Caring for Your Paper Collections

Collection of family documents

We all have important family documents that we want to keep for posterity. Birth certificates, marriage announcements, children’s artwork – just to name a few – can be written or printed on different types of papers. Paper made before 1860 is made from cotton or linen; it is strong and flexible and will remain that way with proper care. Paper made between 1860 and 1960, however, is made of wood pulp and becomes brittle quickly when exposed to light, high temperatures, and humidity.

Keeping your paper treasures organized and properly stored in high-quality file folders and boxes will help to preserve them. Create inventories of your most valuable paper documents and collections. Label folders and boxes to make it easier to find individual items.

Even the best-quality paper can deteriorate quickly if stored in poor environmental conditions. High temperatures will advance acid degradation that causes embrittlement. Make hardcopy or digital copies of your most important documents to store in a separate location.

Take advantage of scanning and digital printing options to make surrogates of your special items for framing, display, and sharing.

Avoid Using Tape

When important documents get torn, people often reach for pressure-sensitive tape for a quick fix. Unfortunately, this well-meaning move can cause more harm than good. Adhesives in tapes can stain paper and make inks bleed. Instead of using tape, place torn delicate documents in polyester sleeves which have a static charge that holds torn pieces in place without damage. Old tapes on precious papers should only be removed by a professional conservator.

The tape used on the back of this document has caused significant staining.

Storing Newspapers and Documents

Newsprint becomes brittle over time and can become too fragile to handle unless properly protected.

Newspaper is an example of high lignin-containing paper, meaning that it deteriorates quickly. In order to keep newspaper clippings for the long-term, conservators often recommend photocopying or scanning/printing the clipping onto acid-free, lignin-free, alkaline paper. If you cannot part with your newspaper, use polyester sleeves, polyethylene bags, and minimize handling. Mylar® and Melinex® are popular polyester films and are sold in a variety of sizes and styles and are also ideal for delicate, damaged papers, or items that will be handled often.

Family archiving kits come with an assortment of preservation products and are available to purchase from archival storage product suppliers.

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