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The Legend of Bohemian Glass:
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The Care and Treatment of Old Prints
by Bob Brooke

Butterfly print.Many collectors of old prints believe when it comes to the care of them the first is to never do anything. The second is that they should be carefully preserved and restored. The latter is obviously sensible when the work only involves removing surface dust and the incidental dirt that a print may have acquired through the years, but beyond that, itís necessary to seek out the advice of a conservator.

A print with an evenly mellowed surface, though duller than it was originally, is still collectible. Any attempts you make to brighten its colors will be useless and will add nothing to its value.

Fasten valuable prints to cardboard by using hinges, similar to those used in mounting stamps. On large prints, three or four hinges, made of any kind of gummed cloth tape, may be necessary while on smaller ones, two or three will do. Itís better to use a glue that wonít stick too tight and tear the print should you need to remove them. Hinges for larger prints should be two or more inches wide while those for smaller ones should be one inch or more wide. Make the outside ones flush with the edges of the print. This prevents corners from tearing. Of course, youíll need to fasten the hinges to the back of prints.

Be sure the cardboard on which you mount the print is two inches or more larger in each dimension than the print, itself. Itís also good idea to cover the print with a piece of cellophane. Glue it to the cardboard all around its edges. This allows the print to be seen and handled without danger of injury and keeps out dust and air.

A 19th-century engraving of Napoleon's Triumphal Arch in Paris.With some ingenuity, youíll find ways to store your prints. There are some print cabinets that have drop fronts in which prints can be stored in an upright position. If you chose to store your prints in such a cabinet, youíll have to mount them as above. You can often find old wooden boxes at flea markets or auctions. However, plastic milk containers, designed to hold file folders, are ideal for small prints.

You can easily remove surface dust and grime from your prints easily by using a kneaded eraser. Keep your strokes light and exercise care so that you donít remove any of the descriptive lettering or coloring. You can whiten a dirty margin by rubbing lightly with powdered pumice, but donít do this to any part of the print except the blank margins.

A print damaged by foxing.Aside from these suggestions, thereís little that you can do to correct damages that have occurred through the years. However, there is much that can be done to prevent further deterioration. Stains and foxing, if not too pronounced, can sometimes be removed or rendered less prominent by careful use of a bleaching compound. Do such "washing" very cautiously, for you can damage colors and even rot the paper. Ordinary laundry bleach will do this cleaning, but you should dilute it well. Never attempt to clean a valuable print. Instead, take it to a professional conservator for proper cleaning and repair.

You can repair slight tears on the margins of prints by backing them with other paper. For this, use photographic mounting tissue and cut the patches as small as possible. Do not use any water-soluble glue, as it wrinkles the paper when it dries.

With a print on which the margins have been trimmed for framing or other reason, the only thing you can do is to have a picture framer matt it carefully. If the margins have been only partially removed and the title is still attached, the print will already have lost some of its value.

If you plan to display your prints on the wall, theyíll require a different mounting than those kept in file cabinets. Most of the damage to prints occurs as a result of improper framing, which allows dust and air to reach the print. If youíre planning to hand valuable prints, make it as nearly dust-proof and air-tight as possible by making an air-tight unit of glass, print and backboard.

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