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Postcard Care

When ephemera was originally produced, it was something for people to see today and throw away tomorrow, so it was not meant to last for a long period of time. Photographic materials are affected by many elements of the environment. The atmosphere itself can have a great influence on the longevity of photos, as it does most materials. High temperature and high humidity tend to accelerate chemical actions that can destroy most kinds of photos. Direct deterioration of paper used for litho or linen cards is also hastened by such conditions.

Harmful Conditions Include:

o        High temperatures (preferably store at 64-68 degrees)

o        High humidity (preferably store in 40-60 percent)

o        Wide swings in temperature or humidity fluctuations

o        Dampness and condensation

o        Inherent vice (the natural process of chemical breakdown)

o        Vermin and pests (mice, silverfish and other insects eat the wheat in the glue)

o        Storage in or close proximity to paper with high acid or alkaline content *

o        Careless or inconsiderate handling by people

    * Use neutral pH, acid free and lignin-free paper. Lignin is one of the acidic components of wood.

Housing your collections of post cards, photographs and paper properly is important to their preservation. The ideal, given the temperature and humidity swings in most homes in Western Oregon and Washington throughout the various seasons of the year, would be to use paper housing materials since they are not apt to trap condensation. A drawback to this is the fact that the items cannot be seen and it is possible to damage an item pulling it out or putting it in an envelope.

Plastic enclosures of many kinds are available for housing post cards, photos and paper items. Archival plastics on the market today include:

o        Polyethylene

o        Polypropylene

o        Polyester (more commonly known as Mylar)

All of these have various attributes of clarity and rigidity and are made up in many sizes and configurations. Often, the most convenient ones cost the most. It is good to consider your entire collection storage strategy. Will the sleeves, cards or envelopes go into a box, drawer or binder of some kind? Be sure that the collection storage materials are archival, which means they are inert and will not harm your cards, photos or ephemera.


Products and systems to avoid:

o        Cardboard and paper because they contain acids

o        Vinyl pages and vinyl-covered loose-leaf binders which contain plasticizers that can       harm many materials; pages become brittle or stick to things after a period of time

o        Magnetic album pages (the adhesive tends to discolor and stain its surroundings – it can also become hard and tenacious)

o        Less expensive plastic bags which become brittle after a decade or so

o        Black album paper for mounting photos


Suggested methods of care and handling of cards, photos and ephemera:

o        Always keep your work area clean when working with collectibles

o        Always pick up cards or images by their edges – your hands have oils that will stain    the image or speed its deterioration

o        Do not place them in self-adhesive or magnetic photo albums

o        Store them in acid-free albums, envelopes or acetate sleeves

o        Do not use scotch tape, glue, rubber bands, thumbtacks, sticky notes or paper clips

o        Do not display or keep original post cards in direct sunlight or they will fade

o        Do not write directly on ephemera, especially with ink

o       If you must write identifying information on the reverse, use a soft leaded pencil

o       Store your collections in a safe, dark and dry place

o       Do not store your collections in the attic, garage or cellar where there are extreme or drastically fluctuating temperatures, or in any humid, damp location with potential pests such as silverfish

o       Negatives and photos will last for many more generations if they are kept standing up in plastic containers, in a refrigerator about 40 degrees, with a very low humidity


Suggested method for removing musty smells from  cards, photos and ephemera:

Lay your cards or photos out flat on newspaper or butcher paper on your porch or in your garage. Cover the cards with dryer sheets for several days.

Compiled by Glenn & Judith Mason for The Webfooters Post Card Club 11-05

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