Object Story and Significance:

This artifact is a wooden drawer filled with about 1,350 record cards recording the earliest academic records and physical examination results of male students at various schools, starting with P.S. 108, but many of whom later attended P.S. 23. It is one of two wooden drawers–one holding boys’ student records and the other girls’ student records. Most of the students were born in the early part of the twentieth century but some records go as far back as the 1880s.

The drawers of records help document the history of an important community institution which adapted its education to meaningfully serve the needs of the immigrant and working-class community in which it was rooted. Because every members’ labor was often needed to help families make ends meet, P.S. 23 in this era began offering evening classes and accepted entire working families into their night school. Grandmothers attended English classes and mothers learned dressmaking, millinery and other skills to earn extra income for their families. In 1905, the New York Tribune dubbed Public School 23 “the school of twenty-nine nationalities” for the diversity of its student body, and this included a handful of Chinese students. Over later decades, the bounds of Chinatown gradually expanded to encompass P.S. 23 at 70 Mulberry, and by 1920, about 50 percent of P.S. 23 students were Chinese. By 1950, they became almost entirely Chinese and Chinese American.

Details of Damage:

Profile view of drawer showing extent of student report cards in need of conservation treatment. The drawer contains approximately 1,350 male student report cards.
The exterior paper label, found at one end of the drawer, is very faded/darkened, discolored, water stained, creased, torn, partially detached from the wood surface, and missing edge pieces of card.
Close-up of the student report card of Peter Ambrosia, clearly showing discoloration, fading, water damage, and losses to top edge of the paper. Delamination, or separation of the layers of paper, are most evident where there are creases and tears.
Group of report cards showing corroding metal clipping, discoloration, staining, and losses to the edges of cards.
Group of report cards showing discoloration, fading, and tears to the edges of cards.

Post-Fire Condition of the Paper/Cards:

There are tears, creases, folds, and breaks with and without attendant losses, mostly around the edges and at the corners. About 30 cards have metal fasteners/clips applied at the top edge; they are corroded and embrittled and have caused some adjacent staining, deformation, and tears/breaks in the paper. There is often delamination of the paper along the card edges. All cards have darkened and discolored, some more so than others. There is scattered staining; some of which is due to contact with water. There is heavy surface grime throughout. Many of the inks are faded. Most damages are evidence of previous use, but they are also from contact with the acidic wood container, storage in a poor environment and probable contact with water.

With the support of your donation, we would:

  • Vacuum all cards individually–recto and verso–using vacuum micro attachments
  • To remove more surface grime, clean each card with a foam sponge, recto and verso, especially along the top section
  • Repair tears, folds, creases and breaks around edges with toned pieces of kozo-fibered Japanese tissue and wheat starch paste in order to stabilize cards for handling and to prevent further losses
  • Re-adhere delaminated paper edges as necessary.
  • Place small pieces of archival glassine paper, as possible, below metal clips to help protect paper below. It is probable that removing the brittle metal clips will cause more damage to the paper than leaving them in place
  • As possible, remove paper label on box by introducing moisture from the front, perhaps through Gore-tex (a polytetrafluoroethylene membrane), and mechanically separating it from box
  • As possible, wash label to removed discoloration and strengthen paper. Ethanol may be necessary to allow the paper to wash, test paper and ink
  • Mend tears and edges with Japanese paper and wheat starch paste
  • Consider lining label with Japanese paper and wheat starch paste if necessary
  • Reattach label to its original position outside of box, perhaps with Japanese paper hinges and an acrylic adhesive such as Lascaux 490
  • Line the inside faces of the box with a 10 point-thickness, black ragboard matboard to help buffer and protect the cards.

Total Conservation Cost: $6,625

Please help us fund their conservation! Any amount–large or small–helps!

If you would like to make a contribution towards the conservation of these student records, please click to navigate to MOCA’s Donate Page and be sure to specify the object you would like to sponsor. Please also kindly send a brief email to to notify us of your donation.

MOCA was recently awarded a grant of $2,200 by the Greater Hudson Heritage Network to cover the conservation treatment of the wooden drawer, however, we are still in need of $5,300 to help with funding conservation treatment for the student record cards themselves. We are eager to fundraise the total cost as soon as possible so that both the drawer and the student report cards can be repaired at the same time rather than separately. This will help us maintain the artifact’s integrity, and allow us to have it ready for research and display. Compared to the girls’ drawer of records, the boys’ drawer requires significantly more conservation treatment and there are many more boys’ than girls’ records.