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Archived article from the October 2000 issue of Princely States Report

Care and Storage of Indian States Documents


- Ron Rice

Introduction

The purpose of this article is to alert collectors to issues that affect the condition of stamped papers and other Indian States documents, and to provide simple, safe methods for care and storage. I have received many large parcels from India containing dozens, sometimes hundreds of old state documents. I occasionally open these parcels to discover materials I hadn't bargained for—dirt, mold, sticky tape, odd bits of dead insects, etc. Even if they arrive clean, these documents are often in poor condition—faded, brittle, or even partially eaten away by bugs. The Indian climate is cruel to paper documents, and the problem is compounded by the fact that local government administrators and document accumulators have rarely taken measures to preserve these items.

The basic premise of this article is that we should treat our Indian States collections as if we were museum curators. These materials are often very scarce, and the supply of quality pieces in the marketplace is limited. The continued availability of Indian States papers is dependent upon our concern for their preservation. If we choose to do nothing, as has been the case historically, many valuable stamped papers will turn to dust.

I begin with a general primer on the issues affecting paper. Next is a section describing simple methods for care and storage. I conclude with a list of references for those who would like to learn more about the curatorial care of old paper documents.

The Condition of Old Paper

There are five primary issues that all collectors of old paper should be concerned with—acid, relative humidity, temperature, pests, and light.

Acid

Acidic conditions in paper can lead to all sorts of degradation and embrittlement. Acid may be found in certain materials inherent in the paper and also in materials with which the paper comes in contact. Sizes, inks and dyes, bleaches, and impure raw materials can all impact the acidity of paper. Wood, cardboard, unstable plastics, adhesives, and other acidic papers can come in contact with your documents and transfer their acid. You can even transfer acid from your hands. A variety of polluting gases, such as oxides of nitrogen from car exhaust, can also increase a paper's acidity.

The paper used to produce Indian States documents is often of a very low quality, high in acid content. Further, these papers have generally come into contact with a variety of acidic materials over the years. There is not a lot we can do to reverse the effects of acid, but we can take measures to prevent further damage (see the section below on care and storage).

Relative Humidity

Relative humidity, or RH, is the amount of water vapor in a volume of air, expressed as a percentage of the maximum amount of water vapor the air could hold at a given temperature. Put simply, RH represents the amount of moisture in the air. Paper is a hygroscopic material, which means it has some moisture content under normal circumstances. When moisture content is too low, paper becomes brittle. High moisture content can cause the growth of molds.

The climate in India is such that your stamped papers may have been subjected to extremes of high and low RH. If papers in your collection are very brittle and/or show signs of mold, it may be caused by exposure to inappropriate RH levels.

Temperature

Temperature and relative humidity are closely related. Changes in temperature cause changes in RH. A rise in temperature usually causes a decrease in RH and vice versa. Stated another way, when it gets hot, the air often gets dry. A combination of high temperatures and low RH can cause paper to become yellow and brittle. High temperatures can also speed up chemical reactions—some of which are harmful to paper. Changes in temperature from high to low can cause condensation on the surface of paper, leading to warping, staining and mold formation. All of these temperature-related problems are common in the Indian climate.

Pests

Mold spores are extremely common and will grow in and on nearly everything if given the opportunity. The molds commonly associated with paper usually only grow when relative humidity is above 70%—a common occurance in India. Molds destroy paper's cellulose and sizing, increase acidity, and in some cases leave a variety of colorful stains.

There are a variety of insects that enjoy eating paper. Most of these bugs prefer still, damp, dark conditions, such as those found in many Indian stamp offices and administrative storage facilities. It is very common to find stamped papers that have been significantly destroyed by hungry insects.

Light

Prolonged and/or intense light exposure can lead to fading and discoloration, and it can cause paper to become very brittle. Light actually acts in conjunction with oxygen, moisture and pollutants in the air to break up the cellulose structure of paper. This is one problem that may be more of an issue today, as you examine, store and display your papers under a variety of lighting conditions.

Care and Storage

In this section I present a handful of tips and techniques that will help reduce the impact of historical damage and prevent further damage from occuring. Much of this is common sense. As collectors of Indian States philately, we generally don't have the time or money to become experts in the curatorial care of paper. But there is still plenty we can do to preserve our valuable collections.

Avoid handling your papers directly. Purchase a few pairs of inexpensive white cotton gloves and store them in a clean, dry place when not in use. This will prevent you from depositing unwanted oils, dirt and moisture onto your papers.

Purchase a soft horse hair dusting brush (illustrated to the left), and use it to remove loose dirt and particles from your papers. There are many other techniques for removing dirt, stains, sticky tape, and so on, but there is generally some risk associated with deeper cleaning methods. The dusting brush is a simple, safe tool that every Indian States document collector should have.

The only control for inherent acid in paper is deacidification—a complex process that is not suitable for the average collector. However, there are measures we can take to stop the progress of acidification and reduce the risk of future exposure. It is critically important to keep your papers from coming into contact with acidic materials—this includes other papers! It is not safe to store your stamped papers in a large pile, as the acid on each paper will be transferred to the others.

Rather, each paper should be kept in a clear, acid free sleeve (illustrated to the left). There are a variety of acid-free sleeves available, in every size, style and thickness imaginable. They may be made of mylar, polyester, polyethylene, or other compounds, but the critical issue is the absence of acid in the material.

Store your individually sleeved papers in an acid-free box that is closed on all sides (see left). This will prevent prolonged exposure to light and pollutants in the air. As with acid-free sleeves, these boxes come in a variety of sizes and styles. They are generally made of cardboard or thick paper and are often reinforced at the corners with thin folded metal. It is perfectly acceptable to place your papers in binders, hanging files, exhibition frames, and so on when they are to be examined and displayed. But the acid-free box is the preferred long term storage method.

All of the care and storage products I have mentioned are available from a variety of vendors that serve the library and museum communities. One such company is Gaylord Archival. They can be contacted at http://www.gaylord.com/archival or by calling 1-800-448-6160 toll free in the USA, 1-800-841-5854 toll free in Canada, or 1-315-457-5070 ext.287 from elsewhere. If you prefer to shop around, go to any web search engine and search on "library supplies", "museum supplies", "curatorial care", etc.

  References

The following titles are recommended to anyone who wants to learn more about curatorial care of paper. The title by Anne Clapp is particularly nice for the philatelist and is available from a philatelic literature dealer (support our dealers!). You will find a variety of similar titles at larger bookstores and libraries.

Caring for Your Collections: Preserving and Protecting Your Art and Other Collectibles. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1992.

    Experts in various fields explain the causes of deterioration and set forth guidelines for proper care and conservation. This work covers more than old papers, providing insight into home security, appraisal, professional conservator services, etc.

Clapp, Anne F. Curatorial Care of Works of Art on Paper. New York: Nick Lyons Press, 1987.

    Highly recommended general overview of environmental and preservation issues in a concise, easy to follow format. Available from Philatelic Bibliopole, P.O. Box 36006, Louisville, KY 40233, USA (or http://pbbooks.com).

Price, Lois Olcott. Mold. Technical Series No. 1. Philadelphia: Conservation Center for Art and Historic Artifacts, 1994.

    Everything you always wanted to know about mold but were afraid to ask. Most important for the Indian States collector is the coverage of mold prevention and removal techniques. Available from CCAHA, 246 S. 23rd St., Philadelphia, PA 19103, USA.

Thomson, Gary. The Museum Environment. London: Butterworths, 1986.

    Thorough coverage of the effects of light, humidity, heat, air pollution, etc. Covers methods of assessing, monitoring and controlling environmental conditions.

Wilson, William K. Environmental Guidelines for the Storage of Paper Records. NISO Technical Report: 1. Bethesda, MD: National Information Standards Organization, 1995.

    Recommended environmental conditions for the storage of papers, including temperature, relative humidity, light levels, etc.

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