Storing your books and prints

We are often asked how to store books, maps, and other works of art on paper. Our first answer is, of course, “bought from us and in large quantities”, but we also offer the following, slightly more helpful, specific advice for both books and maps.

Books

Books prefer a temperate climate and abhor extremes. Their natural habitat is, pretty much, what you would expect to find in a college library. Here are some basic rules of engagement:

Climate Control

Store books in a location that maintains a relatively steady temperature of around 18 degrees Celsius (65 degrees Fahrenheit), and humidity around 40-50%. Too much humidity can lead to mould and foxing of pages. Too little can leave the leaves and binding dry and brittle. Air conditioning helps in warmer climates, but remember that temperature and humidity are different factors, and just because a room is cool, does not mean that it is at an appropriate level of humidity.

Sunlight

Do everything possible to keep books out of direct sunlight as it will fade the binding. Be particularly careful with books shelved opposite south-facing windows (or north-facing if you are in the southern hemisphere!) as they get greater exposure to UV light than other windows.

Loosely inserted

Always remove all bookmarks and other inserts prior to storing your books. If you wish to keep such ephemera with your books, put them in an acid free envelope and place them outside the book.

Shelf life

Small to mid-sized books should be stored on bookshelves in an upright position. Larger works, such as atlases, may benefit from horizontal storage as heavy book blocks can cause stress to the binding when stored vertically.

Try to avoid books leaning against each other or against the sides of the shelves, as this can cause spines to become cocked. Use bookends to secure books in an upright position or fill the entire shelf so books are snug (but not tight!) against one another.

Place books on nonporous shelving. Uncoated wood shelving can absorb moisture. Be cautious when using painted shelving or wood finishing and cleaning compounds, since they could bleed onto your books. Shelves of metal, glass, or other nonporous finishes are a better choice. Store books away from the wall, so air can circulate and books can breathe.

Dust

While your books are stored, if possible try to dust them regularly using a chemical free duster.

Leather Dressing

Every couple of years, leather bindings require that their owners put some moisture back in order to keep them lustrous and flexible. This is best done using a leather dressing made from lanolin, neatsfoot oil and beeswax (we recommend Marney’s Conservation Leather Dressing).

This should be applied – sparingly – with a soft cloth or a bare hand. Apply very lightly at first and never use on sheep or reversed calf, to avoid damaging the suede-like finish. Always test on an inconspicuous area of the book.

A Song of Ice and Fire

It is actually quite hard to burn a book (there is not much oxygen available between the covers on which a fire can feed, and so book paper only catches fire at 232 degrees Celsius (or, thanks to Ray Bradbury, more famously, 451 degrees Fahrenheit). Water, however, is extremely bad news. In the unlikely situation that one of your books gets damaged by fire or water, it is often advisable to freeze the work prior to it being seen by a professional conservator so that it does not degrade any further.

Maps and other works of art on paper

Collectors may elect to store their works of art on paper framed on the wall, or flat in a drawer (or a combination of the two!).

Flat-packed

If storing flat, we recommend a mylar or melinex sleeve to protect the work, contained within a nonporous drawer or box. We buy our sleeves from Conservation Resources (conservation-resources.co.uk)

We, obviously, encourage all collectors to buy a plan chest. This is primarily so that we can sell you more maps. If you do want to buy a plan chest, we can recommend www.thebigorchard.com.

In the frame

A framed work of art requires the following five elements:

1. A hinge

The work needs to be attached to a mount to support it within the frame. Some framing facilities will hinge works on paper with tapes backed with pressure sensitive adhesives. These tapes can shrink and release over time, causing the art to drop off the mount board.

It is preferable to hinge works using archival paper and reversible wheat starch paste, rather than tape.

A hinge is a thin, flexible piece of archival paper. The paper used for hinging is of a lighter weight than the artwork, so, if dropped or manhandled, the hinge will tear rather than the work of art, protecting it from damage. However, the adhesive should be strong enough that it will not detach from the mount board.

There are two main methods of hinging a work of art:

  • T-Hinge: A T-hinge consists of two rectangular pieces of paper, with a larger rectangle overlapping the smaller one to create a T shape. This method is often utilized for artworks whose edges will be covered by a mat.
  • V-Hinge: A V-hinge consists of one rectangular piece of paper that is folded lengthwise. This method is used most commonly for artworks that appear to float inside a frame. We use V-hinges for most of our works.

2. A mountboard

A piece of acid-free board is required to separate the work of art from the (usually wooden) frame back. Sometimes collectors also like a “window mount” to frame the work of art from the front as well and cover the edges of the paper. This has become less fashionable in recent years and we prefer to omit a front frame to a mount so that the whole of the work can be viewed as an object.

3. A frame

We use both metal and wooden frames.

Metal

Our metal frames may be aluminium, stainless steel, or brass. The metal is cut, welded, and finished with etched, brushed, or polished effects. Aluminium can also be powder coated any colour for a hard waring, eye catching finish. Aluminium frames are stronger, more robust and lighter than their wooden counter parts, making them the perfect solution for large scale works.

Wood

We use a wide variety of woods from beech, cherry, lime, maple, oak, pear and walnut, often painted to complement a work or its environment.

4. Glazing

Picture framing glass, sometimes called “conservation glass”, or “museum quality glass” usually refers to flat glass or, more often these days, acrylic, or “plexi”, used for framing artwork and for presenting objects in a display box.

Glass glazing

Due to widespread availability and low cost, Soda Lime Glass is most commonly used for picture framing glass. Glass thicknesses typically range from thin 2-2.5mm. Clear glass has light transmission of approximately 90%, absorption of about 2%, and reflection of, give or take, 8%. Whereas absorption can be reduced by using low-iron glass, reflection can only be reduced by an anti-reflective surface treatment.

Acrylic glazing

Some types of acrylic glass can have the high light transmission and optical quality of glass. Acrylic is also light weight compared to glass, and is shatter-resistant, making acrylic an attractive choice for framing large, oversized works of art. In general, acrylic sheet scratches easily and retains a static charge. Some manufacturers add dyes to acrylic glass to filter the UV light transmittance, and its surface can also be treated with both anti-static and anti-reflective coatings.

UV protection

Standard soda lime glass actually provides some UV protection, absorbing about 97% of UVB rays; however, UVA rays, which also cause damage, can still penetrate the glass.

Generally we recommend conservation or museum-quality glazing that has a special coating that eliminates 99% of the UV light that can cause fading. This premium glazing is also optically very clear and will keep framed pieces looking brighter for many years.

If you are unsure as to whether a piece of glass has a UV filter on it or not, you may check by holding the work up towards the light. If you can see an “orange peel” ripple effect then it is likely that the glass has a UV coating.

5. Fitting Up

In order to ensure that a work of art is preserved appropriately, it is imperative that it is installed in its frame by a professional in a clean room. We recommend and use both Darbyshire and P.R. Elletson for our specialist framing.