Tape is Only for Presents!

Submitted by libkkerr on
Filed under Library News:  Archives & Research Collections

Christmas is a time when families gather from near and far to celebrate the holidays together. Often, these gatherings stir up old memories and every once in a while, a family heirloom may be presented.

These treasures are sometimes long forgotten, stored in an attic or a basement and held together with tape. Many of the items held within our own collections may have been at one time, a family treasure.

Recently, Morris Norman, a Canadian collector, donated an eclectic and vast array of these treasures to the University library. Some of these items are presently on display in Archives and Research Collections, while others are in the midst of processing. Some, as in the case of a poster advertising flour for Lancaster Mills, are in the preservation lab requiring conservation treatment.

The Lancaster Mills poster is a lithograph produced on poor quality wove paper and had been encased in tape by a former, well-intentioned user. As a conservator, this item brings to mind one of my favourite sayings: "tape is only for presents." However tempting it may appear to "repair" paper-based items with tape, I strongly advise you against its use.

Tape is known as 'pressure sensitive tape' in the field of conservation and is so-called because one uses light pressure to adhere it to a surface. Their application and availability are widespread however, their aging characteristics are detrimental to paper items. As pressure sensitive tapes age, the adhesive oxidizes and passes through specific stages of degradation.

At first there is little change and removal is relatively easy. As the oxidation process continues, the colour and consistency of the adhesive begins to change from clear to yellow. The adhesive swells and becomes sticky and oily.  It travels down into the paper, causing transparency. At this point, the conservator must resort to chemicals for removal.

Finally, the adhesives continue to oxidize but begin to lose their adherent qualities. The top falls off and the staining has changed from yellow to brown. The adhesive residues cross link and render the paper hard and brittle. At this point, the adhesive and the stain are almost impossible to remove and require time, chemicals, sophisticated equipment and protective gear such as gloves, goggles and masks. This task can only be carried out by a professional conservator.

Rather than using tape to repair your own heirlooms, place pieces in an acid free folder, envelope or page protector to ensure protection and prevent loss. Damaged books can be placed in acid free boxes or wrapped in acid free paper. Papers, envelopes, boxes and acid free page protectors can be purchased from artist or archival supply stores.

Since their introduction in the 1920s, the use of pressure sensitive tapes has become popular because they are easy to use, inexpensive and universally available. These properties have made them attractive however, projects involving their removal are laborious. They can be damaging and disfiguring to artifacts thus compromising their integrity, and their removal poses a health risk to the conservator. Take it from a conservator: tape is only for presents!

by Audrie Schell
Conservator, Archives & Research Collections