Paper conservation is concerned with the preservation of historic and artistic works with a base structure of paper, parchment, or photographic materials. These works can be found in the form of prints, drawings, photographs, maps, letters, certificates, legal documents, seals, stamps, ledgers, books and other bound items. The science of paper conservation involves techniques to both chemically and physically stabilize the base structure in conjunction with the visual media. The visual media can be a singular or complex combination of substances: inks, paints, pastels, charcoals, pencils, crayons, and any number of photographic materials.
Paper based materials are inherently fragile and especially vulnerable to excessive pollutants, humidity, light, heat, and mishandling. These factors damage the primary support in the form of embedded grime, mold growth, distortion, tears, punctures, and losses. The same factors can affect the visual media causing fragility, fading, and losses. Damage to the visual media as well as the underlying base structure can also transpire as a result of well-intentioned previous repairs or poor framing materials. The resulting damage is often seen in the form of surface abrasions, staining, and discolorations.
Accidental damage as a result of a fire or flood can manifest the above-mentioned conditions in the extreme. Through preventative measures and conservation treatment, a paper conservator can mitigate the effects these forces have had on the object, reduce their aesthetic distraction and reduce future degradations.
Treatments can range from simple measures such as climate control, suitable framing or storage housing, to other restorative procedures. Some examples of these include surface cleaning, media consolidation, washing, alkalization, stain reduction, backing removal, and structural repairs including loss replacement. These services can be designed to address individual items or entire collections.