Conserving to Preserve or “Ironing Newspapers”

Original condition of the May 13, 1862 issue of The New York Tribune we recently received, showing tattered edges, large tears, and old tape repairs

One of the things that I do with the Newspaper Project is mending newspapers.  Last week I repaired an issue of The New York Tribune, a 12-page newspaper from New York City dated May 13, 1862 that was recently donated to the Library.  Although it is not a Virginia newspaper, it still contains relevant information about the conduct of the war in Virginia.  Many of the articles are simply reprinted dispatches from Union Generals.  The articles on the front page describe the capture and occupation of Norfolk, Virginia.  The map depicts Union and Confederate positions just southeast of Williamsburg, Virginia.

Another interesting feature of the paper is a 4 page section listing of properties that were going to be auctioned off in order to pay off assessments.  This was a public notice that the properties could be redeemed if the owner paid the amount due with a penalty of 14% interest per year within a 2 year period.

Below are before and after photographs of reassembled pages.

Before and after images of page 1.

Before and after images of page 2. The dark spots on the paper are the result of tape residue left behind from a previous attempt to repair the newspaper.

Detail photographs of repairs using Filmoplast R.

How It is Done

With a few household items and one specialty item, I am able to make my repairs.  The required items are a pair of scissors, parchment paper (like what you would use to bake cookies — I also prefer the unbleached parchment paper), an electric iron, and Filmoplast R.   Another item that is helpful is a large smooth board to iron on.  I use a piece of 1/8″ cardboard that is not corrugated and I also have a piece of parchment paper taped onto the board.

Filmoplast is a specialty item that is available at archival supplies websites and http://talasonline.com/ is a good one and is competitively priced.  Filmoplast R is a fibrous tissue paper that is coated with a heat activated adhesive on one side.  It typically comes either in 1″ strip rolls or large sheet rolls.  The use of Filmoplast is currently a preferred archival method of mending because the process is reversible.  I use a medium/high setting on the iron.  The parchment paper is helpful to prevent scorching of the newspaper and it also helps to keep the newspaper clean.  It is not unusual to create smudges on a newspaper you are ironing because the iron picks up the ink and deposits it elsewhere on the sheet.  It looks bad and is easily avoided by use of the parchment paper.  The Filmoplast will also pick up the ink from the iron if you do not use the parchment sheet.

A note of caution when purchasing Filmoplast: be sure to purchase Filmoplast R.  It is the one that is heat activated.  Filmoplast makes other varieties which have a sticky adhesive and I’ve found that more difficult to work with.  One other piece of advice in working with Filmoplast,  I like to cut the Filmoplast into small strips, just wide enough to effectively cover the tear I’m repairing, this helps to make the repair less visible.

Happy conserving!  I should also add a caveat before you attempt your own conservation repairs — if you have something truly rare and historic, it advisable that you consult a conservation specialist rather than risk irreparably damaging your rare document.

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