Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Condition of the Newspapers

CCAHA Conservator Rebecca Smyrl examines
a newspaper from the family collection.

I published a biweekly tourist newspaper, The Wayfarer of Central Bucks County, from 1985 to 1988.  As part of our family collection, my stacks of Wayfarers are especially meaningful to me because of my father’s involvement with the paper.  He conceived the character of the Wayfarer and drew dozens of cartoons of him in various comic situations.  Also, he helped me sell ads and deliver the paper to over a hundred locations in New Hope, Doylestown, and Newtown, Pennsylvania.

For delivery, I had a flatbed pickup truck with no cover.  The morning after the paper was printed, I’d drive out to Gloucester City, New Jersey, to pick up the paper bundles – each composed of 50 to 100 newspapers wrapped together by twine.  We tossed these bundles into the back of the truck where they were entirely exposed to sunlight, heat, and wind.

Wayfarer cartoon by
Art Price.
By its nature, newsprint is ephemeral.  It’s not built to last.  Newspapers are made to be read today and tossed out tomorrow.  They’re printed on cheap paper and don’t even merit a cover to protect their contents.

Twenty-five years later, I bring some sample Wayfarers to the Conservation Center for Art and Historic Artifacts for an examination by Rebecca Smyrl, Conservator at the Conservation Center for Art and Historic Artifacts.  She immediately notices the varying amounts of light damage.  There’s a simple explanation for that.  The paper on the top of each bundle received maximum light exposure.  Papers buried deep within a bundle received practically none.  Therefore some of the papers have turned a sickly yellow from sitting out in the sunlight while others have retained their original tan/ivory tone.

Rebecca explains to me that the light exposure not only changes the color but accelerates the process of the paper becoming more brittle.  She checks one of the particularly exposed corners and reports that the paper is still in surprisingly good condition, retaining a fair amount of flexibility.  Doubtless, their preservation has been helped by their storage.  After those first few days of intense environmental exposure, the papers have spent most of the years neglected in a closet on the second floor of the house – in darkness with stable temperature and humidity.

Rebecca’s other major concern is with rips and tears on the papers.  Some of these may date back to the original rope ties that held the bundles together and others may be from handling.  Once a tear begins, further handling can easily make it worse.  A conservator can repair newsprint mends very effectively with long fiber paper and wheat starch paste.  But, Rebecca warns, this is a job for a professional.  Conservators see way too many home repair jobs, usually done with acidic tapes that invariably cause serious long-term damage.

Previous Preserving a Family Collection entries have stressed this before but it bears repeating:  Never use scotch tape or other commonly available adhesives to repair items in your family collection.  Just don’t do it.

© 2011 Lee Price

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