Building Committee. Post, however, was not chosen as the building’s architect. Competitor Robert W. Gibson’s design was selected, and the cornerstone was laid on October 20, 1894. This building served the Association until 1963 when they moved to 100 Broad Street. The New York Clearing House building was demolished, replaced by the 51-story Marine Midland building, completed in 1967.
When our conservation team found it, Post’s presentation drawing for the New York Clearing House Building was rolled inside the same acidic tube in which it had been donated. Unrolling the drawing for study or presentation is difficult due to the thickness of the paper and fabric lining. In addition, an accumulation of dirt and pollution obscures the drawing and escalates paper degradation.
The first step in the conservation treatment of this drawing is dry cleaning with eraser crumbs. This cleaning technique is time-consuming (especially on a drawing this size), but gentle. We are able to reduce the surface soiling without disturbing the media. A plastic eraser is rubbed across a ginger grinder to create small crumbs that are then rubbed in circular motions over the paper.
The back of the drawing and areas that do not contain media were cleaned with vulcanized rubber sponges and cosmetic sponges.
After cleaning, and before performing any treatments involving water, we perform water sensitivity tests on all of the inks used in the making of the drawing. We do this to predict how the media will behave in the presence of water, even for a gentle treatment like humidification. The tests are performed by placing a small drop of deionized water on each color. An absorbent blotting paper is then pressed on the wetted area and any transfer or changes in the color on the drawing are observed. In the case of Post’s drawing, we tested the writing fluid used for his signature, as well as the black, grey, dark blue, light blue, brown, yellow, and red watercolors. Only paper degradation products transferred to the blotting paper and no changes were observed in the media on the drawing. Therefore, it was safe to proceed with the humidification.
Due to its size, the drawing was humidified in our oversized sink. Damp blotting paper was placed on the bottom to supply moisture. The drawing was placed in the sink on stainless steel wire racks lined with non-woven polyester fabric (reemay). The fabric was also placed on top to protect the surface of the drawing. Plexiglas and a sheet of plastic were used to cover the humidification chamber and keep the moisture inside.
The drawing was monitored during the humidification process, removed after 90 minutes, and flattened and dried under pressure. Edge tears and losses were mended with thick Japanese paper and wheat starch paste.
Even though George B. Post’s design for The New York Clearing House was never built, it is an important part of our collection. The conservation treatment of this drawing will allow easier access to it for research and exhibition. In addition, removing the drawing from an old, acidic tube, and placing it in flat storage cabinets will slow down the natural decomposition of its components.
[To learn more, see our earlier post, Temples of Trade: George B. Post’s Stock Exchange and Produce Exchange Buildings.]
This post is by Katarzyna Bator, Assistant Conservator.