Conservator’s Corner: Caught on Tape

July 28, 2017 5:07 pm Published by

Welcome to Conservator’s Corner, our blog series where HMCC’s own Museum Specialist Jennifer Richmond shares her professional tips for preserving your artifacts, photographs, and documents. Jennifer has a Master’s degree in Conservation from Studio Art Centers International.

If you ask our Museum Specialist Jennifer what is the number one problem she comes across in the archives, she knows the answer right away. “Tape!” she yells.  After all, this is a woman who wrote her Master’s thesis in conservation on adhesive.

“Adhesives in general are, I think, the biggest threat to archival material. Within that group, tape specifically is really problematic.”

Jennifer finds tape in pretty much every corner of the archives. “You name the object, I’ve seen tape on it before.” Some of the most common culprits are book bindings that people have “repaired” with tape, and photographs where people have taped corresponding film or negatives to the back of the image.  Tape is particularly damaging to paper, where it yellows quickly and the acid in the adhesive begins eating away the paper completely.

So what should you do if you have tape on valuable papers, photographs, or items at home? Jennifer describes tape’s effects in three stages, and says that if your object is in stage 1 or 3, it’s worth attempting to remove the tape yourself.

“In stage one, which usually lasts from the moment the tape is applied until up to nearly a year, the tape is fairly easily removed or peeled off.  In the third and final stage, the tape becomes extremely brittle.  The adhesive has moved from the tape to the paper or object, and the tape can come off easily.  That’s the ideal situation.”

The stage in-between, though, is what Jennifer calls the “danger zone.” “After a year, environmental effects like heat or humidity and time cause the adhesive to become excessively tacky.  If it’s in this stage and you successfully remove the tape, the surface left behind is usually covered in ‘goop.’ Anything you use to remove that goop will damage the object.  In the worst case, you can rip the paper or photograph you’re trying to preserve.”

If your object is in the “danger zone,” you can either call a professional to attempt immediate removal or wait until the tape becomes brittle enough to remove easily. Above all, try to avoid putting tape on anything valuable in the future.

Do you have a topic you’d like to see covered in Conservator’s Corner? Call (269) 983-1191 or e-mail and you might see your question in Jennifer’s next blog post!