Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Paper Artifacts Handling - General Information - November 2013

November 12, 2013

Paper Artifacts

As with all artifacts that come into the museum we examine each one carefully to determine the best way to proceed with cleaning, packaging, storage, and possible repair and display.  The following are some of the conditions paper artifacts are subject to which can be conserved usually under laboratory conditions:
  1. stained by water, humidity or other liquids,
  2. ripped, earmarked, 
  3. missing pages, missing covers or in pieces, 
  4. cracked or split spine, 
  5. repaired with scotch tape, other tape or adhesives that is recent or has yellowed,
  6. pest damage such as silverfish or book lice,
  7. improperly mounted.
Each condition is carefully noted as a permanent record and appropriate action taken.  For community museums, only minimal treatment can be undertaken due to the costs involved.  That usually involves documenting, photographing, flattening minor rolls or curves, proper storing or packaging, some minor repairs with Japanese papers and paper adhesives if funding is available, and researching the history. 

For example, with earmarking such as corners folded or a part of a page folded back when stored or handled we resist the temptation to correct it by folding it back in place.  Attempting to correct it may cause further damage particularly if the paper is very fragile so is best left as is for now.  This type of condition can be corrected by engaging a paper conservator who will follow the correct procedures to do repairs such as applying humidification to a particular area or to the entire document to loosen the paper fibres, flattening the document, and drying it all under controlled conditions.  Paper artifacts that are moderately rolled or with moderately curved edges can be flattened by placing it between two larger pieces of thicker paper such as matting board and laying a large flat weight on top such as a piece of plywood of the appropriate size.  This does not always work if documents are severely distorted.  A paper conservator can help to determine if the humidification process mentioned above may be necessary.  Here is a photograph of a flattening in progress at the museum.

Large paper document being flattened.

It is possible to wash some paper under laboratory conditions to remove staining.  This is a labour intensive and often expensive process that is usually only done on very precious documents under highly controlled conditions.  Repairs can be done to replace pieces, fix cracks in spines, consolidate tears, loose pages or pieces.  Often Japanese papers of appropriate various thicknesses and colours are used for this purpose as is adhesives designed specifically for paper.  The papers are mostly used to stabilize the pages but in some cases can be colour matched to replace missing pieces.  Adhesives used in the past for attaching covers to books were sometimes a good source of food for pests; modern adhesives are designed to avoid this.  Modern adhesives are reversible, strong, and non-staining.  Examples are starch-based or methyl cellulose.  Stabilizing a loose or cracked spine on a book is a good preventive measure to avoid further tears or breaks.  A paper conservator can do this with near invisibility to the casual observer.

Precious paper artifacts should be packaged in acid free sleeves and labelled.  Another option is to use Mylar sleeves and acid free backing boards of the type that are used to store comic books.  These can often be obtained in local comic stores for a reasonable price.  Mylar is recommended due to its inert composition and acid free backing boards are important to reduce the chance of a paper artifact getting bent in storage or handling.  Mylar is also transparent which means it can be used to put a document in an exhibit and keep it protected.  Obviously this packaging is not the best option for all paper artifacts but should be done for those precious pieces.  The following photographs show two paper artifacts we recently packaged at the museum in acid free envelopes.  The accession number and archival number are both written on the outside of the envelope.  Cotton gloves are used for handling.

Cartoon booklet stored in acid free envelope.
1930 school book stored in acid free envelope.


CCI - Caring for paper artifacts  Canadian Conservation Institute - How to care for paper documents and newspaper clippings.
Asiarta Foundation - Works of art on paper conservation techniques - Paper conservation techniques
NEDCC - Repairing paper artifacts - NorthEast Document Conservation Center

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