Collectible Stocks and Bonds from North American Railroads     by Terry Cox

A guidebook and catalog of prices
(I neither buy nor sell stocks and bonds)

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Restoration and repair

(This page is a deeper discussion of issues I raised in an article I wrote for the June, 2008 issue of Scripophily, the official publication of the International Bond and Share Society.)

All paper collectors own certificates, paper money, or paper documents that have problems. When you collect paper, you simply cannot get away from problems. Typical paper problems include edge tears, body tears, discoloration, brittleness, acid deterioration, disintegration, foxing, mold spots, rodent bites, curling, fading, soiling, grease spots, cellophane tape, punch and knife cancellations, staple holes, pin holes, stub stains, and missing pieces.

Sooner or later, practically every collector wonders how to go about repair and restoration. They ask,

Should I have my documents professionally repaired?

I can't really answer that question because it is too broad. Instead, I pose questions for collectors to consider.

My first question is one that almost always comes at the end of the decision process. I believe it needs to come first.

Have YOU ever bought, or are YOU willing to buy, repaired or restored documents for YOUR own collection?

If you answer "no", then don't waste any more time. If YOU are unwilling to buy such documents, then why in the world would you ever expect anyone else to do so?

On the other hand, if you don't have a problem buying repaired certificates and documents, then we can get down to dollars and cents.

If you decide to have your document repaired, then how much would you like your document to be worth when you finish?

For the sake of illustration, let's assume you bought a distressed certificate for $100. In great condition, you estimate the item would be worth $600. In restored condition, you think it should be worth $350. Let's say that restoration and repair will cost $200. If your time is worth nothing, then this restoration could conceivably net you a profit.

However, if your initial purchase price were higher than $150, or if your repair were more expensive than our example, you would be starting at a loss. Price growth might get you out of the hole, but maybe not while you're alive.

You can temporarily ignore the subject of value - and many people do - but do not expect your "improvement" to be profitable. The hard truth is that repaired documents are never worth as much as original documents.

Let's say your motivation is not monetary, but aesthetic. Let's decide then,

Do you want to repair your document to keep it from deteriorating further?

If acid deterioration is an issue, then having someone treat your document with an alkaline buffering agent might be a very good idea. It is affordable and non-destructive.

If your document is not particularly brittle, but is coming apart at the folds, then your simplest treatment might be to simply stop handling your item. Invest in decent Mylar holders and acid-free albums and admire your documents without touching them.

Do you know your exact reason for wanting to restore your document? If not, then wait until your motivations become clear.

Of course, every paper collector wants pristine documents. It is just not always possible. If better appearance is all you're after, then why not simply replace your current document with a better one?

If that is not possible, then let's calculate the magnitude of your need for appearances.

Do you show off your document so frequently that people are going to be significantly more impressed if your document is cleaner?

This would definitely be the case if you display your document in shows and competitions. In which case, decide how much cleaner would you like your document to be? You probably don't want your document to appear as if it were printed yesterday.

If soiling is the problem, then something simple like wallpaper cleaner might be all you really need. With hardly any abrasion, you might be able to remove surface soiling with a minimum of effort and risk. Some professionals use dry cleaning fluids to remove soil and finger grease, but they need to be very careful. Some inks can disappear during the process.

Whatever method you or your service person decides to use, make absolutely certain that you do no harm. Far too many paper documents have been destroyed in the process of so-called "restoration."

Do you want to remove old yellow cellophane tape?

As long as your repair person can remove cellophane tape easily AND can remove underlying adhesive stains and tears, go for it! Few things improve the appearances of documents more than removing old transparent tape.

However, be very, very careful. Once the tape is removed, you will still need to repair the underlying tear. Some people repair the backs of documents with archival quality, removable rice paper tape. Some restoration specialists go so far as to repair tears by re-laying paper fibers. Be warned; that process is not cheap!

What if you want to remove the greasy film left by plasticizers used in vinyl holders and pages?

I am very much in favor of improvements like this, providing a pro does the work. Chemical removal of plasticizers is fairly simple and the process is almost always price effective. However, make absolutely certain that your repair specialist has done this kind of work before. Make sure they show you before and after photos of their previous work.

What if you want to improve your document so it will look better in a frame?

Before you get carried away, try to understand what will happen once your document is hung on a wall.

IF your document will encounter ANY sunlight, then the paper WILL turn yellowish or brownish and colors WILL fade. Yes, I know there are such things as UV-resistant films and glass. Yes, I know how framers argue that THEIR framing methods are fully archival. Yes, I know that many people actually believe those claims. And no, the deterioration will not be immediate.

Be aware that many times, the part of the document under the mat will darken first, so discoloration may not be apparent for decades.

Speaking strictly for myself, I do not recommend framing ANY valuable documents behind glass. Instead, I recommend sacrificing cheaper substitutes. Why risk displaying a $500 item when a $50 item will impress all but the most discerning of viewers? In fact, printing technology is getting so good that you might be able to have someone create a copy that you can frame. If it fades, so what? Simply print another while your genuine document sleeps quietly out of harm's way.

Who do I recommend?

You probably have noticed that I do not list repair and restoration services on my website. That is not an oversight. I simply have no method of determining which services across the nation will fix paper documents in responsible fashions, in timely manners, and at reasonable costs.

How to learn more

I recommend spending time reviewing the wealth of preservation information available on the web. The first place I suggest visiting is the website of the Library of Congress , particularly its Conservation Division.

 

 

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