Archival storage of those prized items we worked so hard to get often get overlooked much of the time. Imagine buying a long sought-after comic book (in mint condition) and after reading it you put it up to keep it safe. One year later you dig it out to admire and discover it is not in quite the shape as when you put it up. The once white pages are now yellow and brown. You begin to cry. Despite our massive use of computers today, we all have certain items or collectibles that we want to keep safe throughout our lives. Some are collectible items (stamps, comic books, magazines, postcards, sports cards, etc.), while others are deeply personal items that, while we may have them on computer, we want to be able to feel and smell the history (photographs, books, greeting cards, etc.). Paper products are some of the most vulnerable of these items. Proper storage of these items must be taken into account, especially if you plan on keeping them for any length of time. Sunlight, rodents, moisture, insects, and mold are just a few enemies of paper. It helps to understand a little about how paper is made and how it deteriorates. So let's get started.
Paper Making Process
A lot of paper begins with trees being used at the raw material, but many types of fibrous plants can be used (cotton, bamboo, rice, straw, hemp, etc.). Cotton is used to make high quality paper such is what is used in U. S. currency. Despite various higher qualities of paper, most paper is made from trees and is of low quality. The fibers found in paper must first be reduced to a pulp and there are two basic varieties: ground wood and chemical wood.
Ground wood is basically made by grinding the logs mechanically to separate the fibers. This is a very cheap, efficient method, thus it is used widely in newsprint, comic books, and paperback books. Since this pulp is made from whole wood fiber, the paper is not made up of pure cellulose. Ground wood pulp will turn yellow or brown when exposed to the sun. Chemical pulping uses heat and chemicals to free more of the cellulose fibers yielding 40 â 50% of the original wood. It is used in more expensive papers (stationary, hardcover books, etc.). The pulp is then pressed into sheets. Bleach and other chemicals are used a lot in today's paper making process and do not last as long as paper made centuries
The primary cause of deterioration in paper products are caused by oxidation and acid hydrolysis. Oxidation (combined with the oxygen from the air) attacks the cellulose, which result in increased acidity and darkening. Oxygen and ultra violet light also causes the paper to turn yellow and can fade some inks.
Paper can turn brown and brittle due to acid hydrolysis which involves heat and acids. When they get to this extreme even touching the paper can make it fall apart. Sources of acidity can include reaction by oxidation, the chemicals used to make the paper and even from the fibers themselves. Some papers today are made acid free, but most paper collectibles do contain acids and need help to prolong the life of the paper.
Guidelines For Archival Storage
Try to keep your paper products cool, dark and dry. It's very important to avoid light, heat and moisture. If you handle your paper products make sure your hands are clean or even use white cotton gloves. Try to aim for 35% relative humidity and a temperature below 72 degrees (according to the Library of Congress). Storage materials (envelopes, sleeves, boxes, etc.) should be of archival quality. Mylar type D made by DuPont is a polyester film that resists moisture, oils, and acids and will outlast most other plastics. The U.S. Library of Congress says the preferred material for preserving valuable documents is a film like Mylar.
Do not store your paper keepsakes in ordinary cardboard boxes, they are acidic and will quicken deterioration. For proper storage use backing boards and boxes that meet the U.S. Government's minimum requirements. These are having a minimum pH of 8.5 and buffered to have an alkaline reserve throughout. Be careful about buying products that are "acid free at time of manufacture" as they are often just surface coated with an alkaline substance. This will wear off quickly.
Deacidification before archival storage is a process in which sprays are used to impregnate paper with an alkaline reserve, thus neutralizing existing acid and preventing further decay. It is best to leave this process to the professionals.
Archival Storage Fire Solutions
Fireproof safes and filing cabinets are more readily available
If you do a Google search for "archival storage supplies" you'll get several pages worth of resources. They are much more readily available today as we begin to realize just how fragile paper can be. Do your research well as there are some companies that try and trick you with clever wording. They try to convince you their products are of archival storage quality. The higher in quality you go the higher the cost will be. You've got to decide how important each item is to you. Going to such extremes on all your paper products may not be practical or realistic, but I hope you will be able to use some of these tips for even a small layer of protection. Don't forget to meet with your insurance agent to adjust your coverage for any collectibles. You may have to increase your coverage if you recently purchased a high priced paper collectible.