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A guide to the safe storage of autographs and signed photos.
Part 2, Storage of photos and signatures in Binders.
If you have already read Part 1, then you will now need to know about storage of the sleeves in binders! We know that most people use the normal two ring type, and these are OK as far as they go, but they don’t give a great deal of support to the sleeves themselves, allowing the sleeve with your photo in it to sag, which then means the sleeve distorts which can damage the photo, and because it sags, the sleeve and your photo can then be damaged on its lower edge too as it is dragged onto or off of a shelf.
The four ring binder will prevent much of this problem, and will help preserve your collection for longer. We no longer use the cardboard type ring binder either, as these will sag and bend and only end up causing more problems through damage.
The fact that many of these binders are covered in PVC as well, takes us back to the same problem as we have with the PVC sleeves, although not to the same extent. We personally now only use 4 ring good quality hard plastic binders for virtually all our everyday stock, saving the best conservation binders for our rarer items. The hard plastic binders are not normally made from PVC, but Polypropylene or similar which only has similar but not the same characteristics as Polyester.
In an ideal world you should be using polyester sleeves, and acid and lignin free conservation closable storage boxes, but more of that later.
OK, so you now know that you really must be using polyester sleeves, and 4 ring binders at the every least, so what else should you be doing?
Again, in an ideal world you will store your folders not on the bottom edge or laying flat as we are sure 95% of you are doing, but on the longest edge, with the rings at the top so that the sleeves are hanging down.
The reason for this is two fold. First if you file them in the usual manner, all your photos are then trying their best to detach themselves unevenly from the rings, and this can cause small marks to appear on the edges of the photos, or bends on the right hand corner of the photo as they are pulled in and out from a shelf.
This gets worse over time, and in the worst case can see the uppermost holes in the sleeves splitting which them makes them hang down even further. By storing the folders on the longest side, so that the spine is at the top (that’s the side where you would normally write on) all the sleeves will be forced to hang down by gravity with an even distribution of their weight, and you won’t incur the same damage problem as before.
Now it’s perfectly feasible to use good quality 4 ring binders and store them short side up. The only problem with this is that the 4 ring metal mechanism is idealy suited to be used that way, and although it will survive for some time, you will one day pull a folder off the shelf and the metal ring mechanism will have detached itself from the folder, and you will have a large pile of photos at your feet. We know this as it has happened to us several times already!
The second reason is to help prevent the ingress of dust into the top edge of the open sleeve. All the time your files are stored in the normal manner, dust is falling down into the top of them (try pulling a book off the shelf you have not read for years, and see how much dust there is on that top edge!) By storing the folder the other way you will help prevent much of this dust slipping down into and between the sleeve and the photo.
That dust is made up of all kinds of things such as mould spores, dead skin and insect poo! and much of it is abrasive as well as being acidic (dust really is one of your worst enemies!). The worst problem we have found with dust is that it will over time scratch the surface of your photos as you slide the photos in and out, or as you transport them around. Believe us, we have seen this many times and in our opinion can be worse than the effect of the PVC sleeves on the signatures. The dust can wear off the ink from the photo as well as damage the surface of the photo, thereby reducing the value of you prized collection, so be warned.
The mould spores can in the right conditions, turn into something quite horrendous, but providing that storage conditions are correct, low relative humidity, and not excessively warm, then you should be OK.
The ideal storage location is not as you might think a fireproof safe, but a room with good ventilation, an even storage temperature and no light. So storage in the either garden shed, the loft or even the basement is probably not the best place!
Moisture absorption. Manila envelopes and laying folders flat.
So what about those cardboard folders or the cardboard box? Well you probably know by now that that is not the best way to store them, but why?
Firstly the obvious problems of damage and dust etc which we have already covered and should be obvious to you anyway. Secondly, cardboard and paper are in the main made from wood pulp. Now wood pulp is used for all kinds of paper, but most commonly, newspaper. If you have ever found an old newspaper of more than a few years age, you will have noticed that they are much browner and much less flexible than today’s copy of the Sun. The reason for that is that wood pulp naturally contains lignin which has a mild acidic reaction within the paper, which is made worse by light, so after a period of time the paper starts to effectively eat itself, which is why it goes brown and eventually crumbles away. This same acidic effect can also crossover to any other absorbent material it is attached to, so if you have some nasty cheap paper with autographs on, in the same sleeve as some nice white signed cards, then over time, the nasty paper will discolour your nice white card with its acids!
But not all paper does this, but that is because most of today’s better quality paper has other things added to neutralise the lignin and other harmful chemicals within it. But although these chemicals might stop the rot, they can then start the rot in other areas! So what we should be ideally looking for is something that is not going to harm our autographs in any way at all.
There are many natural materials that could do this, silk for instance would be a good choice, but have you ever tried making a box out of it? No, not very practical and certainly not very cheap either, so what we should be looking for is acid free, elemental chlorine free and lignin free storage boxes, as these will not damage our collection in any way. These are not easy to find, but they are available, and although may cost more than those 2 for ?1 bargains in Poundland, they will last very much longer and most importantly will not have any effect on your autographs or photos.
These closable boxes also prevent the damage caused by light as well, as that is the most harmful thing to our signatures, and the worst examples of badly stored autographs we ever see, are always damaged by light more than anything else.
Our main enemy with lighting is ultra violet. This is the invisible light at the violet end of the light spectrum, infra red being at the other end. Direct sunlight, indirect sunlight (from reflected surfaces) and fluorescent and tungsten halogen lights all emit ultra violet light in levels that can seriously harm your autographs. We often see items ruined by UV light caused by the suns rays, but the owner will inevitably say that it’s in an area that does not see the sun, which must mean that the room is in total darkness! (think about it!). We may not actually see the sun, but the suns rays are all around us, being reflected by all manner of surfaces onto what you have on any wall. If you can see in a room without turning the light on, then it’s the suns rays that are providing the light for you to see! Its the UV rates that destroy the colour pigments in the ink, therefore fading your signatures and making them worthless. Inks do not fade on their own!
If we are framing an item, we can reduce the effect of this light by using proper UV filter glass, although this is more expensive than normal glass. We have a signed item on one of our walls with UV glass installed. This image gets the full glare of the sun, plus the indirect light for several hours of the day, and it has been on the wall now since 2009, and so far shows no sign of fading. Now we don’t suggest that you do the same, but we have done this to see for ourself exactly how good the glass is, and how it will protect the signatures. Normal incandescent lights (the old style bulbs with filaments) do not produce ultra violet, so they are safe to use, although can give out a lot of heat in confined spaces which may then create other problems.
We have often seen it written that plastic glass (Perspex is one well known trade name) is as good as UV glass in protecting against UV light. But we are afraid that we cannot agree with this statement at all for various reasons. Firstly Perspex is a trade name for an acrylic sheet material, but as in ‘Coke’ (as opposed to Cola) it is very often used to describe something that is similar, but not the same, and you could easily end up with an inferior product instead of the real thing! So simply asking for ‘Perspex’ to be used in place of glass will in most cases mean that a cheaper possibly inferior brand may be used, and this could have disastrous consequences.
We have seen first hand what happens to these acrylic sheets when used in place of glass, and in our opinion, you are wasting your money. Dependant on many things, it may discolour, crack, scratch very easily, distort and will not offer much defence against ultra violet, and in its worst form will do all of these things!
If you want to ensure your valuable signatures or artwork do not fade, then use proper UV glass and keep them out of direct sunlight. The most common brand of UV glass is Tru-Vue and available via any good framer. But there is a warning here, as UV glass and normal picture glass look identical, so normal glass can easily be used in place of UV glass either knowingly or unknowingly, which means you may pay a very high price for a price of normal glass, and will lose those valuable signatures too.
The same company also produce a special UV acrylic sheet as well, and both of these products will provide at least 97% reduction of UV rays. The company that produce ‘Perspex’ do also produce a special UV type, which has the trade name ‘Perspex VA' but be careful about getting fobbed off with some cheap alternative!
One last thing, and again if living in an ideal world, we would always handle all our stock whilst wearing lint free cotton gloves. This is because of the amount of oils and other such things that sit on our skin, which is then passed onto our precious autographs every time we handle them (did you wash your hands after eating that sandwich!). Those fingerprints on all of your photos are there because of all that crud, and much of it will damage your photos and can become impossible to remove later. White cotton lint free gloves are easily available from any good photographic shop, one pair will not only last you a very long time, but will also prevent all that muck from attaching itself to your valuable collection.
Everything that we have written here has come from our twenty years experience of dealing with autographs, and making the kind of mistakes that we have mentioned here. You can't bake a cake without breaking eggs as they say, and we have certainly broken a few in our time! So we hope that you will take on board what we have written and that it helps you to keep your collection in the condition that it needs to be.
Copyright Garry King and Autografica 2013