Proper Framing of Antique Prints

As a long time collector and framer of antique prints, it has been my concern to protect their intrinsic and historical value. Artwork from years ago had special purposes that many do not have today. For the most part, they were hand designed and colored inserted in large informative books as a way to encourage people to purchase the books, thus funding the research work that went into it. The passion of the works can be seen in the labor and depth of the illustrations, the artists employed in their design techniques, almost like popping off the paper.

Regardless of the reasons for the artwork of the past, it is imperative that we as temporary custodians, use great care to preserve these precious works of art for both our continued enjoyment and those that follow us. Not only are the rewards revealed through appreciation of monetary value, but also in the crispness and beauty while they are displayed in our homes and offices. No one wants to see our artwork fade or discolor over time. Yet, if we do not take the steps to preserve them, this is exactly what would happen.

It is important to choose a framer who is well versed in preservation framing of antique prints and related artwork. The following materials and techniques should be employed in the framing process. Museum quality materials should not be compromised as studies have shown doing so will impair the beauty, thus the values of them.

Make sure you only use true museum grade materials. When matting the prints, the matboards must only be made of 100% pure cotton rag. The matting must be at least 4 ply in thickness. Do not use the so-called “acid free” mats as they are made of wood pulp, which is chemically treated to a neutral pH. Over time, environmental factors which touch your artwork, like heat, light and humidity fluctuations, will invariably cause the mats to break down and create a stained mat mark around the perimeter of your artwork. This is termed a “mat burn” in the industry and may be very hard to remove, even by a well skilled conservator.

Likewise, the backing (matboard that goes behind the art) should also be made of 100% pure cotton rag. The backing should also be at least 4 ply in thickness. Never use any type of foam core for backing. Regardless of what is sold in the market place, conservators and curators have proven in current studies that foam out gasses and breakdowns over time, thus causing some form of deterioration of the art over time.

For mounting, use only polyester strips, corners or rag paper corners. Never use tape, glues or any other type of adhesive. The type of mounting depends on the paper quality and overall condition of the map. Equal distribution of weight is imperative, especially if the paper is thin or has condition issues. Reversibility is the key to mounting. This means that access or removal of map from the frame should not compromise it in any way.

The Library of Congress states that a secondary backing should be used. This acts as an extra barrier to moisture and adds stability. As stated above, avoid foamboard at all costs. Use archival grade corrugated board. This may come in white, blue gray, even a clear polyethylene, but never brown. The common brown board is strictly used for box construction NEVER any framing applications.

Finally, for glass or acrylic, only use glazing that contains high filtering UV properties. This would be 98% to 99%. Never use regular glass or acrylic. As shown, framing without this characteristic, will cause fading and discoloration of artwork. As always, never allow framed artwork to hang in DIRECT sunlight or exposure to high heat or constant humidity fluctuations, especially high levels.

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