PROTECTING YOUR COLLECTION
Those of us who collect antique maps and prints are attracted to the field for a variety of reasons. Chief among them is usually the awe inspired by holding a graphic historical record that has survived hundreds of years. Once the item enters our collection, its continued survival becomes our responsibility.
The following are basic guidelines and preventative measures that will help protect your collection from the most common types of damage.
Careless handling is by far the most prevalent cause of damage to paper objects. It can lead to tears, wear, loss of the image, creases and staining.
Prepare a clean viewing surface to enjoy your collection. Make sure there are no liquids, food, ink pens or similar objects that could result in an accident.
Don't handle paper with unwashed hands. The oils and salts in perspiration will damage the paper fibers and leave stains that are extremely difficult to remove.
Always provide adequate support for the paper and handle it with both hands. Never lift a piece of paper by its edges, particularly if there are any tears present.
Paper clips, binder clips and post-it notes should not be used on works of art. Metallic clips can corrode and leave rust stains on the paper surface. Post-it notes can damage the image or paper surface.
Maps and prints should be stored flat in shallow drawers or acid-free boxes. The individual pieces should be enclosed in folders or sleeves made of 100% acid-free paper and/or Mylar.
If a piece is too large to store flat, roll it into a large diameter tube. For long-term storage the tube must be constructed of acid-free materials or lined with Mylar to protect the paper.
Don't store your collection in a place where there are extreme changes in temperature or humidity, and be sure it is out of the reach of insects and rodents.
Proper framing should provide an artistic method of display, and more importantly provide a protective environment for the art. Unfortunately, nearly all framing in the past included materials that damage and eventually destroy paper. If you acquire a framed piece, it must be dismounted from the frame and examined for potential damage.
It is extremely important to employ a qualified professional who is trained in archival framing techniques. Be sure the materials included in the frame are of the highest quality including 100% acid-free conservation mat-boards, reversible-mounting adhesives, ultraviolet light filtering glazing, and sealed frames. Severe damage to paper will result from improper framing with inferior quality materials. Conservation framing is more expensive, but critical to the preservation and protection of your investment.
Don't hang any framed art where it will receive direct or strong reflected sunlight. The ultraviolet spectrum of light will fade colors and accelerate deterioration of paper. Fluorescent lighting is also harmful, and fixtures should be fitted with UV filters.
Fluctuations and extremes in temperature and humidity levels can have a detrimental effect on paper. Maintain a relative humidity of 35 to 55 percent, and a temperature of 60 to 75 degrees. Don't display works of art on paper in a bathroom, basement, or on a damp outside wall where excess humidity will damage the paper. Don't hang a frame over a fireplace where both heat and smoke will harm it.
Inspect the frame periodically for any problems that could damage your art. Check that the bumpers and hanging mechanism are secure and that the dust cover is intact. Inspect the art for signs of mildew, insects, fading, or yellowing of paper.
Restoring paper can cost hundreds of dollars if potential problems are left untreated. Sometimes, no amount of money can save them. Fortunately, most tragedies can be prevented. If you notice a problem, seek the advice of a qualified paper conservator immediately. Small defects can be treated easily and generally inexpensively, if done before the paper sustains permanent damage and deterioration.
Never try to repair a valuable piece of art yourself. Most amateur repairs worsen the original problem, resulting in the need for more costly restoration services. That said, there are some minor problems that can be handled by a cautious and informed collector.
Surface soil or pencil marks in the margins or verso can be cleaned with a soft eraser or dry cleaning pad and a soft brush. You should never try to clean the printed surface. Over cleaning can cause more damage than the dirt itself. Do not attempt cleaning with water or solvents.
Tiny marginal tears or fold separations can be closed with special archival tapes. Never repair a tear with common pressure-sensitive (Scotch) tape, because the adhesive will yellow and permanently stain paper. Tears that extend into the printed image are best left to the expertise of a conservator.
We are the temporary custodians of the items in our collection. If we do not take proper steps to preserve our collections they will be lost to the ravages of time. The loss of a piece of art impoverishes both our society and us as collectors and caretakers of our artist heritage.
· The Curatorial Care of Works of Art on Paper. Ann Clapp.
Intermuseum Conservation Association, 1978.
· How to Care for Works of Art on Paper. Francis W. Dolloff
and Roy L. Perkinson. Boston: Museum of Fine Arts, 1977.
· The Care of Prints and Drawings. Margaret Holbein Ellis.
Nashville: American Association for State and Local History, 1987.
PO Box 4901
Syracuse, NY 13221-4901
University Products Inc.
517 Main Street
PO Box 101
Holyoke, MA 01041-01011
Light Impressions - Archival Supplies
PO Box 22708
Rochester, NY 14692-2708
E. Gerber Products
1720 Belmont Avenue - Suite C
Baltimore, MD 21244
For a listing of conservators in your area, please contact:
The American Institute for Conservation of Historic & Artistic Works
1717 K Street NW
Washington, DC 20006