Preserving New Hampshire history through a unique conservation grant program

I recently moved back to New Hampshire, where I grew up, after 13 years living just across the river in Vermont. And when I went to register my car, I was excited to be able to purchase a special “Moose” license plate.

It never stops snowing here.

It never stops snowing here.

Many states, including Vermont, have special license plates that raise money for conservation-related programs, but in most cases the funds go strictly to natural resource conservation. This is certainly a worthy cause! But New Hampshire, uniquely as far as we know, also dedicates a portion of conservation license plate revenue to cultural heritage conservation.

The Moose Plate grant program is one that has benefited many of our clients over the past few years. The program awards funding of up to $10,000 per project to towns, cities, libraries, state universities, and other institutions to conserve materials relating to New Hampshire history.

Information about the grant program is available at http://www.mooseplate.com.

We love these projects, which have included documents from the state’s earliest history.

This ledger book from the Town of Alstead, with entries from 1774-1802, contains early birth, death, and marriage records as well as town meeting minutes.

This ledger book from the Town of Alstead, with entries from 1774-1802, contains early birth, death, and marriage records as well as town meeting minutes.

The materials that we have conserved under this program tend to be in very poor condition; they have typically been used heavily for reference, and have suffered extensive damage from handling as well as the typical suite of condition issues found in 18th and 19th century materials (acidic paper, water damage, brittleness, iron gall ink deterioration…). Many of these materials, as official town records, must continue to be available for reference, so our treatment is intended to stabilize the materials so that they may be safely handled.

Severely damaged fragments from a collection of voter checklists belonging to the Town of Unity.

Severely damaged fragments from a collection of voter checklists belonging to the Town of Unity.

For the Town of Unity’s collection of 19th century voter checklists, the damage was much more extensive. These original documents, containing irreplaceable information about the town’s early residents, had been accidentally thrown out, and were rescued by a sharp-eyed citizen at the town recycling center! Most of the 50+ checklists were relatively intact, but a box containing hundreds of fragments was also found. These were moldy, water-damaged, chewed by rodents and insects, and covered with dirt and animal waste. Once cleaned, we were able to reassemble five partial checklists from the fragments.

Town of Unity Voter Checklist from 1888 after conservation, including treatment for mold, rejoining fragments and repairing tears with Japanese paper and wheat starch paste, and rehousing in an archival Melinex sleeve to allow for safe handling by researchers.

Digitization is a simple way to increase access to historic records while simultaneously preventing damage from handling; this work is also funded as part of the Moose Plate grant package. After conservation treatment is complete, we take high-resolution digital photographs of each record, and distribute the files in a variety of formats to the client. In some cases it is actually easier to read the digital files than the original materials – you can zoom right in on areas of faint text. One client has been working directly from the digital files we produced to transcribe the town’s 18th century ledger books, discovering some interesting local history tidbits in the process!

The Moose Plate grant program opens each spring, and recipients are notified in the fall. If you know of a collection that could benefit from preservation under this program, please reach out – we’re always happy to evaluate materials and assist prospective clients with their applications.