The following text is adapted from the Jim Lyons book, "Collecting American Newspapers":


There's a saying familiar to people who form collections: The current owner of an item is only its temporary caretaker, with the obligation to see that it leaves their possession in the same condition as when it arrived.

In other words, it's our responsibility to protect our newspapers, documents, postcards, comic books, stock certificates, etc. from harm from any source, and, to the best of our ability, from the ravages of time. If that sounds overwhelming, rest assured that it's not as hard as you might think, using a few simple and easily remembered techniques.

Using newspapers as our example, let's break the preservation procedures into two parts: internal and external.


This means the paper itself, without any regard to its surroundings.

Rag paper is very easy. The paper was manufactured using materials that should last for centuries. In most cases rag paper needs nothing done to it.

Newsprint (woodpulp) paper is another story. Acid was used in the manufacture of woodpulp paper and no matter how much the paper was washed after it was made, or whether the paper is a year old or a century old, some of that acid is still in there breaking down the fibers of that paper. We see this as the browning, brittleness and chipping that affects newsprint.

For long-term preservation of newspapers printed on woodpulp paper it is necessary to deacidify them. This involves soaking, spraying or brushing with a deacidification solution available from archival supply houses. This solution will wet the paper, and wet newsprint is extremely fragile and very easily torn. I highly recommend you practice handling water-soaked newsprint - today's paper will do nicely - before you attempt any soaking or spraying with deacidifying solution.


This means the area surrounding and in contact with the paper: the temperature, moisture, light, and any holder or container the paper might be in. We'll look at each of these in order.

HEAT: Even comfortable room heat of about 72 degrees rapidly ages paper. And the hotter the room the faster the paper ages. Therefore, the cooler the better. Store your collection in a cool part of your home. If you can afford air conditioners and your collection justifies it, it would be a good thing to have.

LIGHT: Sunlight is poison for paper. Whatever you do, keep your newspapers out of the sun. If you have any framed papers, be sure that the sun doesn't hit them at some time during the day. Flourescent lighting is also harmful to paper. Use incandescent lights for reading or displaying your papers. Store your papers in the dark if at all possible.

Remember the words, "cool, dark and dry". Store your collection in a place that's cool, dark and dry. Perhaps a suitable place would be the lower shelves (remember, heat rises) in a closet or the lower drawer in a cabinet.

HUMIDITY: Relative humidity of 40% is ideal, 65% is about the top limit.

HOLDERS: You will probably want to put some or all of your newspapers in holders to preserve them. For years I have been using common polyethelene ("poly") bags to store newspapers in and have been very satisfied with the results. However, after a year or two the poly will start to yellow and must be replaced. Otherwise they could harm your papers. The advantage of poly bags is that they are inexpensive, about 50-75 cents each.

For permanent storage of valuable newspapers, use polyester film. The type commonly used is Mylar type D (a registered trademark of the Dupont Company). These holders are available in various sizes, but they are expensive at several dollars each. Polyester is archival quality and should preserve your newspapers for hundreds of years provided they have been deacidified first, if necessary. If your newspapers are worth a considerable amount of money it makes sense to place them in top quality holders to keep them in the same condition as when you acquired them. Polyester holders are available from archival supply houses.

(If you have a great many newspapers or documents you would like to put in polyester folders, you can save a tidy sum of money by buying a roll of polyester and cutting it to size. At my firm we make our own custom folders - sealed on one side only - from rolls of 4 mil polyester 40 inches wide by 100 feet long.)

Simple as it may sound, that's all that's needed to preserve your newspaper collection: Use poly bags for temporary storage of inexpensive papers or polyester holders for valuable papers. Keep them away from excessive heat and moisture and out of direct sunlight or flourescent light.

Obviously, insects and rodents will raise havoc with your collection if given the opportunity. Air pollution and dust are other harmful sustances which are harder to prepare for, unless you have a good filtering system.

If you want to frame any of your newspapers or documents - and many are fine frameables - insist upon totally acid-free archival quality materials being used as mats, backing boards, etc. And don't let the paper item rest directly against the glass. Over time - if conditions are right - the paper could stick to the glass.

Copyright 1989, 1996 by Jim Lyons

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