Conserving vintage graph paper
August 15, 2018 3:56 PM   Subscribe

I'm interested in buying and displaying drawings made in pen on vintage paper, typically graph paper. How should I handle them to keep them from deteriorating?

The artist draws with a Bic ballpoint pen on vintage paper such as this Bell Labs graph paper. So the drawings are no more than a few years old, but the paper is older and presumably non-archival. I'd like to frame and display one of her drawings. Are there steps I can take so that it holds up for decades? Is there a guideline for how long I have it on display exposed to indirect sunlight? The artist has little experience with the longevity of her work either. (She mostly sells prints, not originals, for this reason.)
posted by serathen to Media & Arts (7 answers total)
Luckily, preserving non-archival papers is something that a lot of people want to do, so there's a lot of products out there. I've encountered a spray treatment (which I'm dubious of), as well as backing boards and mat board that can specifically help neutralize acid, rather than just being archival themselves. I've worked in art and framing shops, and have some experience with this, but not enough that I'd want to make a strong recommendation for a specific product. At the very least, you'll definitely want to get anti-UV glass, and an archival mat and backing.

Your best bet is probably to go to a good framing store with the art in hand and talk to them about your options. Even if you don't want to pay for full custom framing, they can probably mat and mount it for you with good archival materials and using the right kinds of hinging tape, etc. to make sure that the framing itself doesn't to damage to the art (which is unfortunately common when people do their own framing). Having the art with you will help them make a better assessment of what you'll need based on the current condition of the paper.
posted by duien at 4:37 PM on August 15, 2018 [1 favorite]

In this context, a "good framing store" excludes the framing department at places like Michael's or Blick. An independent framing-only shop is probably your best bet.
posted by duien at 4:40 PM on August 15, 2018

Another thing you might look into is products designed for collectors, specifically comics and trading cards. Collectors of these items commonly want to both (1) display their prized objects and (2) preserve them in the best possible condition. If you have a collectibles shop in your neck of the words stop in and ask.
posted by axiom at 7:33 PM on August 15, 2018

Used to be in the business. I would bet the paper is archival if Bell had it made for them. Ask the etsy seller.

The sprays do work.

The ink is probably not archival. You'd have to know which Bic was used.
posted by Mr. Yuck at 1:39 AM on August 16, 2018 [1 favorite]

Nthing that the bic ink might fade before the paper crumbles.
You could try getting in touch with a (most likely university) library that archives handwritten letters and manuscripts. In our institution we have a colleague trained in this area for our archives. I think someone trained in archiving historic correspond ence will be more useful than someone with knowledge in preserving art made with art supplies.
posted by 15L06 at 4:21 AM on August 16, 2018 [1 favorite]

Yeah, it's a cheap Bic with dye-based ink probably, so it looks like that's the limiting factor. Too bad.
posted by serathen at 6:41 AM on August 16, 2018

First, get advice from an appraiser or conservator of documents. You can often find them in the yellow pages under "Art Services" or get a referral from your local museum or archive if their website invites it. Antiques dealers sometimes know someone, so might a good framer.

Next, it's likely you'll want to frame it. A quality custom frame; no direct adhesive contact (use corner pockets or flanges under the mat), acid-free environment, UV-screening glazing. The UV spray is worse than useless, don't touch it. Never float mount anything. Make sure it's not touching the glazing. There is no safe adhesive. Hang it away from windows, radiators, kitchens, bathrooms, and hot lamps.

If you cannot frame it, keep it in a a conservation-grade solander box in a cool, dry place, don't handle it, and just visit it to look at it. You can make a stack of quality color copies and frame one in a cheaper frame and just replace it once in a while, if you bought it to look at and not just to have. (Framing a good color copy is also a good solution if you desperately want a float mount but also want to keep your art in good shape.)
posted by blnkfrnk at 10:49 AM on August 16, 2018

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