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13 Things You Can Do To Protect and Preserve Autographs, Photographs, and Paper Documents

Preserving Autographs

Everyday I’m reminded of my failure to observe some of the most basic rules for protecting and preserving the items in my collection. Hanging in my office is a framed, autographed Peyton Manning photo, and a list of the records he set in his rookie season. At one time, his signature boldly sprawled from one edge of the photo to the other. Today, it’s barely visible.

To help you avoid similar mistakes, we’ve compiled a list of 13 things you can do to ensure that your treasured autographs, photographs, and paper documents are protected and preserved: 

#1: Keep it cool and dry

Temperature and humidity play a significant role in preservation. Store your collection in a cool, dry, and dark place. Never store items in your attic, garage, or basement. Typically a closet, shelf, or drawer located in the living space of your home works best, as temperature and humidity levels typically remain within a safe range – a temperature of 65 to 75 and a relative humidity between 35 and 55 percent.

#2: Into the darkness

Avoid displaying your documents in bright light. Ultraviolet light emitted from direct sunlight and fluorescent lighting fades most inks (especially felt tip pens, colored inks, and dye-based inks) and darkens paper.

#3: Rotate exhibits

Let’s face it, one of the most enjoyable aspects of collecting is putting your collection on display so you and others can enjoy it. If you’re dead set on displaying photos, autographs, or other documents, consider rotating them through your display; showcasing them for two to three months per year, in a cool, dry, and dimly lit area. You may also consider creating high quality reproductions that can be displayed fulltime. If someone shows interest, you can always retrieve the original from storage.

#4: Fireproof safes are not safe

In a well-intentioned attempt to safeguard their valuable documents, many collectors make a common mistake – using a fireproof safe. At first glance, it seems logical, as it’s secure and dark. However, humidity levels in this variety of safe is typically very high. Such high levels of humidity will eventually damage autographs and paper documents.

#5: Say no to acid

When securing autographs, photos, and other paper documents in protective cases, only use non-vinyl, acid free folders. Once secured, the documents can then be stored in an archival acid-free box. To get started using this method, you may want to consider purchasing an all-in-one archival document storage kit.

#6: Duct Tape doesn’t fix everything

When repairing paper documents, do not use clear tape (Scotch) or masking tape (yellow tape), as the adhesives used in both varieties will destroy the paper. For less valuable documents in need of repair, consider using archival document repair tape.

#7: Don’t mess with metal

Never use metal objects such as paper clips and staples to bind documents together. If you acquire a document that includes metal objects, immediately remove them, as they will eventually stain the document with rust.

#8: A warm bath

Collectors of vintage photographs, such as CDVs or Cabinet Cards, oftentimes come across albums for sale. On most occasions, the photos have been glued to the album’s pages. To safely remove the photographs, gently soak the album paper and back of the photo in lukewarm water. However, this method should NOT be used on vellum or parchment documents, modern paper, or documents that include aniline ink.

#9: To frame or not to frame

Resist the urge to frame autographed documents! However, we’re not naïve – when you have something super cool (like a Peyton Manning autographed picture), chances are you’ll want to show it off! If you insist on framing an autographed document, there are few precautions you’ll need to take.

Autographs

(Left) What an original Peyton Manning signature should look like. (Right) Due to prolonged exposure to UV light, the signature has nearly completely faded.

When framing, only use acid-free matting materials and never glue or tape the document to the mat. Instead, use acid-free mounting corners to keep the document from shifting in the frame. For glass, you’ll want to use ultraviolet-filtering Plexiglas or ultraviolet- filtering laminated glass.

#10: Wash your hands

Before you handle items in your collection, especially paper documents, always wash your hands. Nothing fancy here, regular ole’ soap and water will work just fine. This soapy water hand bath will remove dirt, grim, and naturally-occurring oils that can damage documents (and other collectibles). If you want to go the extra mile, consider wearing cotton inspection gloves.

#11: Dude, nice ink

For those of you building an autograph collection featuring “the living,” you have an opportunity to choose the ink used for autographing. Stay away from inks that are most likely to fade, including felt tip pens, colored inks, and dye-based inks. Instead, use an archival pen such as a Pigma Micron Pen or India ink.

#12 Insurance

If your collectibles were lost, damaged, or stolen, would they be covered by insurance? I recently read an article about a vintage car enthusiast that lost 80 vehicles valued at $3 million dollars in a fire. The kicker? None of them were insured! Don’t be “that guy” – get your collection insured through a collectible insurance company. To learn more about collectible insurance, check out one of our previous articles (click here) on the subject.

#13: RelicRecord.com

To keep track of all the items in your collection – how and when you acquired them, how much you paid, their appraised value, provenance, and more – consider using the collectible archiving tool, RelicRecord.com. With this easy-to-use web application, you can upload photos, add descriptions, document purchase and appraisals prices, create galleries, upload important documents (appraisals and insurance policies), and access your collection anywhere with an internet connection. And if you ever find yourself in the unfortunate situation of having to file an insurance claim, having such detailed records on-demand will go a long way.

 

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