papper collectibles Archives - Thomaston Auction

For you as a collector, it is important to arm yourself with the knowledge of how to spot common signs of aging in paper and how to care for your collection.  

Prints, books and ephemera – oh my! Delicate pieces that survive throughout history vary in their subject matter and intended purpose. Ephemera, collectible memorabilia that is used for a short period of time, is typically printed on paper. It can vary from baseball cards to playbills and postcards to broadsides featuring advertisements, announcements, personal information, and more.

Regular antiquarians, or people who collect rare books, should be familiar with the labor of love that went into writing, printing, and binding old books and how improper care can be a detriment. As time goes on, these pieces will be affected by their environment and consequently, their aesthetic and integral structure could be altered.

Collection of Andrew Wyeth – Olson House Memorabilia, Lot 2091 from Summer Auction Weekend 2018, sold for $2,000

Collection of Andrew Wyeth – Olson House Memorabilia, Lot 2091 from Summer Auction Weekend 2018, sold for $2,000 

What are Some of the Most Common Signs of Aging in Paper? 

Each piece will vary in condition and can be impacted by how it was made originally, from the paper that was chosen to the ink or paint that was used, and how the piece was stored and cared for after. Conditions will vary from piece to piece, but here are a few terms and common signs of aging in paper you as a collector should be familiar with when tending to and adding to your collection.  

Acidic Burn – appears as discoloration or brittleness caused by the presence of acid in either the piece itself or the materials it has encountered.  

Figure . An example of acid burn from Acme Framing, a common sign of aging in paper 

Discoloration – changes in the hues of media present (paper, paint, ink, etc.) 

Figure 2. Example of discoloration from Yale University (2014), a common sign of aging in paper 

Delamination – the piece becomes separated from the board or backing to which it was mounted. 

Figure 3. Example of delamination, a common sign of aging in paper, from The Fine Arts Conservancy, Stoneledge, LLC

Embrittlement – the support of the piece has become fragile to the point of breaking or snapping.  

Figure 4. Example of embrittlement, a common sign of aging in paper, from The Fine Arts Conservancy, Stoneledge, LLC 

Foxing – reddish-brown stains caused by the paper pulp degrading, exposure to humidity, or the presence of certain fungi.   

Figure . Example of foxing from Wikipedia 

How to choose an Art Conservator 

Now don’t be alarmed – should you find a common signs of aging in paper in a piece you adore, consult with a paper conservator. Search the American Institutes for Conservation “Find a Professional” to find someone near you. It is important to research your candidates before handing over your collection. Carefully look through their portfolio to see if there are similar projects done before. Standard procedures for treating foxing, discoloration, embrittlement, and others with positive changes after being treated are key clues to look for to indicate their capabilities.  

Word of mouth is priceless. It is important to check reviews online to see what previous clients have said and to reach out to others who may use conservators. Auction houses, such as Thomaston Place Auction Galleries, work with conservators we regularly trust for paper, furniture, paintings, and more. We can provide you with recommendations as well. Feel free to give us a ring! 

Preventative Measures to Avoid Common Signs of Aging in Paper 

How do temperature and humidity affect paper?  

To avoid common signs of aging in paper, your collection can be stored in a variety of ways, but make sure it is storge the right way. Paper is a delicate material and can easily degrade when stored incorrectly.

Whether a book or a single sheet, the piece should be stored in a cool (about room temperature or below) and relatively dry (about 35% relative humidity) room with not much fluctuation in either. Water can cause mold and mildew to grow on the pages, risking biological degradation. Heat on the other hand can cause the pages to chemically break down the paper fibers, causing it to become brittle and yellow. Older pieces are comprised of inks of an unknown nature which can destabilize from the heat to differ from the intended shade.  

Why is acid-free storage important for paper collectibles? 

Give your piece the best chance at surviving another hundred years and consider your storage options. One of the simplest fixes can be switching its current mat, box, or folder to something acid free. An everyday mat, box, or folder is typically made of regular paper pulp. This pulp is full of lignin, a molecule key in the formation of most plants and becomes destabilized when processed into pulp. As the molecule breaks down, it produces acid and deteriorates not only the box, folder, and mat, but other paper-based products it encounters. For that reason, it is important to evaluate how your piece is stored.

If you find the mat on your piece is brittle or turning yellow, then it is not an acid-free mat. Look for mats and other storage solutions that are acid-free and conservation or museum rated. Acid-free solutions have been buffered with calcium to delay the breakdown of lignin and others are made of 100% cotton, inherently making it acid free. 

How can I Contact Thomaston Place Auction Galleries for a Condition Report? 

At Thomaston Place Auction Galleries, we take great pleasure in extending our services to facilitate a comprehensive understanding of each piece. If you have questions regarding the condition of the piece or are curious to see additional photos, contact our Condition Department. With the influx we receive each auction, we encourage you to submit your questions as soon as possible and wait no longer than a week before the auction. Please include your name, the lots you are curious about, and what questions you have for each. Our staff is eager to assist you in finding your next treasure.  

Business hours are 9 am to 5 pm (eastern time) Monday–Friday.
Thomaston Place Auction Galleries
PO Box 300
Thomaston, Maine 04861
51 Atlantic Hwy
Thomaston, ME 04861
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