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Framing Autographs

Mat Burn from Acidic Mat on a Document by Thomas Jefferson

As a collector and dealer of historical autographs for over 35 years, seeing autographs and historical documents damaged by improper framing is very upsetting.  Once an autograph is harmed and shows damage from a poor framing job, it's virtually impossible to restore it.

Most seasoned collectors and dealers shy away from autographs when they are framed unless (1) they are allowed to inspect them out of the frame or, (2) are assured the autograph is not harmed in any way through negligent framing. 

A high grade signed document, letter or photograph can lose a tremendous amount of value if the framer takes shortcuts or is ignorant of the correct ways to protect the item while framing it.  Through the years, I have taken apart frames for the autograph only to be disappointed in the mounting and framing of the item.

Abraham Lincoln Signed Appointment as PresidentDuring my days of dealing with historical documents, autographs, old currency and fiscal paper, it was my added service to offer framing to my customers to make it convenient for them without the added hassle they would bear if they dealt with a framer.

Since this was the early to mid 1980s, before the widespread use of the internet, research had to be done at the local library.  Going to the reference section, I studied the necessary techniques and materials needed to protect papers and artifacts while framing.

Taking what I learned from the library, I went to a frame shop and explained what needed to be done to protect my autographs I was selling to other collectors. Repeatedly, I had to explain to the owner or employee on duty how these items had to be treated during framing.

1498 Documents Signed by King Ferdinand and Queen IsabellaSo, I ended up visiting another framing business when things didn't work out with the previous framer.

The straw that broke the camel's back occurred when I received a call from a customer from Texas.  A couple weeks earlier, I sold him an attractively framed collage of a Civil War bond, currency and a block of stamps with a battle scene and an engraved descriptive plate. 

He explained to me that the bond came loose out of the window and the worst part was common household tape was used to mount the bond!  What???

Yes!  Against what I explained the idiot framer used acidic tape to mount my items.  Unbelievable!

At this point, I relinquished my relationships with these businesses. Many know I entered the conservation framing business because of asinine shortcuts these people took.  No more could I depend on these so called professionals to do what I paid them to do.

Peace of Mind and the assurance of getting what I can deliver is very important to my collectors, dealers, museums, the public and, eventually, myself.  No way will I accept anything less for them. 

Unlike the previous frame shop owners, I don't want someone getting upset with me because I failed to deliver what I promised

If you can't get someone to do it, do it yourself!  So, I did.  In 1989, Museum Framing was born.

It was my objective to perform only TRUE museum grade framing and at a fair price so we can remain in business for many years.

So, here is how my staff and I provide the framing needed for historical collectibles, autographs, antique prints, even contemporary items like college diplomas!

First, the below diagram shows the components needed to equip a full 100% Museum Quality product. (1) Frame - of course to keep art package secure and sealed, (2) Artwork should have fully reversible mounting (nothing evasive), (3) 99% UV glass or acrylic, (4) 100% Rag matting, (5) 100% Rag backing to protect art backing, and (6) 100% Archival grade thick polypropylene...not foamcore! 

Levels of a Museum Quality FramingFirst, there are generally 4 types of matboards: (1) Paper mats - these mats are made of wood pulp and are the lowest quality available.  Many frame shops sell framing using these boards strictly for economical budgetary reasons.  They should only be used for short term, unimportant items, like college dorm art.  (2) Alpha Cellulose mats - these are slightly better than paper mats but still not made for long term matting or framing.  (3) Rag mats - These mats have a 100% cotton pure rag core and backing.  The top layer is finest quality fade and bleed resistant.  These mats are considered conservation quality and excellent for many important artwork and artifacts.  (4) 100% Rag mats - This is the absolute best matting and backing material on the market obtainable.  This material has a solid color surface, core and backing.  These matboards are meant for important artwork, historical autographs and documents, rare maps,  diplomas and anything else you want to preserve from deterioration.

As a matter of fact, when any previously framed items of previous years needed reframing, any artwork that contained rag mats and backs showed NO signs of being framed.

One area that framers compromise on that I have witnessed is the glazing (glass or acrylic).  First, many framers don't think it's important - WRONG! and many unethical framers shortchange the customer in order to make more money. Really!

It's virtually impossible to tell straight on if the glazing is museum grade. You either have to trust the custom frame shop or wait a few years to see if any fading occurs.  Really, any fading, depending on amount of light hitting the framed art will take some time. Either a couple months or a few years.

As an example of the damage of fading, notice how newspapers darken and become brittle when exposed to the sun or other strong lighting.

Foamcore that has yellowed and brittled over time

Also, NEVER allow a framer to use any foamcore product in your framing. Either regular or acid free.  Both will out gas and cause eventual harm to your artwork.  Over time, foamcore will discolor and brittle over time.  Use archival grade coroplast as a backing behind rag backing.

Hopefully, this blog explained some of the questions or concerns one may have regarding framing.

Being involved as a collector for many years, I truly have a concern to make sure these items are protected and preserved for many years!

When visiting a framer, ALWAYS ask questions!  If he/she can't give you honest, direct answers to your concerns or if there is an uneasiness, it's time to check out someone else.

Remember, you are a temporary curator and custodian for the artwork and artifacts you own.  You are protecting it for the next generation!