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Re: [BKARTS] matching old paper

Let's try and keep this forum collegial and helpful, Thomas. NOT condescending and pompous.

Matthew Garelick
  ----- Original Message ----- 
  From: Thomas Conroy 
  To: BOOK_ARTS-L@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx 
  Sent: Tuesday, April 13, 2004 6:41 PM
  Subject: Re: matching old paper

  A number of people have made rather ill-advised suggestions about
  coloring paper "old" and making it translucent, and a few have
  quietly tried to stem the tide. I must offer an apology for not
  having commented on this topic earlier. I can speak only for myself,
  but after a certain point exhaustion sets in: the effort of
  continually commenting on the destructive media indulged in by
  artists, only to be told that the person you are correcting "wants it
  to age further,"  is matched only by the fury of hearing the artist
  who, twenty years down the road from such decisions, decides that
  they want their piece to survive after all, but want someone else to
  correct uncorrectable inherant vice. And the time required for
  correction is substantial, especially if one tries to deal with some
  of the complexities of a very complex topic instead of relying on a
  knee-jerk anti-acid reaction.

  I will start by complimenting Carmela Rizzuto on her admirable and
  thorough discussion of the one suggestion for making paper
  translucent without introducing known serious known causes of
  degradation. Wax impregnation can sometimes cause physical
  difficulties by stiffening the paper, but those can be judged
  immediately by the maker; and wax in itself is protective against
  introduced pollutants. The various people who suggested food colors
  also were at least suggesting materials with no major, widely-known
  causes of inherant vice. Beware, though, that food color is not
  likely to be light-fast or water-fast--- why, after all, should it
  be? Also, food coloring is not one uniform substance, and certain
  colors or brands may offer different aging and destructive
  characteristics from others. Jane Brown pointed out the acidity of
  coffee and tea, rather too gently in light of the uncurbed enthusiasm
  that others continued to show for them. And I would like to
  compliment Shu-Ji on her concern about the insect-attractive
  potential of cooked sugar--- I don't know if there is in fact a
  problem in the very thin layers that would be used on paper, but the
  question shows that her intelligence and common sense are working

  I held my nose and read while various people talked about oiling
  paper. Oil will irreversably embrittle and brown paper, in short
  order in conservation terms---say in a decade or so, soon enough that
  you will see that oiling has left the paper browner and more brittle
  than exposed newsprint of the same age. One of the most serious forms
  of damage to leather-bound books is oil stains caused by
  over-enthusiastic application of oily leather dressings to the spine,
  wicked up by cracks and spread by the sewing thread along the gutter.
  Oil paintings on paper and oils on unprimed canvas are common-enough
  problems for painting conservators, and must in time be met with
  complete replacement of the oil-damaged support; early silkscreen
  inks were oil-based and within a few decades were causing major
  problems to paper conservators. Note, by the way, that oil-based
  silkscreen inks cause much worse damage than oil-based letterpress or
  lithographic inks; these are not simple issues, but this difference
  is very likely due to the simple quantity and drying characteristics
  of the oil used. Oil damage is not acid deterioration; oil, to
  simplify, acts by oxidation, not hydrolysis. It is important not to
  reduce all paper deterioration to acidity; just as it is important
  not to conflate  discoloration, embrittlement, fading, and other
  types of deterioration, which may occur together, but which may also
  occur separately.

  I held my nose and read while coffee and tea were suggested as
  coloring media for "aging" paper. Oldfashioned restorers used coffee
  and tea freely for trying to match old paper, in ignorance of the
  serious questions of acidity involved; but today a binder caught
  using either would immediately ruin his credibility with conservators
  and, even more, with preservation administrators, unless he was
  willing to put up a spirited defense and had an impeccable scientific
  background. Coffee and tea do not cause radical complete destruction
  the way oil does, but considering how much effort now goes into
  keeping various acids out of paper there should hardly be any
  question of whether coffee and tea are a conservationally sound
  colorants. There are serious issues here, and while there may be a
  case to be made for using coffee and tea, the decision should not be
  made without knowledgeable debate in light of scientific knowledge
  and long experience. But on a common-sense level: ever had acid
  stomach from too much coffee? Do you know how resistant the stomach
  lining is to acids? Do you really need to ask if coffee is good for
  paper? In any case, experience with coffee and tea stains shows that
  the color cannot be removed but also changes over time; and they do
  not really look the color of old paper.

  But I cannot just hold my nose and read Suzanne M.  Manns' relayed
  suggestion of "old boiled book solution". This is not only
  conservationally wrong; it is stupid. She suggests that you take the
  least permanent, most rapidly self-destructive books that exist; make
  an infusion of anything and everything that will come out; and then
  soak an artifact of cultural value with it. Can anyone with the
  brains of a chipmunk seriously believe that this is innocuous? In a
  bit more detail: Acid deterioration shortens the chains of cellulose,
  breaking off short bits which are themselves acid and which speed up
  the rate of decay. The rate of acid deterioration in paper proceeds
  geometrically due to this effect. Most of the acid degradation
  products are water-soluble. It is widely believed among book
  conservators that the single most beneficial treatment for the
  chemical well-being of paper is to wash it in alkaline water, washing
  out soluble acids and deterioration products; the only drawbacks to
  washing from the point of view of permanence are the skill and cost
  involved. (Bibliophiles have other, mostly cosmetic, objections to
  what they call washing, but they rarely distinguish washing from
  bleaching...  that, however, is another matter).  Washing completely
  and physically removes serious destructive material, which Ms. Manns
  now proposes to reintroduce. It does not matter that she got the
  suggestion from someone who is "a purist as well as the conservation
  specialist with a very prestigious museum"; whatever that
  conservator's training, whatever her experience, she has no more
  common sense than a poodle.  It is not just that this is wrong, which
  would be forgivable; it is totally, unforgivably stupid. I presume
  the conservator works with an art on paper, not archives or books,
  since with art on paper cosmetic concerns are primary while strength
  and flexibility are not of such importance; but this is no adequate
  excuse for subjecting artifacts of cultural value to a stew of acids,
  lignins, alum, soluble pollution, and whatever other random muck came
  out in the cooking. Not even though the dilution was, we are assured,
  with distilled/deionized water.

  The basic issue to consider when deliberately trying to make paper
  seem aged is: do you care if the piece is ruined by your choices long
  before the end of your career; or do you want it to survive? This is
  a choice for the artist, not the conservator, and awareness of this
  right of choice may be why so few conservators have weighed in on
  this thread. If you are willing to have the piece deteriorate rapidly
  you may as well go ahead and do whatever you please. But if you do,
  be prepared to see your vision crumble apart long before you are old;
  and if you sell the piece, be prepared to face liability issues if a
  customer thinks he was buying a thing of beauty to last through the
  ages. If you want your work to last take the trouble to learn about
  conservation and then make sure you apply your common sense to it,
  instead of relying on gossip online. Or if you must learn online,
  search the COOL archives, not BookArts.

  Tom Conroy

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