The study of paper conservation is a complex field of study. Many learned opinions and conversely a lot of misguided information out there. In this article I will be explaining the very basic concepts in simple layman terms and then move onto more detailed topics for the more advanced.
In simple terms the greatest enemy of paper is water. Even dampness can cause dramatic deterioration over a short period of time. Extended exposure to dampness can destroy an entire collection completely. Mostly through the break down of the paper structure and the creation of mould. A living organism that feeds on the paper fibres and spreads from one stamp to another and even into other stamp albums.
I’ve seen extremely valuable stamps and indeed, entire collections rendered absolutely worthless from being neglected over the years. What could and should have been a valuable family asset worth thousands of dollars. Collections that could easily have been saved with just a small amount of insight and thought toward conservation and storage.
As a stamp collector and conservator it is just heartbreaking to witness this loss first hand. Not just stamps and collections but historical docs, culturally significant records, photographs, documents and books. Each year we wipe off a percentage of our history – lost forever and destined for the rubbish bin or tip.
Foxing is another separate problem that is basically created from foreign matter, usually metallic particles and inclusions in paper oxidising with the advent of damp and forming an oxide stain or spot. Not unlike a piece of metal that will rust if left out in the open.
You can see a central reddish dark spot that has expanded as it absorbs and spreads through the paper card base.
There are many other conservation problems in storing a collection.
Geographic locations – From excessive drying of paper in arid conditions which brittles paper and renders it fragile to the point of disintegrating to tropical environments with high humidity and moisture content in the air.
Incorrected stored stamps creating folds and creases.
The curse of Cellotape
Storage of stamps and albums in plastic bags or wrapping – sweating.
Adhesion of stamps to each other or on pages and mounting.
Acid leech from album pages and glassines onto stamps.
Some of the above in the glues on backs of stamps and hinges.
The first step – Why not Do It now !
Go through your album or collection and select suspect stamps with any brown stains or mould on the edges, perfs or on the stamp front or back. Also take a look at your album and assess if there is any contamination on the actual album pages or glassines. Please note that even though you remove the contaminated stamps they can leave residue in the album they were removed from.
Isolate the contaminated stamps by taking them out of the good clean album and place them in another separate album and store in a completely separate box with lid. This is like a quaratine box so any mould or contaminants will not spread. We will talk about this in another article and what you can do with these contaminated stamps. The plastic stackable boxes are cheap and quite OK for storing albums prvided your albums of course are of archival quality. The other option to be correct, is to take out all the good clean stamps out and place them in a new album you know will not be contaminated in any way.
Tip : If working or handling contaminated stamps or albums it is a good idea to wash your hands before you go into another clean album.
In the next few articles I will be offering some simple steps to isolate contaminated items, storing stamps away from damp environments, considerations in chosing storage options – containers and albums, more advanced information on paper and card, tips to look out for when buying stamps, how to contain and stop the spread of mould and some more detailed information to educate in an effort to eliminate the loss off our precious stamps.