What should I do if my paper collections have damage?

What should I do if my paper collections have damage?

A British passport collector asked me recently…

“Is it OK to tape old passports along a fold if it has a tear?”

A excellent question which I will answer in this article to the benefit of all collectors. Personally, I only tape a document in very rare cases. The reason is explained in these two guidelines of The Library of Congress and the Northeast Document Conservation Center.

What should I do if my paper collections have damage (e.g., dirt, tears, stains, discoloration, fading, old tape, etc.)?

Conservation work to address damage is time consuming and costly to do correctly. If the item has collector’s value, the damage is minor, and is infrequently handled, consider leaving it as-is and focusing on improving storage conditions.

If the item is of personal/sentimental value only, the damage is minor, and some risk of further damage from do-it-yourself repair is acceptable, the Northeast Document Conservation Center has put together useful information on Surface Cleaning of PaperDo not use self-stick tape, even if it is marketed as “archival.” The goal is to enable safer handling to pair this with an effort to improve storage housing (i.e., boxing) and storage environment. If the item is of particular value, has progressing damage, is handled frequently, or is otherwise complicated, consider consulting a paper conservator. The full article on the topic is here.

Why repair paper artifacts?

Tears are repaired most often to improve the appearance of a torn paper artifact, to prevent a tear from lengthening, to keep fragments from separating, or to make an artifact safer to handle. Often tear repairs are part of a conservation treatment performed by a professional conservator, but sometimes owners or custodians of these materials choose to repair them themselves, especially when more elaborate treatment is not called for.

The generally accepted method of repairing tears and breaks in paper uses strips of thin acid-free paper adhered with a water-based adhesive that is acid-free, stable, and reversible. The following materials are recommended for the repair of documents, book pages, and other paper objects. However, if you still need to tape your documents here is a recommended tape which has 5 star user feedback on Amazon.

Below some pictures which shows a contemporary fixing of a US passport from 1847 with original signature of 17th Secretary of State and later 15th US president James Buchanan..

What should I do if my paper collections have damage?
Passport paper was very thin then and nobody was thinking about the durability of passport back in 1847, so it got fixed with some linen mash.
What should I do if my paper collections have damage?
A closeup of above picture.
What should I do if my paper collections have damage?
Old taping (paper) on tears
What should I do if my paper collections have damage?
A closeup from above picture

What should I do if my paper collections have damage?


incl. FREE guideline!

FAQ Passport History
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1. What are the earliest known examples of passports, and how have they evolved?

The word "passport" came up only in the mid 15th Century. Before that, such documents were safe conducts, recommendations or protection letters. On a practical aspect, the earliest passport I have seen was from the mid 16th Century. Read more...

2. Are there any notable historical figures or personalities whose passports are highly sought after by collectors?

Every collector is doing well to define his collection focus, and yes, there are collectors looking for Celebrity passports and travel documents of historical figures like Winston Churchill, Brothers Grimm, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Read more...

3. How did passport designs and security features change throughout different periods in history, and what impact did these changes have on forgery prevention?

"Passports" before the 18th Century had a pure functional character. Security features were, in the best case, a watermark and a wax seal. Forgery, back then, was not an issue like it is nowadays. Only from the 1980s on, security features became a thing. A state-of-the-art passport nowadays has dozens of security features - visible and invisible. Some are known only by the security document printer itself. Read more...

4. What are some of the rarest and most valuable historical passports that have ever been sold or auctioned?

Lou Gehrig, Victor Tsoi, Marilyn Monroe, James Joyce, and Albert Einstein when it comes to the most expensive ones. Read more...

5. How do diplomatic passports differ from regular passports, and what makes them significant to collectors?

Such documents were often held by officials in high ranks, like ambassadors, consuls or special envoys. Furthermore, these travel documents are often frequently traveled. Hence, they hold a tapestry of stamps or visas. Partly from unusual places.

6. Can you provide insights into the stories behind specific historical passports that offer unique insights into past travel and migration trends?

A passport tells the story of its bearer and these stories can be everything - surprising, sad, vivid. Isabella Bird and her travels (1831-1904) or Mary Kingsley, a fearless Lady explorer.

7. What role did passports play during significant historical events, such as wartime travel restrictions or international treaties?

During war, a passport could have been a matter of life or death. Especially, when we are looking into WWII and the Holocaust. And yes, during that time, passports and similar documents were often forged to escape and save lives. Example...

8. How has the emergence of digital passports and biometric identification impacted the world of passport collecting?

Current modern passports having now often a sparkling, flashy design. This has mainly two reasons. 1. Improved security and 2. Displaying a countries' heritage, icons, and important figures or achievements. I can fully understand that those modern documents are wanted, especially by younger collectors.

9. Are there any specialized collections of passports, such as those from a specific country, era, or distinguished individuals?

Yes, the University of Western Sidney Library has e.g. a passport collection of the former prime minister Hon Edward Gough Whitlam and his wife Margaret. They are all diplomatic passports and I had the pleasure to apprise them. I hold e.g. a collection of almost all types of the German Empire passports (only 2 types are still missing). Also, my East German passport collection is quite extensive with pretty rare passport types.

10. Where can passport collectors find reliable resources and reputable sellers to expand their collection and learn more about passport history?

A good start is eBay, Delcampe, flea markets, garage or estate sales. The more significant travel documents you probably find at the classic auction houses. Sometimes I also offer documents from my archive/collection. See offers... As you are already here, you surely found a great source on the topic 😉

Other great sources are: Scottish Passports, The Nansen passport, The secret lives of diplomatic couriers

11. Is vintage passport collecting legal? What are the regulations and considerations collectors should know when acquiring historical passports?

First, it's important to stress that each country has its own laws when it comes to passports. Collecting old vintage passports for historical or educational reasons is safe and legal, or at least tolerated. More details on the legal aspects are here...

Does this article spark your curiosity about passport collecting and the history of passports? With this valuable information, you have a good basis to start your own passport collection.

Question? Contact me...