Author: Neil Street
For many collectors of antique works on paper - specifically
antique prints - the care and preservation of their valuable
collection is the most vexing issue they face. It need not be. A
little common sense, and sometimes a healthy dose of restraint,
will go a long way toward making sure that your important,
unique, and hard-won collection remains preserved for
generations to come.
The production process used in the making of your antique print
does not alter in any
significant way the care that it needs.
Whether it be a lithograph, copperplate engraving, mezzotint, or
other process, the basics of caring for the print remain
essentially the same. Broadly speaking, there are four major
aspects of good conservation that the average collector should
be aware of. These four key areas are: handling, repairs,
framing, and storage. If you follow some simple rules in all
these areas, your prized possessions should retain their good
condition and value.
Handling damage is at the top of the list for a very good
reason. In my opinion, as a dealer in antique prints, more
problems are caused by careless handling than any other single
problem. Great care must be exercised when handling an antique
print, because the paper itself is so fragile. You only need to
accidentally tap the edge of an antique print against a sharp
corner, such as the edge of a desk, to cause serious chipping.
If the print has little or no margin, an event like this can be
catastrophic to the image area. Pervasive as it is, handling
damage is an aspect of conservation that can easily be solved by
common sense. First, do not work with your prints unless you
have the time and space to do so. Handle them when things are
quiet, not when your toddler needs attention. Second, make sure
you have the space to put them down safely, such as a large
table. Third, wear thin cotton gloves, available from framing
supply stores. And finally, nless you are dealing with large
numbers of very inexpensive prints, it is always a good idea to
have each one stored loosely (not "encapsulated") in a mylar
sleeve. Mylar is a crystal-clear, polyester film, and it is very
easy to find on the internet. Beware of imitations, and specify
Mylar, because Mylar does not interact chemically with the
At some point in time, almost all collectors of antique prints
are tempted to "fix" a defect by themselves. My response is:
don't, don't, and don't. All of the things that are commonly
attempted on antique paper - the removal of stains, wrinkles,
and pencil marks, the mending of a tear, the filling of a hole,
or, heaven forbid, the "whitening" of a darkened piece of paper
- all these actions have the potential to cause irreversible
damage, and to seriously reduce or eliminate the value of a
given piece. Professional conservators spend years learning how
to perform these complex tasks correctly - and they will be the
first to tell you of the perils they face with each job. Leave
the restoration to the conservators.
Framing is another area that can often bring trouble. Yet, a few
easy tips can usually
ensure a successful framing project.
First, use a good framer. Call a local museum and ask who they
recommend. Ask friends or acquaintances for recommendations.
Don't be afraid to shop around. Then, expect to pay a bit more.
Good framing is expensive, but it should outlast all of us. When
you are satisfied you have selected a good framer, you should be
comfortable in being guided by them, but here are a few "musts."
You must use "anti-uv" or "conservation" framing glass. This
will deflect most of the harmful light that can destroy paper
over time. If you are using matboard, you must use "archival"
quality matboard, so it does not, as time passes, chemically
interact with the print. You must never allow antique paper to
be adhered in any way to a backing board. You must insist on
archival quality backing board. Insisting on these basic steps
will take you a long way toward a successful framing job - and
finally, don't hang your finished piece in direct sunlight, near
a direct heat source, or in a humid area such as a bathroom.
Framing, when done correctly, is one of the best ways of storing
antique works of art on paper. But since it is both expensive
and space-demanding, it is rarely the complete solution for most
collectors. Good, long-term storage can be accomplished by
keeping antique prints in mylar, stored flat, in a dry, cool
space. Excessive heat and excessive humidity are enemies of
antique paper, but many homes today are climatized to avoid such
excessive conditions. If you need to store a number of loose
prints, the best solution is to use one of the many excellent
archival boxes that are available on the market.
After a little practice, even the newest collector can quickly
master the basics of good care for antique prints. Common sense
is your greatest ally, and most often, your greatest enemy will
be the dangers posed by poor handling. So learn the basics,
treat the antique paper with the respect it deserves, and always
"handle with care," and your collection will bring pleasure and
joy for many generations to come.
About the author:
Neil Street is the owner of VintageMaps.Com, which he founded in
1997. His website, an online destination for the antique map and
antique print enthusiast, is at
email to firstname.lastname@example.org He can also be reached at