How to Care for Paper Collectibles

From wearing cotton gloves to using acid-free materials, learn how to care for your paper collectibles the right way.

Tips Tools And Techniques

“Tips, Tools, and Techniques” by long-time antiques expert Dr. Georgia Kemp Caraway provides answers to questions about the cleaning and maintenance of common antique and collectible objects, including metal advertising signs, glassware, clothing, and jewelry. Compact yet authoritative, this handbook will appeal to dealers and buyers, as well as everyone with something from Grandma in the attic.

Photo courtesy University of North Texas Press

Content Tools

Paper becomes the physical imprint of time, from the Declaration of Independence to a photo of a 5-year-old’s birthday party. Recorded memories on this essential medium help us learn where we came from and help us plan where we are going. Learn how to care for and preserve your paper collectibles, or ephemera, from this excerpt in Tips, Tools, and Techniques (University of North Texas Press, 2012) by Georgia Kemp Caraway. 

Consult a paper restorer for rare paper articles. Dealers and collectors also refer to paper collectibles as ephemera. 

• Maintain a constant temperature in the room where paper collectibles are stored. Temperatures of 60–70 degrees Fahrenheit and a relative humidity between 40 and 50 percent.

• Wear cotton gloves when handling paper items to protect paper from perspiration, oils, stains, and acidity.

• Remove creases and surface dirt from paper collectibles before framing and displaying the items.

• Use a bone folder to remove creases from paper documents. Begin in the center of the document and press the bone folder lightly along the back of the crease in a outward direction and toward the edge of the paper. Frame the document when it is flat and clean.

• To clean a document, put on cotton gloves and sprinkle Opaline on the soiled document. Opaline is a nonabrasive, light cleaning agent that can be obtained at art supply stores. Rub erasures lightly in a circular motion, and brush away soiled particles with a softbristle artist’s brush.

• Do not glue or tape paper collectibles in an album or scrapbook. Adhesives leave permanent stains on paper. Use paper or photo mounting corners.

• Common items should be repaired with ordinary household white glue applied carefully with a toothpick. For easier application, thin the glue with water before applying. Blot any excess glue with a paper towel.

• If paper collectibles become infested with bugs, seal them in plastic bags and store them in the freezer for three days. This will kill the bugs and not harm the paper.

• Store paper collectibles away from direct light.

• Store paper collectibles in acid-free materials.

• Never trim a document to fit in a frame or mat board.

• Never display framed materials in direct sunlight.

• Never use tape, staples, or paper clips (metal or plastic) on valuable documents when stored in file folders.

• Never permit a framed document to remain in contact with the frame glass. Use an acid-free mat board to allow air to circulate between the glass and the paper. Use spacers between paper, mat, and frame.

• Never write on a document, even in pencil.

• Never attempt to erase any writing that is already on a document. View the writing as part of its history.

More on antique preservation

Learn more about how to take care of your collectibles from Tips, Tools, and Techniques in the following articles.