Preservation and conservation of postal history
By: Joseph G. Reinis

Jun 1 , 2000

Leading a hands-on meeting seminar was Joseph G. Reinis, a student of carriers and a specialist in conservation and preservation.  Notes are those of Calvet M. Hahn and any errors are his.  This meeting was one of the longest, lasting almost two hours.

Mr. Reinis made the point that conservation in philately is about a) reversibility of whatever is done, b) working from the least intrusive to the more stressful method ad c) taking all the time necessary to effect results rather than rushing any process.  He began by discussing cleaning of covers.  In dry process cleaning, he suggested that a sable brush be used (obtainable in art supply stores), brushing always away from the center or the fold toward the edge.  Once surface dirt has been removed by such brushing, the next mildest treatment is to use ‘Skumex’ to remove slightly more embedded dirt, again brushing toward the edge.  More stressful is the kneaded eraser and finally the barrel eraser.  He showed covers and demonstrated each phase of ‘dry’ cleaning on them so that the differences could be seen.  He advised avoiding erasers that had bits of silica particles embedded in them, as these abrade and permanently damage paper.  This group of erasers includes many erasers commonly found.

‘Dry’ cleaning methods should be used prior to ‘wet’ cleaning, which involves removing the ‘sizing’ from the paper, which must be restored as well and then re-neutralizing the paper.  While Caspary used early detergents to ’freshen’ up his stamps and covers and others have recommended Castile soap, today it is best to use Orvus, a soap-like substance for wet cleaning.

Tears were the next subject discussed along with how to repair them.  Several pieces were torn and then repaired as part of the demonstration.  Mr. Reinis noted there are three basic methods of repairing a ‘tear.’  First the tear can be ‘bridged’, using Japan paper and rice paste.  This is the most common, however, some practice is needed to appropriately thin the Japan paper so that strands hold the two parts together without leaving an unsightly thick bulge.  The second method involves thinning the edges on both sides of the tear and overlapping them, sealing with rice or white paste.  Third is the method used when there are missing pieces of paper.  At that point it is necessary to create a mass of ‘mashed’ paper of the appropriate color and composition, similar to ‘liquid paper,’ which is similar to the original slurry used in the early stage of papermaking.  This new slurry can be used to fill small gaps or holes. To do this requires a stock of appropriate classic era paper fragments that can be ‘slurried’.

In ‘wet’ work, distilled water should be used as most tap water is usually fluoridated or chlorinated or contains minerals that will affect the PH of the paper, which should remain neutral.   Reference was made to the 1975 ‘Dealers Guide to Chemical Restoration of Postage Stamps’, a 39-page booklet sold for $15.  Mr. Reinis noted that many suggestions contained in this work were too harsh as well as being non-reversible treatments.  By contrast he provided the attached sheet of stains and solvents to remove them.

As wet paper is particularly fragile and likely to tear, it is advisable to support it in ‘wet’ work on a plastic screen similar to a piece of window screen.  When the wet process is finished it is necessary to restore the ‘size’; that has been removed. This can be done by using a gelatin solution prior to drying (Knox gelatin works), although the original paper may have been sized with kaolin and burnish-finished.  At the same time the finished product in both dry and wet cleaning needs to be brought to a neutral PH.  Application by spray of ‘Weeto’ does this.  This product like the other trademarked items above can be found in restoration supply houses.

An important problem with a number of covers is ‘foxing’, which is a mold or fungus infection that affects paper creating brown spots.  Putting the cover in a freezer can help stop the spread of foxing and force out impurities.  Then an application of 2% Chloramine-T can be applied.  It should be fresh as it is unstable, and it also needs to be washed out after use with distilled water.  It does affect chalky paper stamps so should not be used on them.

Those engaged in conservation accumulate bits of paper to use in making new slurries for filling holes or to use to join together pieces where some damage has occurred.  Before doing wet work it is desirable to check to see if the ink is stable.  A touch of distilled water on a Q-tip applied to the ink will confirm this.  If there is any ink transfer onto the tip, the ink is not that stable, and may not have been on the cover that long—a check to seen if postmarks have been added.  Few covers of the pre-Civil War era will have ink that ‘runs’ under this test.  I know of only four towns in the period whose postmarks might legitimately not pass that test.