Stamps Are Art

Protection, Preservation, and Care


Protect and care for your rare art, stamps and collectibles by limiting their exposure to visible and UV light.

What’s a Safe Amount of Light For Your Paper Collectibles? – Part 2

In a previous post I introduced you to Blue Wool cards and discussed how you can use them to quantify light exposure without having to invest lots of money in expensive light meters.  In this post I will show you how you can use Blue Wool cards to protect your paper based collections and collectibles from to being exposed to too much light.  As before, the information in this blog post applies to baseball cards, comics, posters, paper art prints, as well as philatelic stamp art. As a reminder, Blue Wool cards include rows/stripes of pigmented fabric that are calibrated to indicate cumulative exposure to different amounts of light.  Over time, starting with the top stripe, and working down, each stripe begins to fade based on increasing amounts of light exposure.   An indication that a stripe has begun to fade can be used as an indication of a particular amount of light that the stripe has been exposed to.   In this way, a Blue Wool card placed next to your paper based collectible can be used as an indication of how much light your collectible has been exposed to. This knowledge alone is valuable, but when combined with one other piece of information, Blue Wool cards can be very cheap and powerful tools in the hands of those interested in paper conservation and preservation.    As I have mentioned, each stripe has particular pigments/dyes that are known to fade in a similar manner to that of known historic items. For example, the 5th stripe from the top is know to mimic the light fastness of of the colors used in many modern 20th century stamps.  Thus, the amount of time it  would take the 5th stripe fade, is the same amount of time it would take for a 20th century stamp to fade when exposed to the same amount of light. The amount of time it takes to cause a stripe to show evidence of fading can be analogized to that of filling of a "light bucket," with each exposure to light acting to fill the bucket with an added quantity of lux (a measure of the amount of visible light per unit area at the surface of an object where the closer a light source is to an object, the higher the lux will be).  It is known that the light bucket of the 5th stripe from the top will overflow after about 32 Megalux hours of cumulative VISIBLE light exposure.  Lower intensities of light will of course take longer to fill the light bucket.  Confused, sets use the chart below to help explain the light bucket concept further. What the chart shows is how much LUX different amounts of typical light emit. VISIBLE Light Condition Light at Surface of an Object (Approximate) Direct Bright Sunlight 100,000 lux Shade in Direct Bright Sunlight 10000 lux Direct Bright Sunlight in a room 5000 lux Halogen Lamp 700 lux Typical Fluorescent Room/Office Lighting 300-500 lux Typical 100 watt bulb at a distance of 3 ft 100 lux Museum Lighting 50 lux for sensitive materials (i.e. stamps) Wax Candle at 1 ft 10 lux Full Moon 1 lux  Effects of Indirect Sunlight Thus, exposure of the 5th stripe of the Blue Wool cart to the 10,000 lux of indirect full sunlight, 8 hours a day, over 1 year (365 days) would cause the 32 Megalux bucket represented by this stripe to be filled with 10,000-lux x 8 x 365 of lux, or equivalently about 29 Megalux, an amount of illumination that would be just short of causing visible fading of a modern stamp. Effects of Office or Room Light The analogy above can be extended to understand the effects of any lighting condition. Lets consider the cumulative exposures to light that would occur in a typical room/office illuminated by bright fluorescent lamps (500 lux), in which case, with 8 hours of illumination each day for one year, a modern stamp would be exposed to (500 x 8 x 365) or 1.5 Megalux over one year. At this rate, the 30 Megalux bucket of the modern stamp would begin to overflow/fade after about 20 years of cumulative illumination (30 Megalux = 1.5 Megalux x 20 years) under normal office or room light.  Using a similar calculations, when exposed under 50 lux of illumination (proper museum lighting), even moderately lightfast materials like modern stamps would evidence fading in about 200 years. If 200 years seems to you to be very far in the future, consider the Declaration of Independence, which is displayed in the National Archives under light conditions that are much less that 50 lux, and but for this low level of light would long ago have faded from existence. Hopefully you will by now understand how it is that you can use Blue Wool cards to protect your paper based collections and collectibles from to much light exposure.  By placing a Blue Wool card next to your collectible, you can monitor how much light it has been exposed to.  Assuming you know what the light fastedness of your particular treasured item is, you can anticipate whether or not it has reached a point when if will begin fading and protect it, before it does so, by removing it from the light. BUT, before you quickly conclude that 50 lux, 200 lux, or some other amount of VISIBLE light illumination is an acceptable amount of light you can expose your collections to because the calculations above show that it would take hundreds of years before they would show signs of fading, I advise you to wait for my next post on "What Is a Safe Amount of Light Exposure - Part 3".   For those of you that can't wait - the answer is very simple, there is NO safe amount of light exposure for paper based collections.  

Learn to Measure the Amount of Light Your Collection Has Been Exposed To – Part 1

In one of my previous posts about light and its harmful effects, I asserted that exposure of your baseball cards, comics, stamps and other paper based collectibles to seemingly small amounts of ordinary room light can cause fading of your collection.  In this post I will show how it easy to quantify such fading without having to use expensive electronic instrumentation. Our discussion begins with the "Blue Wool" cards below, which many museum curators use to estimate the effects that museum lighting has on various pigments, dyes, paints, papers, and other non lightfast materials. The Blue Wool cards comprise a set of horizontally dyed stripes. What is of particular interest about the blue wool cards is that the light fastness of the pigments of the dyes in the stripes can be used to mimic that of many items of history, and value, for example, stamps and art. By placing the cards/stripes at desired locations, the cumulative fading effect of any light in the vicinity of the cards can be visually quantified. It takes about 3 times the amount of cumulative illumination to fade each stripe as the stripe that is directly above it.  For example, depending on geographic location, season, humidity, the 3rd stripe from the top will begin to fade after exposure to about 3.6 Megalux hours of illumination, the 4th stripe from the top will begin to fade after exposure to about 8-10 Megalux hours, and the 5th stripe after about 30 Megalux hours. The middle blue wool card above shows a lengthwise left section protected from all light by aluminum foil (Al), a middle section that is not protected at all, and a lengthwise right section that is protected with an ultraviolet (UV) filter. The right blue wool card shows the aluminum foil and ultra-violet (UV) filter removed after the dyed stripes on the card were exposed for 8 months to the light of a south facing Canadian window. Comparison of the middle section of the middle and right card above against the corresponding right section illustrates one point that your beach going experience should have taught you; that exposure to ultraviolet UV light should minimized, which in the case of paper based collectibles can be accomplished via use of UV filters.  A more important philatelic observation is this: even when when protected by ultra-violet UV filters, your stamps and paper based collectibles can be damaged by the visible light component of light.  This is the reason the right sections of the middle and right blue wool cards above show fading. Why? ... because of something many collectors fail to consider ... that UV filters DO NOT filter VISIBLE wavelengths of light. However, the most important take away is this: although blue wool cards above show that filtering of ultra-violet light does indeed reduce fading and damage, they illustrate that every time VISIBLE wavelengths of light are used to view your philatelic collections (whether or not ultra-violet UV filters are used) fading and/or damage will occur.  In fact, each exposure to VISIBLE light will irreversibly and cumulatively add to any previous stamp fading or damage that has already occurred; the additive effects of exposures to such light is known as "reciprocity."  This is one of the reasons that the British Guiana looks like it does. But, although I have illustrated that blue wool cards can be used to measure and quantify light exposure, I have not yet shown how it is that you as a collector can make use of them to protect your collections.  I'll do so in my next post.

Museums with Lousy Light Control

You would think that all museums would be worried about damage to their collections from light.   Well you thought wrong. What are these pictures doing here - read my post about the damage that direct and indirect sunlight and indoor illumination can cause to your collections, whether they be art, stamp, comic or baseball card based. Compare the images below the image of the William Gross Exhibit at the National Postal Museum.  The National Postal Museum knows there "stuff".  Their rarities and treasures are exposed to light only when a person's body is sensed and kept darkened otherwise,  which over the lifetime of the stamps being exhibited, will greatly reduce any fading or other damage they might suffer otherwise - your Federal government isn't as incompetent as you may have thought, is it?  :lol:  Images from "HOW TO KEEP FOR A WHILE WHAT YOU WANT TO KEEP FOR EVER" by Tim Padfield

How “Ordinary” Room Light Can Harm Your Stamps, Comics, Baseball Cards

In this post we will begin with the following statement: under normal indoor room light conditions, the visible light can cause more damage to your comics, stamps, baseball cards and art than any of the UV light that would normally present. When it comes to the beach as well as to stamps, you may think that when we talk about avoiding exposure to light, we mean avoiding exposure only to ultraviolet UV light, after all that’s what sunscreen is for, right? In fact, exposure of physical bodies, as well as our physical stamps, comic collections and baseball cards, to visible light can also be harmful.  Of course, Stamps Are Art will address only the damaging effects of visible light on paper, and will leave the aging effects of visible light on our bodies to others. So what’s the big deal with exposure to visible light, you may ask?  We’ll begin by asking the question a little bit differently, what happens when we avoid all exposure to visible light? The answer is very simple. Consider how it is that after 2000 years this Dead Sea Scroll was found in a very readable and mostly unfaded condition. Is it because it was left in a dark cave for most of its life? The answer is in part, yes; although the fact that there was a low temperature and stable humidity environment no doubt also helped. Compare the Dead Sea Scroll to our Declaration of Independence, which is in the process of fading from our sight as we speak.  Why is it that that this historical document has ended up in such poor condition.  The answer can be found in the table presented below.  Don’t fret to much if you have difficulty understanding the chart, below the table you will find a summary of what you should take away from it.     Increase in the survivability of paper based Philatelic, Stamp, and Art collections given their susceptibility to UV radiation and VISIBLE light Intensity   VISIBLE light intensity UV component in VISIBLE light 30,000 lux (average daylight) 3,000 lux (near windows, fluorescent lamps) 300 lux (Good visibility) 30 lux (minimum needed for fair visibility) + 750 mW/lm (daylight) x 1 x 10 x 100 x 1000 75 mW/lm (good UV filter) x 10 to x 30 x 100 to x 300 x 1000 to x 3000 x 10,000 to x 30,000 1-10 mW/lm (best UV filter) x 10 to x 100 x 100 to x 1000 x 1000 to x 10,000 x 10,000 to x 100,000 Adapted from S. Michalski, Canadian Conservation Institute, Ottawa; October 1994 In the table above, the top set of horizontal white squares from left to right represent different decreasing amounts of room light, where 300 lux is the amount of light radiation that the light bulbs in a typical office emit. The vertical blue squares in the chart represents that a paper based article displayed in a room with 30 lux would degrade/fade 10x more slowly than when displayed in a room with 300 lux, and 100x more slowly than when placed near a sunlit window (via comparison to the values in the white squares that are directly to the left of the blue squares).  The vertical purple squares represent that which we all expect, that as the amount of UV radiation is allowed to increase, for any given amount of visible light present (for example as represented by the blue squares that are to the right a corresponding purple square), the chance that your paper based collectible will fade will similarly increase You as a philatelist collector of other paper based articles should aspire to maintain your viewing conditions in the blue squares.  Unfortunately, the red squares represent the illumination that many of us actually prefer to use, as the amount of light represented by the red squares makes it easier and more pleasurable to view our collections with.  However, by viewing and displaying your collections using the illumination in the red squares, your treasures will begin to exhibit fading or damage as much as 100 -1000 times more quickly than the when using the illumination in the blue squares, or even more. Stated another way, improper exposure of your rare stamps and art care can cause them to be damaged in as few as 1 year, rather than 100 years! Now, consider a stamp that may have been born into this world in 1847; what if for the last 150+ years it was exposed to visible light in the red 300-3000 lux range near a sunlit window of an exhibition hall or museum, where despite any UV filters that might be used, the stamp would have nevertheless been exposed to indirect sunlight and/or illuminated by interior lighting?  Is it possible that such overexposure to light could occur in a museum? Sadly enough, the answer is, yes. The literature is replete with examples of museums, dealers, auctioneers, as well as ordinary collectors that continue to over expose their collection to light.  Unfortunately, because the visible wavelengths of light are those that give us the ability to view and enjoy our stamp collections, most of us are loathe to change our habits with regard to them, but change our habits is exactly what we all must do if we don't want our collections to end up like this U.S. Scott #1.   The story about the damaging effects of light do not end here (sort our posts for more information about the harmful effects light  by using the tags "light", "visible" and "UV").

Preservation and Care of Stamps, Comics, Baseball Cards and Paper Based Art Collections

Welcome to Stamps Are Art.  Let’s begin your visit with a bright and illuminating statement …. “by lowering the amount of light your stamp, baseball cards, comics and art are exposed to, you can increase your collection’s value by a factor of 100x, or even more” Need/want proof? …  watch the Scott #10 stamp to the right as it fades ”magically” before your eyes.  This is an example of how one of the P’s known as (P)hotons can cause damage to your philatelic, stamp, and art collectibles. Would you expect that the amount fading the Scott #10 stamp exhibits could occur in less than 1 year or, under the wrong conditions, even quicker.  At Stamps Are Art you will learn why and how this, and other types, of damage can occur so rapidly.   Does it make sense that the faded version of the stamp would be worth much less? Now imagine if a rare Jenny Invert stamp or Horus Wagner baseball card was mistreated in the same way – oh the horror – but it’s being allowed to happen every day, not just by amateur collectors but, as well, by experts in their field. Are you interested in protecting your stamp, baseball card, comic book collection from the type of damage the stamp above has experienced? Do you want to maintain the rarity and increase the value of your collection, comic book, baseball card and stamp Art? The pages that follow (or that will be added overtime) will provide you as a stamp, baseball card, and comic book collector with easy (and some not so easy) steps that you can take to preserve the contents of your stamp albums and collections. Let’s consider the  Scott 121b stamps shown to the right and below.  Can you identify which of the stamps sold for $9000 and which sold for $40,000? Might any disparity in their price and value be due to the fading of color that one of the stamps experienced? Could the damage caused by fading have been caused by exposure to light, and if so, how much light could have caused the stamp to fade? By reducing exposure of your philatelic items, and other light susceptible items, to light, you can take your first step toward preserving and increasing their rarity and value … not just via an increased likelihood that your care will help preserve your collectible longer into the future but, as well, via the reduced damage your philatelic or other paper based art will sustain. By reducing exposure of your philatelic items, and other light susceptible items, to light, you can take your first step toward preserving and increasing their rarity and value … not just via an increased likelihood that your care will help preserve them longer into the future but, as well, via the reduced damage your philatelic items will sustain over the same period of time . The posts and pages that follow and that will grow with time intend to provide information and resources to those of you that may be unaware of the 4P’s (P)hotons, (P)aper, (P)lastic, and (P)recipitation, and the damage the 4P’s are capable of inflicting on your stamps, comics, baseball cards and art collections.    

Paper Based Collection Preservation Care Tips 1-2 | Avoid Exposure to Light

Is there a reason why the Declaration of Independence is displayed and held in a dark hall … is it because that exposure to (P)hotons/light is the equivalent to condemning this rare treasure to a slow death. Have you ever visited the National Archives in Washington D.C. to view our heritage via this and other historical documents.   If so, did you notice how faded most of them are, some parts having faded to be barely legible.  Why not avoid imposing the same fate on your art collections? Yes, you can stop your philatelic stamps, prints, comics and baseball card based from fading to oblivion. To gain a quick understanding of how you can prevent your collections from being sentenced to the “death penalty” the Declaration of Independence was saved from, Care Tips 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 are provided in a series of posts that you can find by the tag “tips”. On this page you will find Care Tips 1-3, which provide easy to implement techniques to preserve and protect your philatelic stamp collections, baseball cards, comic books and other paper based art from exposure to (P)hotons/light. Care Tip 1. Use only the amount of VISIBLE light that is necessary to view of your baseball card, comic book, art and philatelic and stamp collections “comfortably”. Exposure to the amount of light of a typical office/room/exhibition hall should be avoided. First easy steps that you can take to lower the number of photons that your rarities are exposed to are: (a) lower the wattage of the light bulbs and lights you use as indoor room illumination (b) use window shades to block outdoor light from shining directly or indirectly on your collections. That was easy, wasn’t it? Care TIP 2. Minimize the amount of ultraviolet light your comic book, baseball card, art and stamp collections are exposed to, by which we mean, not only to the UV light present in normal room light/illumination, but also to the high intensity light of UV lamps that are typically used for philatelic authentication and expertization.  To reduce UV light induced damage you can loer the wattage of your UV lights, and filter the UV light from your regular room light by using UV filters. Remember, to help you focus your search of the information on Stamps Are Art, the topics related to light may sorted by the tags and categories that they are associated with – for example, by the tags “light”, UV, photons.  

Paper Based Collection Preservation Care Tips 7-9

Use the final care tips 7-9 to preserve, protect and maintain your art collections for you grand children to enjoy. Care Tip 7. Store and display your comic, baseball card, art, philatelic, and stamp collections in as pollutant or pollution free environment as possible (i.e. sans smog, cigarette smoke, ozone, incense …) Care Tip 8. For stamps, minimize, and preferably eliminate, exposure of your stamps to the residues of watermark fluids, cleaning fluids, tap water, archival sprays and other chemistry experiments you may be tempted to deliberately or inadvertently perform on them. Use of these common used stamp procedures WILL leave residues that cause degrading reactions that over time WILL build up and WILL damage your philatelic and stamp collections.  Did you know that for every sale of a valuable or rare stamp, the stamp will have been dipped in a water mark fluid by its prospective buyer (which can number in upwards of 10 soakings per auction). Over the life of such a stamp, the stamp will have been exposed to the chemicals in the watermarking fluid hundreds it not thousands of times !!! Care Tip 9. Keep in mind that all paper based collections are fragile art; treat your stamps and philatelic collections as you would the Mona Lisa. Will failure to follow tips 1-9 affect the future value of your baseball card, comic book, stamp or art collection?  Sort our posts using the tags, “light”, “plastic”, “paper”, “humidity” to learn more.  

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