Tips on Archival Framing by Rick Badwey

Prevent damage to valuable documents through improper framing. One of the most common examples is the use of non-museum matboard within the frame. A collector from New York sent me a rare stock certificate to reframe. After taking the frame apart and removing the matboard, I noticed a medium to dark brown line running around the margin of the certificate. This was due to the use of paper (non-museum rag) matboard. It is very important that only acid-free, 100 percent rag mats be used in framing. In the majority of cases, a bright white core in the matboard may indicate a rag mat.

All of the matboards, mounting materials, and foam core we use at Showcase Portfolios is completely acid- free. Even the outside dust cover we use is purchased from the same supplier used by the Library of Congress.

A second common error is improper hinging. I have seen documents mounted with masking tape, adhesive tape, glue, and any other highly acidic adhesive one can imagine. The customer must be fully informed as to the methods and materials used in the framing process. At Showcase Portfolios, we affix a large label on the back of each frame stating our methods and materials.

Remember, you invested money and time acquiring your document. You certainly don't want to see it ruined in preparation for display. Make sure that the mounting methods are 100 percent reversible, even by an amateur. You never know when you might want to sell your item.

Perhaps the biggest fear people have in displaying their documents is the concern for fading of the signature(s) and other writing on the document. A customer had a document he purchased from a well known gallery in the South. The signature on the document was extremely light. When he purchased the item, one year ago, the autograph was a rich brown. After taking it apart, I found that the framer did not use U.V. protective glazing. The use of U.V. filtered glazing is very important. Although it won't eliminate all outside light and heat, it will filter out 98 to 99 percent of the harmful ultraviolet light.

As time goes by, I see the demand for framing documents and other collectibles increasing. I also see the need for better informed collectors concerning what constitutes proper framing. Damage done to a manuscript is, in most cases, permanent. Even if a top flight conservator can "repair" an item, it will be expensive and most likely detectable.

If you consult a framer about framing your objects, let him fully explain his methods to you. If he is reluctant, not specific, or "secretive," beware!

The phrase "What you don't know won't hurt you," certainly does not apply to framing.

Rick Badwey

Showcase Portfolios

Alexandria, VA 22314