Best method for copying 18th century document

By The History Detectives Team
4 August 2008
Category: Viewer Mailbag

Dru Ransdell emailed with a question for Gwendolyn Wright:

I have a document written in iron manuscript ink by my ancestor in 1752. It is a pledge of a club of about 50 teenage(!)young men to walk a Christian life. Exquisite, powerful prose and the writing is of course a work of art. A date in the margin says that the club was started in 1715.

I have had this previously folded treasure flattened at an art conservation place. I know that this original document will fade away if exposed to light, but I am unsure how to safely make copies to hang and enjoy. The art folks said a home scanner would be fine, but a friend of mine advised carefully considering the method first so that I only have to expose it to one blast of light. With the right digital image, I could then make copies identical to the original as well as some that are easier to read for sharing.
So, can you advise me as to what is that best method for copying this document? Do I need to have this done professionally?
Also, I wonder if there would be any interest in researching who these other young men were in history? All their names are beautifully signed on the back.

Thank you! I look forward to your input.

Dear Dru Ransdell,

My apologies for taking so long to answer your email. I was totally consumed with my daughter's wedding, which took place last Saturday (plus days of happiness and large families before and after). It was perfect!

The document sounds interesting and beautiful. The writing from that era is indeed exquisite.

A scan would be fine for reproducing the letter since most recent machines have relatively low lights and---surprisingly enough---18th century paper is far superior to 19th and early-20th century paper (made with an acid that has been eating away at all sorts of books and documents). That way you could make good copies. No need to have this done professionally. However I don't know of anyone who could help you research these young men, other than tracking their names through the historical societies of the town.

Good luck.

Gwendolyn Wright


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