Back Away from the Tape

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Do you have books or documents you love that have gotten torn, or fallen apart? In your sorrow, did you just slap a piece of duct tape on the spine to hold it together, or did you carefully line up the page and use that “magic” tape that is supposed to be archival, and it left a stain and goo? If so, I am sorry to share the news that it would have probably been better for your papers to just keep them in an acid free box or wrapped in acid free paper until you can have them properly conserved, rather than using those pressure-sensitive tapes.

I was very lucky to attend a paper conservation workshop at Cat Tail Run in Westminster, VA a couple of weeks ago and I saw first-hand the damage a couple of pieces of tape can do to documents. I learned that the composition of tape adhesives has changed over the decades, but eventually they all lose their adhesion and leave stains. The tapes manufactured in the 1940s and 1950s are particularly difficult to remove. These tapes oxidize, leaving a yellow stain that penetrates the paper. Pressure sensitive tapes are just the household tapes (masking tape, duct tape, etc.) that stick with gentle pressure. When the paper medium holding the adhesive is removed, you’re left with a sticky or, sometimes, a hard surface residue. Often these adhesives embed themselves into the fibers of the page and transfer onto other pages and the stain just can’t be removed.

So, now what? Well, if the document is something you care about, don’t try to lift the tape off yourself. Paper conservators are both chemists and artists and they spend their lives finding ways to conserve and stabilize objects. Even the “magic” tapes are not used because the adhesive residue remains. Just say “No” when you are offered a piece of tape to repair a page, even if you are dazzled by some of those snazzy designs. You’ll save your document and your pocketbook when it goes to conservation.

Lucinda Dukes Edinberg

Curator, Hammond-Harwood House

Posted on Oct 17, 2023 in , , , by Hammond-Harwood House



Hammond-Harwood House

The mission of the Hammond-Harwood House Association is to preserve and to interpret the architecturally significant Hammond-Harwood House Museum and its collection of fine and decorative arts, and to explore the diverse social history associated with its occupants, both free and enslaved, for the purposes of education and appreciation.
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