Icky Sticky Tape

This week’s blog has been written by Lisa Behrens, a book and paper conservation student from Stuttgart in Germany, who spent four weeks at CRC’s conservation studio earlier this summer. In this post, Lisa describes a treatment she carried out on a bound volume in the Margaret Morris collection from the Fergusson Gallery in Perth. This collection is being catalogued and conserved at the CRC as a part of a collaborative Wellcome Trust-funded project entitled ‘Body Language’

If you don’t know the first thing about paper conservation, let me help you out: Do not, under any circumstances, use sticky tape. There you go, you now know the first thing.
I understand it’s tempting. When you first put it on, it looks neat. It mends that tear, it is easy to use and readily available. The problems start when it begins to age. Even if stored in optimal conditions, certain chemical reactions will inevitably take place. These will lead to discolouration of the adhesive, making the tape brittle and, worst of all, damaging and discolouring the object itself. Adhesive can also sink into the paper matrix and become so hardened that it’s almost impossible to remove.

During my three years of working and studying in this field I have come across a lot of adhesive tape, mostly used for tear repairs by well-meaning individuals over the last few decades. For example, this volume of sheet music from the Margaret Morris Collection, namely a ballet called The Forsaken Mermaid, had been repaired at least twice before, which is apparent from the use of different types of adhesive tape and kinds of thread for resewing.

The Forsaken Mermaid, before treatment

It was decided that after dry-cleaning, all the tape would have to be removed. Since it played an important role in keeping sheets and gatherings together, it would have had to be replaced with strips of Japanese paper.

Adhesive tape removed from item

After some careful investigation it became clear that even though the transparent carrier of most of the tape used indicated an identical product, there were two different adhesives present: one could be removed applying heat and very small doses of acetone to clear away any residue; the other type was water soluble, which is very unusual for a transparent carrier apparently made from polymer.

It took one and a half days to successfully take off all the old repairs. Paper delamination had already taken place in some spots and hand-written notes in a water-soluble red ink did not make matters easier. The sheets then were repaired or put back together where necessary with Japanese paper and wheat starch paste. Both those materials are known for having excellent ageing qualities and providing a strong hold, while being comparably easy to remove if necessary.

After pressing them overnight, they could be resewn into a text block that would be easy to use and safe to handle. I decided to use a French sewing technique which made use of the original sewing holes from the first binding and doesn’t use any adhesive on the spine, allowing the paper to lie flat upon opening. This guarantees the greatest accessibility of information with the least amount of stress put onto the material.

The Forsaken Mermaid, after treatment

The Forsaken Mermaid, after treatment. Binding allows item to lie flat when opened

This project has given me the opportunity to further develop my skills in dealing with adhesive tape removal and streamlining a workflow that involves larger amounts of sheets, both of which are important for working successfully in paper conservation. During my placement, I’ve had the chance to work on a variety of objects, however this volume has been a particularly rewarding project. I highly recommend applying for a work placement at the CRC!

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