A Face In The Crowd 

Wood pulp acids are ravaging your precious family documents and classic Ziggy cartoons. Thankfully, David Swift can help you de-acidify faster than Timothy Leary’s narc. David is perhaps Nashville’s foremost paper conservator. In his West Meade home office, he meticulously restores antique maps, historic newspapers and even presidential letters of Lincoln and Washington. But customers bring David items of sentimental as well as Antiques Roadshow value. “Everybody has something—great granduncle Harry’s discharge from the Civil War or something—that needs preservation,” he says. He bathes the documents in magnesium carbonate, carbon dioxide and water to neutralize acids. Various other cleaning solutions remove mold, fungus and the preservationist’s nemesis: scotch tape. Documents are then dried in a press between rag boards and sealed in Mylar, a polyester film. David estimates this process extends the life of paper by 200 to 400 years. “And I give a guarantee,” he says. “If anything goes wrong after 100 years, you can bring back the work.” He didn’t start out in conservation, but he always has worked with paper. Early in his professional life he looked after greenbacks, following his father into the banking business as a young man in New England. In 1961, he came to Nashville as a researcher for local publisher R.L. Polk & Co.’s banking directories. David took early retirement in the late 1970s. Interested in preserving some of his own family records, he became an apprentice with the Tennessee State Library and Archives. Not long after, he went into business for himself. The daily glimpses into history are what he enjoys most. “Although I’m from Massachusetts, I probably know more about Tennessee history than a lot of people from Tennessee.”

—By Jonathan Harwell Jr.

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