From her humorous photo, you’d never guess that Jane Hammond, the Textile Conservator of the Intermuseum Conservation Association’s lab in Cleveland deals daily with some very serious work. Since 1986, Hammond has provided conservation services and consultation to owners and custodians of antique and contemporary textiles. In the past, she treated and partially restored Edison’s leather slippers that are on display on the second floor of the Birthplace. She also examined and provided direction for the preservation of the Birthplace’s major textile collection. In addition, she taught a Birthplace employee how to use conservation techniques to fix the tattered silk dress of a smaller, china head doll that was owned by Edison’s second wife, Mina.
For Thomasina, our talking doll, Hammond worked with paint on the doll’s arms and legs that had been painted over the original and removed with a micro spatula. Dirt was removed with a 1% solution of triammonium citrate in water. Steel rods were added to the interior of the joints of the legs to create new rigging. Her head was surface cleaned with deionized water. Thomasina’s tight mohair curls that had been formed by a Birthplace employee were relaxed as much as possible by sectional wetting of the bundled hair, using first ethanol and deionized water and then just water for the remainder of the treatment. The hair was wrapped around cork cylinders for 15 minutes, then allowed to dry overnight to form the looser curl look of the original doll.
The doll’s undergarments (half-slip, drawers & chemise) were wet cleaned with a special conservation detergent (Orvis) and allowed to dry on supports that would provided airflow and then pressed with a warm iron. Handmade buttonhole loops and small mother of pearl antique buttons were added to the chemise to replace missing fasteners. Narrow linen tape was added to the waist of the half-slip. Her black cotton stockings were soaked in deionized water and dried flat under cotton blotters. Her Mary Jane style brown leather shoes were dusted with a soft brush and loose flaps of leather reattached with wheat starch paste. Scuffed areas were toned with a special pigment to reduce the appearance of wear.
Tackling the dress was the most complex part of the project. First, the dress was laid flat on toweling with strips of moist cotton blotter applied, then blotted with microfiber towels, put back on the special stand, and hand-dried with warm air. The tattered silk foulard sleeves could not be cleaned but were covered with silk crepeline stitched in place with hair silk and polyester filament. A pattern of the sleeves was drafted and overlays of vintage plain-weave silk handsewn over the originals. To reduce bulk on the sleeve interior, cuff facings of silk ribbon were added to turn under. Three bands of moiré ribbon decorate the skirt of the dress and more ribbon trims the bodice panel. Sections of broken ribbon from the back of the dress were used to cover damaged and missing ribbon around the gathered and pleated front bodice panel. The remaining ribbon was applied to the bands on the front of the skirt and covered with nylon tulle. This is most amazing….the areas of missing ribbon were reproduced from scanned images of the original ribbon, the paper copies soaked in water and the pulp rubbed from the reverse, leaving the printed image on a polyethylene carrier. The reproductions were then covered with nylon tulle and sewn in place. The only piece of the original outfit that had to be totally reproduced was the foulard silk sash. After making a pattern from the original, a reproduction sash was made of toned silk foulard. Voila! She was ready to go on her metal stand that had been straightened, given a wood base, and covered with white linen to be more protective.
Our kudos and thanks to Jane Hammond of the Intermuseum Conservation Society lab for her awesome expertise and superb work on Thomasina that enabled us to see her reborn at the Birthplace.
And thank you to Joan and Robin Rolfs, who wrote (in part) after the last newsletter:
We want to compliment you and your museum staff on the excellent write-up on the Edison doll.
(Lois Wolf did the write-up) She is a treasure to be found in the Edison Birthplace Museum in Milan. The restoration of the doll is superb, outstanding and professional!
The doll's voice may seem creepy to many, however, she is important in bringing recorded sound to the public. In the process of developing the doll, important technological improvements in the techniques of recording sound were achieved. For example, cylinder records advanced from prototypes cylinders using metals such as tin to the wax formulas used in later commercial sound recordings. Although the doll was a costly financial failure, she was a success in the development of the phonograph.
She is credited with the following "firsts" in Edison's development of the phonograph.
1. The doll contained the first phonograph records sold to the public with the "Edison" name.
2. The recordings were the first pre-recorded entertainment cylinders.
3. The girls hired to speak the nursery rhymes were the first paid professional recording artists.
4. The doll contained the first automatic record playing mechanism.
5. The doll brought a transition of cylinders from tin to wax.
6. She was a successful vehicle for the technical development of cylinder tracking,
automatic playback and reproducer design.
7. She helped perfect recording techniques.
Thank you for bringing your Edison Talking Doll "back to life" and presenting her to Edison fans through the Edison Birthplace Newsletter.
Robin & Joan Rolfs