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Condition Reporting


Paper of poor quality.
This is an example of a historical item that was never meant to last and is made from cheap materials. The paper is yellowed and has a high lignin content, meaning it will be acidic and brittle. This example also has fold marks, stains, creases, and some ink loss.

Photo credit: Alaska State Museum collection III-O-86

Damaged suitcase label.
This is an example of a suitcase covered with textured black paper with labels of various locations attached. The paper of the suitcase is damaged with many losses, and the label is faded, stained, and suffers edge losses.

Photo credit: Alaska State Museum collection 2002-23-3

Damaged salmon can label.
This salmon can label has minor areas of abrasion, some edge losses including a large triangular loss along the bottom, and minor localized staining. The colors, however, are still vivid. This kind of label does not fade as readily as some other media do.

Photo credit: Alaska State Museum collection 2000-39-1

Stained document.
This document has had a liquid spilled on it, and coffee or tea is suspected. The lower half is severely stained and there is an uneven tideline roughly across the horizontal midsection of the document.

Photo credit: Alaska State Museum

Spots of stain on paper.
Spots of disfiguring stain like this have many causes, including mold and flaws in the paper. The darkening and staining along the edge is usually from adhesive residues. Spotty stain is sometimes called “foxing” but that term can be imprecise and it is better to describe the staining. Is it yellow? Green? Rust-colored? Black? Small specks or large splotches? Overall or localized? Are there associated accretions or is it stain within the paper? Is it visible from both sides?

Photo credit: Alaska State Museum collection 95-36-1

Torn fibers.
This is a sample of heavy Japanese paper that demonstrates several features…the edge has been wet and torn, showing the long fibers of the paper. Sometimes the edge of a paper will be intentionally torn along a straight line and there will be little fibers along the edge. That is called a “deckle edge.” This paper was also wet to tear the edge for repair purposes, and dirt/impurities in the paper or the water traveled as far as the water did and was deposited along its edge. This stain along the edge of where the water had been is called a “tideline”.

Photo credit: Ellen Carrlee

Stain and tideline.
Old prints like this are often cut from books. Look for the cut edge to confirm, sometimes there will be staining on only three edges. This also has a large tear extending up from the bottom edge of the lower proper right corner extending up toward the printed area but not extending into it.

Photo credit: Alaska State Museum collection V-A-302

Mold or rust spots, old foxing.
This print is hinged into a window mat with three hinges along the top. There is spotty disfiguring stain prominent in the margins (white border area) and a large stain with a tideline in the upper proper right corner. Most of the staining is not in the design field, aside from a large spot of yellow stain in the sky. The presence of a mat could be mentioned in the condition report, as well as its outer dimensions. This info can be helpful in exhibit development.

Photo credit: Alaska State Museum collection V-A-680

Paper losses and grazing.
This painting on paper has small surface losses, perhaps it was grazed by insects.

Photo credit: Alaska State Museum collection 2005-41-1

Iron gall and overpaint.
The very dark areas of this image are likely made from iron gall ink, which can deteriorate over time and destroy the paper where it touches. The splotchy white areas are likely touch-ups and corrections made when the painting was new and the paper was much whiter. As the paper aged, the touch ups no longer match.

Photo credit: Alaska State Museum collection 90-3-1

Ink fading.
Some inks fade more than others. This document also has prominent fold marks where it was folded in half across its center twice. There is a red residue where a wax seal is now missing.

Photo credit: Sheldon Jackson Museum collection SJ-I-A-582

Folds, stains, and seals.
This document was folded in quarters, and the paper is weakened along those fold lines with losses at center and edges of the fold lines. When folded, the red wax seal transferred some dye into the upper proper left quadrant of the document. The seal is now cracked and delicate. The large symmetrical stain at the center indicates the staining happened when the document was folded up.

Photo credit: Sheldon Jackson Museum collection SJ-V-A-29

Stains, old repairs, & fading.
This portrait on paper is damaged in many ways. One is the likely preferential fading of certain colors, leaving only red and blue. Another interesting condition feature is the large tear in the upper proper left quadrant. It appears that this was repaired in the past, but the repair material has not aged the same as the original paper and is now darker.

Photo credit: Sheldon Jackson Museum collection SJ-V-D-10

Adhesive stains.
This tiny sketch was once adhered to something else and the adhesive has bled through and stained the front of the paper. The rounded bottom proper left corner and the torn perforates along the proper right edge indicate this paper was from a small notebook, and torn top edge suggests it might be half a page from that notebook. There are more small sketches in this collection, and those features help link them.

Photo credit: Alaska State Museum collection V-A-505

Mat burn.
This is an example of “matburn.” The beveled cut edge on this mat was white when new, but the mat was not made of archival materials and was acidic. Over time, that cut edge became yellowed and released acidic pollutants that have also yellowed the paper of the artwork where they touch. Mats that have the telltale yellow edge should be replaced.

Photo credit: Alaska State Museum collection

Light fading.
This is a severe example of light fading of a watercolor painting on paper. The strip of more vivid color along the side is where the painting had been covered and protected by a mat.

Photo credit: Alaska State Museum collection

Powdery media loss.
This is an example of powdery media loss. Pastel, chalk, and other powdery artist media are vulnerable to transfer and can be pulled from the surface by touching another material or by static that can happen inside a plastic sleeve or behind plexi when framed.

Photo credit: Alaska State Museum collection 2005-18-2

Wrinkled from tape.
Some prints are done on very very thin paper. This paper has become wrinkled. The margin of slightly lighter paper all around indicates it had once been displayed with a mat. The tape along the top edge likely held it in the mat, and is contributing to damage along the top and additional wrinkling as the adhesive shrank.

Photo credit: Alaska State Museum collection V-A-94

Tape residue.
Tape is the bane of every paper conservator’s existence. Say it with me: there is no such thing as “archival tape.” Here is masking tape along the edge of a sheet of paper. The non-sticky part is called the “carrier” and as the adhesive ages and dries out, the carrier often detaches, leaving the adhesive residue which usually is associated with staining and damage.

Photo credit: Alaska State Museum collection 2005-22-1

Insect grazing.
The surface losses here look suspiciously like insect grazing.

Photo credit: Alaska State Museum collection

Tape on a tear.
The large tear in the lower proper right quadrant of this print have been repaired in the past with three large pieces of masking tape. Over time, the adhesives in the tape will weaken, stain, and damage the paper in those areas.

Photo credit: Alaska State Museum collection V-A-302

Colored ink fading.
This document features a large signature from Richard Nixon. The document and the pen he used are in this display frame. Unfortunately, the signature was in blue ink, which has faded severely with light exposure. Many colored inks are extremely light sensitive.

Photo credit: Alaska State Museum collection 2003-27-1