Care and display of your collection

Autograph and book collecting as a hobby is fun, educational and has the potential to increase in value.  But the value of a collection all depends on the condition of the pieces within it.  Poorly stored collections can become faded or damaged in any way it can serious decrease its value. Therefore caring and storing your autograph collection properly is very important and is something that is worth your while taking time over.  Remember you may be paying excessive amounts for your items and even if you don’t want to sell your collection you will want it to last for as long as possible so preservation is paramount.  Here are a few tips on how to get the best out of your autograph collection and how to keep it looking the same as when you bought it for years to come.

Paper Conservation

Paper deteriorates as a result of inherent chemical instability, external environmental factors, or a combination of the two.  Most of the problems with paper arise from a change in the pH balance.  Paper becomes brown, brittle, discoloured and foxed as its acidity increases.  The acidity can arise because of the inclusion of poor quality fibres, acidic sizes or through poor processing.  The problem is compounded when acidic pigments and inks or poor quality mounting materials are also used.  Paper can suffer mechanical damage through poor handling and storage – this includes accumulated surface dirt, oily fingerprints, creases, tears and stains.  Stains and adhesive residues from old sticky tape, used to mount or repair works are a common problem.

Exposure to artificial or natural light causes damage to paper materials such as.  Light damage is irreversible and cumulative, and all types of paper are vulnerable.

It is best to display your autographs at low light levels, away from strong light sources such as windows that do not have light-blocking curtains.  The most damaging component of visible light – the high energy Ultraviolet (UV) content – is controlled by using incandescent lights instead of fluorescent tubes which have a higher UV output.  UV filters can be used in situations where low UV light sources cannot be used.  In addition, UV-filtering acrylic glazing is generally used instead of glass for framing photographs there are various types of UV conservation grade glazing available.  Ink is very susceptible to fading typically lead pencil will be more resistant to fading.  Mounting boards/paper used in the framing process needs to be PH neutral.

Some routine paper conservation treatments include surface cleaning, reducing creases, repairing tears and holes and reinforcing paper supports through lining.  Poor quality mounting materials, tapes and adhesives often have to be removed mechanically and through the application of moisture or solvents.  Stabilisation of paper usually involves reducing the level of acidity and discolouration through washing in deionised water or mild alkaline solutions.  Stains and foxing can be reduced locally.  Fragile media such as flaking gouache can be consolidated using conservation adhesives.  Restoration processes sometimes include retouching in areas of loss and repair to reduce visual disruption of the image.  An important aspect of conservation is research into materials and techniques.  Scientific analysis is often undertaken to identify materials, provide an insight into an artist’s technique and establish appropriate treatment parameters.  NOTE unless you are highly trained in restoration you should not try to DIY restore your items as it can course irreparable damage.  There are professional conservation companies that will carry out the work.  Restoration work may be expensive.

Storing collections

Archival collections might consist of newspaper clippings, postcards, scrapbooks, documents, maps, diaries and letters.  These types of items are often made on poor quality paper.  Usually this type of material incorporates the use of paperclips, pressure-sensitive tapes, staples or rubber-bands to assemble elements together in a sequence.


Poor quality papers may degrade quickly, becoming acidic, discoloured and brittle, due to high wood pulp content. Sometimes paper can become acidic due to the media which has been applied to it.

Excessive light, heat and humidity will increase the rate of deterioration of any paper. The same warnings for books apply.

Metal components such as paperclips and staples may corrode and cause staining of paper, if exposed to moisture. Aged adhesive from pressure-sensitive tapes causes unsightly staining as it becomes yellow, brittle and penetrates the paper support. Rubber bands lose their elasticity over time and so shouldn’t be relied on for keeping items together or in order.

Good storage and careful handling are fundamental for the preservation of archival collections.

Storage and handling

Ephemera should be supported and stored flat in boxes or folders, separated with an interleaf of buffered tissue or encapsulated between polyester films such as Mylar. Encapsulation also provides some rigidity and will hold damaged or torn material together.
Isolate items from other archival documents as the paper has a high acidic content.  A folder is a simple means of storing documents. The folder should be larger than the documents being stored in it to avoid possible damage and to allow for easy removal.
Boxes, folders and interleaving tissues must be of archival quality.
Storage should be in a cool and dry place.  Low light levels are essential.
Copy documents onto archival quality paper.  It is advisable to make a master copy, to avoid subjecting the original item to further light exposure.
Scrapbooks, autograph albums commonly contain a wide range of material.  They should not be taken apart to avoid changing the sequence.  Pages should be interleaved with buffered tissue and any metal clips or staples removed.  Fasteners like staples and clips may be replaced with plastic coated clips placed over a small fold of acid-free paper. Sometimes it may be possible to photocopy scrapbooks.
Consult a conservator who will be able to provide advice and treatment.

When storing your collection the method used needs to meet the Photographic Activity Test (PAT).  The PAT, is an international standard test (ISO18916) for evaluating photo-storage and display products.  Developed by IPI, this test explores interactions between photographic images and the enclosures in which they are stored.  The PAT is routinely used to test papers, adhesives, inks, glass and framing components, sleeving materials, labels, photo albums, scrapbooking supplies and embellishments.  This test can be performed on products in development as well as on materials already in use in collections.  Using PH neutral and acid free mounting board and mounts is advisable.

Both of the below suppliers have PAT approved items for the storage of all types of paper, photographs and books.