Tips to Preserve Historic Documents

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One of paper’s biggest enemies is acid. It makes paper weak and brittle and can lead to discoloration, deterioration, and irreversible damage. Other factors that affect the life of paper materials include: the manufacturing process, paper components, and inks that are applied to the paper. It is important that a safe environment be created to keep these elements from destroying your documents. To protect and preserve your historical and family documents, there are steps you can take to ensure their safety and longevity.Some things to remember when you want to preserve a document include:

1) When handling the document, be sure your hands are clean and dry. Oils in your skin may leave stains or weaken the paper, thus permanently damaging the document. For valuable pieces it is recommended that you wear gloves.

(Wear white cotton gloves when handling important and/or valuable documents)

2) Also, you should never use paper clips, staples, rubber bands, tape, or glue on important, valuable and/or historic documents. These basic office products can stain, tear, and ruin paper materials.

3) Avoid using pressure-sensitive tapes to repair tears. Even tape that states “archival” can cause irreversible damage such as stains and ink alteration, and can cause the paper to become brittle. Remember, “archival” does not always mean acid free!

(Example of Pressure Sensitive “Archival” Tape)

4) Never laminate an important document. The process is irreversible, and can decrease the value of the document.

5) Any exposure to light must be carefully monitored. Ideally, documents should have limited exposure to light; however, if the piece is valuable and is going to be framed and displayed, then you should have UV filtering glass over the document, and/or UV filters should be placed on windows and light bulbs. When hanging the piece,  do not place the frame where it can be hit with direct sunlight.

6) When you store your documents and other paper materials, be sure to store them flat in a cool, dry, and preferably dark area. Papers should always be stored in acid-free, alkaline materials, (boxes, folders or mats) or polyester film folders. Never keep your documents in a damp or humid area, such as a basement, attic, or bathroom. These areas can lead to mold growth and foxing (brown stains that appear on the surface of the paper). The Library of Congress states that the ideal temperature for storing and preserving documents is below 72 degrees Fahrenheit with a relative humidity of 35%.

(Example of Archival Storage Boxes)

For more information about proper storage of documents click here to read our blog dedicated entirely to this topic.

For exceptionally valuable or important documents or if you are looking to preserve or restore a document that is currently damaged you should first contact a paper conservator who will tell you what needs to be done. To select a conservator, you can contact the referral service at The Foundation of the American Institute for Conservation (FAIC) for more information.

For more information and for conservation materials check out these sites:

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