By Carol Roberts
April 23-29, 2017 marks "Preservation Week" highlighting the importance of preservation awareness. What do you think is one of the most damaging “fixes” for a historic item? It is sticky tape of any kind. Its official name is pressure-sensitive tape, which can be any type of Scotch tape, duct tape, masking tape or even clear contact sheets or shelf liner. The adhesive damages items in several ways.
First, adhesive completely discolors items, leaving dark stains that can completely hide any text underneath.
Second, the tape or plastic part of tape can be stronger than delicate paper and continue to break the paper at the folds or edges of the tape.
Third, tape brings up any surface item if you try to remove it. A photo emulsion is especially damaged by tape and usually the tape cannot be removed.
Finally, the damaging effects of tape usually are not reversible. A conservator will spend many hours and use several chemical solvents when removing pressure-sensitive tape and its sticky residue. Do not try this at home.
Well-intended mends are a bad idea for long term storage or preservation. So what are some of the alternatives?
A simple acid-free folder of any kind will hold the pieces of a torn item together and support them.
A polyester (Mylar or Melinex) sleeve can also hold a delicate item in place. Polyester sleeves have a slight static charge to them and hold torn items in place within them. Also, sleeves are sealed only around the edges and do not stick to anything with adhesives.
Wrap a broken book, Bible or set of records in good acid-free paper.
A torn page in a book can be helped or supported by acid-free tissue paper. However, watch out for too many extra pieces of tissue in a book because that extra tissue will stress the spine and binding.
The best conservation techniques for a family collection - or any historic collection - are to use good storage techniques, create a good environment and avoid anything that cannot be reversed or might be difficult to remove. It is always the basic archival rule that you want to be able to return an original item to the condition in which it was found.
If you do have a valuable historic item with tape on it, store it carefully and consult a conservator.
Remember, anything with the words "pressure-sensitive," "adhesive" or “duct” should never be used in the same sentence with anything related to "conservation," "archival," "historic" or "preservation."
As a good conservator says, “tape is only good with Christmas wrapping paper.”
To read more about archival care for family collections, see these websites:
- American Institute of Conservation “Caring for your Treasures” http://www.conservation-us.org
- Library of Congress “Collections Care” http://www.loc.gov/preservation/care/
- Northeast Document Conservation Center “Preservation Leaflets” https://www.nedcc.org/
- National Archives “Preservation and Family Archives” https://www.archives.gov/preservation
The Tennessee State Library and Archives is a division of the Tennessee Department of State and Tre Hargett, Secretary of State