How to flatten old diplomas?
May 26, 2007 8:33 PM   Subscribe

How do I safely flatten old diplomas? I have two diplomas from 1927 and 1931 that I'd like to frame. They were rolled up in a box with other items for many decades. They are a little squished (but not creased), and they want to retain their rolled up squishedness. Both are printed on a heavyish material with a plasticy feel and a slight sheen; I don't know if it is imitation vellum, or actual animal skin. The documents are from the Mary Institute at Washington University at St. Louis (1927) and Mt. Holyoke (1931) if that helps.
posted by thinman to Grab Bag (12 answers total)
I wouldn't be surprised if they are real animal skin. A few colleges STILL print their diplomas on sheepskin.

A good frame shop ought to be able to flatten them out safely.
posted by jayder at 8:42 PM on May 26, 2007

I don't know if you'll want to rsk trying this with these particular documents, but when one wants to get paper to unroll, the thing to do is to flip it over and roll it on the other side, which neutralizes the rolling tendency.
posted by orange swan at 9:00 PM on May 26, 2007

I would recommend against re-rolling them in the opposite direction. It might cause them to crack, or crack the lettering on the front depending on how it was applied. I've never worked with vellum, but I have worked with pretty old silver-gelatin photos, and that would definitely destroy them.

I'd go directly to a good custom-frame shop. I think the best way to flatten them is going to be putting them into an archival mount and frame. You'll want to talk to the framer, but a window mat might be the way to go.
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:09 PM on May 26, 2007

Depends what material the diplomas are made of. I don't know much about vellum, pulp paper is my thing.

If it IS paper and it is brittle you will need to consult a professional paper conservator. (They may need to humidify the paper before unrolling)

If the paper is relatively sturdy you may unroll it yourself. Please do not roll the paper the oppose way as this puts undue tension on the paper.

You will need two boards that are larger that the paper. Preferably us laminated board: even a small grain may imprint on the paper. Press the paper between the boards using small weights, one at each corner and one in the centre. Leave for three or four days.
posted by BAKERSFIELD! at 9:21 PM on May 26, 2007

Of course I meant: the opposite way
and use laminated board
posted by BAKERSFIELD! at 9:23 PM on May 26, 2007

BAKERSFIELD!: If I were to try the technique you suggest, how heavy should the weights be? Also, do I need to be concerned that one of the diplomas has an embossed gold seal on it?
posted by thinman at 9:29 PM on May 26, 2007

No definitely don't use this technique on embossing. You may flatten or distort it. Also if the diplomas have any ribbons or suchlike attached these will imprint on the paper so approach with caution.

2 kilos (4.4 pounds) per weight, 10 kilos (22 pounds) should do it.

This is by no means scientific, just going by how many lead bricks each weighing 5 kilos I'd use for a particular size of paper. A3(11x17 inch) = 2.
posted by BAKERSFIELD! at 10:40 PM on May 26, 2007

BTW is it possible the paper is made of imitation parchment?

I've seen early 20th century house plans printed on something like this. The paper will have a sheeny woven appearance, appears to be greaseproof and creases easily.

Don't expect to make folds invisible if this is the kind of paper you are dealing with, especially if grime has accumulated along the fold.

Good luck.
posted by BAKERSFIELD! at 10:59 PM on May 26, 2007

BTW is it possible the paper is made of imitation parchment?

Geez. I dunno. It is off-white, a little rough. It has a definite sheen to it, and it sort of looks greasy or oiled. Upon closer inspection, it looks a bit like the skin of a drum (a bongo, not a snare). I'm leaning towards it being calf or sheep skin.

It isn't creased, and obviously I'm not going to fold it to see how easily I can mess it up.

I think I'll give the weights thing a try on one of them, and if that doesn't produce a satisfactory result, I'll take them to a frame shop or document restorer.

Thanks for the advice, all. Everyone (almost!) gets a check.
posted by thinman at 11:30 PM on May 26, 2007

You can re-humidify paper using this simple method: Take a rather large garbage bin with a lid and insert another garbage bin of a smaller size inside. Place a small amount of water in the larger bin and place the rolled up items in the smaller one. Put on the lid and let it sit around, checking on it every day. Once it is flexible again, unroll it under a glass plate and place some weights on it.
posted by Foam Pants at 11:41 PM on May 26, 2007

Call the universities and ask them what materials their universities used in the years these diplomas were issued.
posted by mdonley at 12:49 AM on May 27, 2007

No, it sounds like it is definitely made out of animal skin. A big tip off is if you see hair follicles.

Good luck with the weights.

P.S. On humidification:

IANA-vellum-expert but if it's animal skin then don't rehumidify! It might be harmful depending on whether the skin is tawed or not.

The advice to humidify given above was for woodpulp paper and an expert should be consulted to do this. Woodpulp paper absorbs water and disintergrates easily so handle with care.
posted by BAKERSFIELD! at 3:59 AM on May 27, 2007

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