8 November 2008

Preserving History

Posted by Dan Satterfield

One of the most historic documents you can see is the Magna Carta. There are actually a few copies of it dating from 1215 AD. You can see one of thise copies at Salisbury Cathedral in England. The Cathedral itself is one of the great architecture masterpieces of the Medieval world. Truly a fabulous place to visit. Listening to the Evensong in the great nave brings back thoughts of those who listened to the choirs in the very same spot over nearly countless generations, and eight centuries.

This post is about preserving history though, so back to the Magna Carta! Look at the image of it. A bit yellowed in spots, but perfectly readable. (I know, because I have read the original, using my very imperfect Latin!). So why are those newspapers in your closet that you saved after the moon landing or the JFK assassination so yellow?

The answer is the paper. Paper printed after the 1860’s is mostly from wood pulp. The wood has impurities that make it acidic. So to keep it from yellowing, you will need to lower the PH of the paper.

There are several methods that you can try. Krylon makes an archival spray that will do this, but it is expensive. A homemade method is to put a good heavy dose of Milk of Magnesia, into a liter of water. Let it sit overnight, and then put your paper one sheet at a time onto a large pan and CAREFULLY pour the water on it. Let it sit for an hour and then drain the water and very carefully remove the paper and lay it on some paper towels to dry.

If you are worried you will mess it up, then spend the money on a can of the spray. Either way, store it in a dark place with relative humidity around 45%, and a temp near room temperature (21C). Also, store it in a folder that is also not made of acidic paper. You can find this at most framing shops.

I would practice on a newer piece of discardable paper to make sure you can move the wet sheet without damaging it!

I know a lot of people in the USA, and around the world will be saving the papers with President Elect Obama on the front page, and the above methods will keep it looking almost like new for future generations. That’s IF you can find a paper from that day! I’ve had no luck so far!!

It would be neat to add it to my collection of historic front pages, and I have not given up yet!