A multi-pronged approach is currently being utilized to examine the composition of wax cylinders in the Library of Congress’ collection in order to develop methods for cleaning and preparing cylinders for preservation and reformatting, guide preservation of these materials, and identify compositional changes resulting from aging. To these ends, we are performing a detailed chemical analysis of cylinders and fragments from the collection as well as recreating wax compositions guided by both primary literature and the results of our chemical and physical analyses. By recreating compositions, a more detailed physical characterization of the materials may be made and any change in composition or degradation may be examined in detail.
Our studies indicate that the inorganic/metal composition of our wax cylinders is more complex than initial expectations based on reported formulations, while the organic composition is relatively consistent. Primary sources from the period of wax cylinder development indicate that the identity of the metal soap in a composition affects the material’s properties. We are also replicating the wax compositions of period waxes as determined by our chemical analyses to shed light on the role metals play in the characteristics of the cylinder materials.
This paper will discuss the results of our chemical analyses, material recreation, and primary literature findings, which we find produce a compelling and interesting story that leads towards an understanding of the state of cylinders, how cylinders have aged since their production, and recommendations for improving the preservation of wax cylinders in collections.