Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Preserving a 1950 Playbill

“I hope you enjoy Shakespeare and Katharine Hepburn.  I’m sure you will.”
                                                                            Art Price
                                                                            Letter to June Anderson, Feb. 24, 1950

“From there we went to the Cort Theatre to see Kate Hepburn in Shakespeare’s As You Like It.  Art, I was really scared.  No one knows how close I came to leaving.  We were so high up – and I swear the stairs were the steepest I have ever seen.  I almost cried I was so frightened.  But I stayed – mind over matter.  My hands were just about cramped when the play was over from gripping the chair to keep from falling.  In spite of all this, the play was wonderful.  Katharine Hepburn is certainly a great actress.”
                                                                            June Anderson
                                                                            Letter to Art Price, Feb. 25, 1950

Rebecca Smyrl with
the 1950 Playbill.
Sixty-one years later, we have June’s As You Like It playbill in our family collection and, of course, we want to preserve it (as we’re big fans of both Shakespeare and Katharine Hepburn!).  Several years ago, we rescued a set of these 1950 Broadway Playbills from long-term storage in a box under a couch and I placed the Playbills in baggies for their protection.

Unlike the newspapers that we’ve been looking at recently, a Playbill is printed on glossy paper.  With their shiny paper, these 1950 Playbills look much fresher than the 1980 newspapers that we’ve been examining.  However looks can be deceiving, cautions Rebecca Smyrl, Conservator at the Conservation Center for Art and Historic Artifacts.

Rebecca points out that glossy paper can present a whole series of challenges to a paper conservator.  “Usually a tear in newsprint can be mended more easily than one on glossy paper.”  And glossy paper can pose major problems when it gets wet.  “Don’t store these anywhere near pipes that might leak or cellars that might flood,” she warns.  “It’s very difficult to salvage water-damaged glossy paper.”

I regret to say that Rebecca does not approve of my baggie storage.  “Paper needs to breathe,” she explains.  “As the paper decays, it offgases.  This is why you want to store the paper in an environment that will allow an exchange where the offgases can dissipate back into the air.  You don’t want the gasses trapped inside the baggie with the object.”

Rebecca recommends storing each Playbill in a non-acidic folder or envelope, purchased from a reputable vendor such as University Products or Gaylord.  She suggests storing them upright in an attractive shelf file, fairly tight so they don’t flop and safely away from any damaging light exposure.

© 2011 Lee Price

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