Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Q&A: Preserving Vintage Ephemera.....

Ephemera: Printed material that was only meant to be used for a short time, but preserved by collectors. Ephemera also refers to those little everyday throw away pieces of printed matter that are not intended to be retained or preserved, like store receipts. Paper ephemera may include such items as pamphlets, newspaper clippings, handwritten letters, post cards, ticket stubs, etc.

NOTE: All images in this post are scans from my ephemera collection. Some of them I have shared before and some are recent scans. Please feel free to save any or all for your personal use.

Recently Vee asked how to preserve ephemera after I mentioned treating an antique dance card with an acid neutralizer. With paper crafting being at an all time high and vintage ephemera being a hot crafting item I thought it might be important to give some tips on the handling and care of such items.

I am discretionary about using authentic one of kind ephemera vs. something that was mass produced. Often I make a copy of the original to use in my artwork combining bits of authentic materials. I truly have mixed feelings about using these precious bits of history. More often than not I have purchased something with the intention of using it and can't bring myself to do it. The artist in me wants to use them with wild abandon but the historian in me wants to save and preserve them.
TIP: When using a printed ephemera copy in your artwork treat it with a workable fixative, source, allowing to dry before gluing. Most of today's printers use water based ink that will bleed, blur, or run when gluing if over worked or saturated with glue. The fixative seals the ink and allows you more workability without smearing your image.Almost everyone has paper documents; old school drawings, income tax returns, old deeds, yellowed newspaper clippings, etc. they want to keep as mementos. The key to preserving these family treasures is proper handling and storage.Early paper was handmade from a variety of fibers, (e.g. flax, cotton, and hemp), and it is generally quite durable. When machine made paper was introduced in the 1840's, wood became the most common ingredient. Wood was abundant, inexpensive, and easy to use, but the presence of lignin and acidic additives that are commonly found in wood pulp paper make it susceptible to yellowing and embrittlement over time. Newspaper is particularly unstable due to the large percentage of acidic ground wood pulp in the manufacturing process and the lack of protective alkaline buffers.You will notice that old photographs, documents, and newspapers begin to turn yellow and become brittle and deteriorate. Acid is the culprit. Remnant acid in the process of the printing of the photo or document slowly begins to dissolve the document over time. The document or photo is literally eating itself up from the inside.There are three primary sources of acid, the first being mentioned above, remnant acid, left in the paper as part of the manufacturing of the paper. The second source is associated with how you store the document. Even if the original paper is acid free, the document can be damaged if it is mounted on or against an item that is not acid free. Over time acid from these products will leach into the document, acid based degradation will occur. The third source is associated with photographs. The photographic process itself can introduce acid especially if the washing process is not done properly, causing photos to deteriorate at a faster rate. Even the handling of our vintage documents can transfer oily acids from your hands to the paper.To limit further damage and degradation to your vintage documents you can use products that neutralize the acid and slow down the aging process as well as improve your storage methods. While this is not a permanent solution, it can extend the life of a document. Many restoration specialists use a deacidfication spray to treat vintage documents. Paper Saver by Provenance and Make it Acid-Free by KRYLON are affordable products. EK Success and Bookkeepers also sell deacidfication sprays or mists, these are a bit more pricey but you are also paying for a larger quantity. Simply follow the manufacturers directions for product use.

Below you will find a list of tips to help preserve your vintage documents and photos:HANDLING

*Wash and dry your hands before handling. For particularly fragile documents, wear cotton inspection gloves. These gloves will protect against fingerprints, hand oils, and scratches.

*Carry vulnerable papers on a slightly larger support such as a folder rather than by hand.

*Avoid eating, drinking, or smoking near documents.
STORAGE:

*When framing a document, be sure to use archival grade framing materials. In most cases using vintage frames is perfectly safe but you should replace old cardboard or paper backing, mats, or adhesives with modern acid free materials. If it is a valuable document you may also want to replace the glass with a non-glare ultra-violet filtering glass. Limiting exposure to UV rays in normal room light will extend the life of a print or document.

*Old photo albums have acid based pages, adhesives, and covers. You should exchange them for modern, archival grade, acid free photo albums. Use only high grade acid free adhesives or photo corners to attach photos. Lineco has a full line of archival quality products. Many of these products can also be found in art supply or scrapbooking stores.
*Bulk storage of photos or documents should be in acid free containers. Ephemera should be protected from light, dust, and physical damage. Papers should be kept separated from each other with individual folders, window mats, Mylar envelopes, or tissue interleaving. ANY paper in physical contact with vintage documents should plain white and acid free.

*Do not store ephemera folded, store it flat, the fold will weaken the paper fibers and cause tearing at the fold.
*A number of segregated documents can be placed in a storage box made from polyethylene, polypropylene, or acid-free cardboard. Simply being labeled "archival" is not a guarantee of stability; look specifically for the words "acid-free" when purchasing storage containers.

*Store fragile papers, such as newsprint, horizontally. Vertical storage of documents should be supported, not allowing the documents to slump. Also, rolling documents for storage is not a good idea. Often over time paper objects that have been stored rolled for many years become quite brittle. In order to safely unroll humidity must be restored, known as humidification. Placing your document in a humid environment for for several hours should make it more flexible, allowing you to carefully unroll and flatten it. Do not proceed if the item begins to resists, cracks, or begins to tear. Watch out for ink on the document that might bleed.

*Do not store ephemera in basements, attics, or garages; places that are generally too humid, this can cause mold. Also avoid storage in areas where insects or mold growth might be present. The key to preserving your paper documents is to keep them in an acid-free humidity controlled environment. Your paper documents need protection from a variety of elements which contribute to their deterioration ~ namely: light, heat, humidity, acids in papers, plastics, and adhesives, other objects, pollutants, and pests.

*Do not use tape, glue, paper clips or staples on valuable papers. The damage caused by these items over time is difficult, if not impossible, to repair. If you must use tape or glue for repairs, be sure it is acid free. A linen archival tape is better than a plastic tape.
*Lamination is not considered a safe conservation technique because the process may potentially damage a document due to high heat and pressure during application. This also devalues a piece for a collector. Plus laminating materials themselves can be chemically unstable and further damage your document.

*Consider making photocopies or digital copies of your precious papers so that the originals do not have to be handled often. Although copying does require a short exposure to intense light, it will allow the originals to be kept safely in dark storage therefore may be beneficial in the long run.
Here is the link to a great tutorial for digitally archiving your photos and ephemera. This tutorial takes you through step by step instructions to create your own digital archive. The tutorial considers all the issues of importance in creating a one hundred year archive.The Western Reserve Historical Society has a great list of of general tips for preserving all documents, papers, scrapbooks, video, audio cassette tapes, photographs, photographic media types, and a list of archival supply vendors.

The main thing is to enjoy your ephemera and by preserving it you are allowing future generations a peek into the past.

Blessings,
Miss Sandy

Information sources:
Preserving Vintage Photographs and Documents
Document and Photo Preservation FAQ by Linda B. Beyea
How to Care for Paper Documents and Newspaper Clippings

8 comments:

Vee said...

What a wealth of information here! And I will be returning to glean more. Thanks for all the links...fascinating topic as I knew that it would be.

You said:*Do not store ephemera in basements, attics, or garages; places that are generally too humid, this can cause mold. Also avoid storage in areas where insects or mold growth might be present.

Oh-oh! That leaves absolutely no location that is safe in my home. But I won't worry too much as I don't have many things that haven't already been compromised. I just found an entire newspaper folded in my grandmother's things about the Titanic dated April 1912 something or other. It's yellowed and crumbling.

kathy said...

Sandy - THnaks for all the info -- I too collect emphemera -- and like you can hardly bear to use it -- some are too precious -- so i too copy -- Especially letters from 1864 -Charleston - letters between a Dad and Daughter -- the paper is so wonderful to touch -- and the penmanship amazing -- Thanks for sharing - HUgs Kathy - ga

Vickie said...

What a wonderful tutorial on the care and keeping of ephemera. Thanks Miss Sandy. I'll pay particular attention to some of my own things before they are gone!

LiLi M. said...

I love ephemera! Thanks for telling us all about them and the ways to preserve them. Thanks for sharing your most beautiful possesions too. I will too one of these days, nothing more fun than sharing!

SharDon Exclusives said...

Thank you SO much for the beautiful pictures and all of the information! It is greatly appreciated...Sharon

Queenmothermamaw said...

That was a wealth of information. I had not thought of trying to preserve some of the things you mentioned. Thanks very much. blessings
QMM

lorhen82 said...

Miss Sandy, I haven't had time to read this whole post, but I marked it with a star so I can some back to it later. It looks like you've given us some fantastic information, as well as some lovely images. Thanks! ~Lori

{Bellamere Cottage} said...

Loving my visit here.......so much deliciousness.. :-)

Warm blessings,
Spencer

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