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Friday, January 6, 2012

To Frame, or not to Frame; that is the question

One of the questions we are asked most often is how to store an autograph.  My typical reply is, light is not your friend.  Autographs are best stored at an even temperature and out of light.  If you visit our National Archives in Washington D.C. you will see autographs housed in sealed cases at highly regulated temperatures.  Hygrometers are left in the cases to monitor humidity and in some cases the documents are stored with an inert gas like argon.  However, I do not know of a private collector who takes that step, nor do I recommend that you get involved with argon. (However, hygrometers are useful in humid climates.)  That being said, if you are investing in an important historical document, say a manuscript of a specific composer, we recommend you keep the item out of the light and have a special box, or folder made of non acidic materials to house the manuscript.  Often, these are manufactured by a custom book binder, who takes the sizes of the item into consideration, as well as the library in which it is to be stored.  Often first edition scores are housed in this manner as well.  Essentially, you are having your binder make a bespoke suit for your individual piece.  These are typically accomplished in Morroccan leather, or linen, or a combination of both and back stamped in gold on the spine, or end as to the contents.  Often this is the expensive, but the best option.

A Cesar Franck 1st Edition score in a custom box

General storage of an autographed item.  Archival products are key.  Many tout mylar, which is thick and expensive.  Typically a polypropolyene 3 hole page insert is the easiest and least expensive option.  These are easily obtained at an office supply stores, photography shops, as well as collectors shops.  Photography and hobby shop products come with multiple openings, so for instance 4 postcards can be displayed on one page.  Two 4" x 6" or 5" x 7" items can be displayed in a two pocket model.  The office supply store models typically hold an 8" x 10" item.  Art supply shops can direct you to an assortment of larger portfolio products for larger items.  Archival products are also available in wide variety on line as well.  The best way to store these sheets are in looseleaf notebooks which can also be purchased in a variety of colors, plastics, fabrics, and leather.  They should be stored upright.   

Box storage is always an option.  Archival boxes are available in a wide range of sizes and individual polypropylene envelopes can be purchased to the size of most individual items for storage in these boxes.  Some come with binder rings, so pages can be stored and will not slide.  I personally find the notebook method to be easier to deal with and takes up less space.  Archival boxes and polypropylene envelopes can be purchased easily at on-line retailers, or in photography and collector shops.

Framing is always an option, but should be entered upon with care.  First, decide if you want to expose your items to the various risks associated with framing.  Insure your framer knows how to frame archivally. We know of a framer who claimed he was an archival framer and dry mounted every object to foam core.  The problem was discovered when his client attempted to sell one of the autographs and a frame was opened.  Needless to say, the value of the autograph was considerably diminished.  A good archival framer will also be able to frame a 2 sided item so both sides can be viewed.  This would include all archival packing materials, typically hard foam products, archival hinges and archival mats.  Then one has a choice of coverings; regular glass should never be used as it filters very little.  Anti-UV conservation plexiglas, as well as Conservation Museum Glass are the first 2 options.  There is also the new product, Tru-Vue, which is acrylic base, unusually tough and offers the best anti-uv protection in the market.  Framed items should be placed away from light, you place an autographed item in a sun drenched room, before long the autograph will begin to fade, even with anti-uv precautions!!  The important thing to understand is this, do you want to do damage to your autograph?  Hinges do not always remove cleanly under the best circumstances when the autograph is removed from a frame, toning always occurs to the exposed portion of the piece, so over time, the unexposed portion will retain the original color, the exposed portion even if housed in a dark area will lighten with time. Framers and manufacturers of uv products tout research they have done themselves.  Based upon experience, despite their research, inks fade over time when exposed to uv rays, even with protection.  If the item is of true historical value, we never recommend framing!  That being said, framing for lesser documents and photographs, as long as you have weighed the risks can be an elegant way to display your hobby.

A cabinet photograph of pianist Leo De Meyer framed with a musical quotation to museum standards, including acid free rag mats and hand drawn lines; each item is floated and the ensemble is covered with anti-uv museum glass

If you have any questions about autograph and ephemera storage, please feel free to write to me.

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