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-yourelf repair is acceptable, the Northeast Document Conservation Center has put together useful information on Surface Cleaning of Paper and Repairing Paper Artifacts . Do 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. The full article is here. 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

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