Stamps Are Art

Protection, Preservation, and Care

Are “Acid-free” Stamp Album Pages and Storage Boxes and Containers Safe?

May 23, 2014

In a previous post, I provided care tip 4 which dealt with non-acidic paper and its use with your collections.  In this part 1 and part 2 in the next post, I will go into more detail as to why that should be so.

(NOTE: if you are a collector of comics, baseball cards, scrapbooking, movie posters and paper prints and art, although the information below may be presented in the context of stamp collecting, be assured it also applies to you if your collection is placed in direct or indirect contact with paper, for example, display albums, cardboard storage containers, boxes ….

Your Paper Album Pages or Storage Boxes may be Harming Your Stamp Collection !

For many a stamp collector, memory of their high school chemistry has been re-lived when a just opened stamp album or philatelic storage container has revealed a discolored or damaged remnant of what was formerly a pristine philatelic treasure. For those that have responded to such displeasure by investigation and purchase of supposedly protective and “safe” philatelic paper products, the association of the term “best” with “acid free ” and “pH neutral” should be something that should be reconsidered.

“Acid-free” and “pH neutral” paper philatelic products are NOT your the “best” choice !!

So what, if anything, is wrong with paper products that are “acid-free” and “pH neutral?” The good news is that paper philatelic products made with pH and acid free qualities in mind will fade, discolor, and eventually disintegrate less rapidly than their acid based cousins.

On the other hand, the literature of many manufacturers and philatelic distributors of “acid-free” and “pH neutral” paper products implies that such qualities will also in some way be transferred to the inherently acidic stamp and philatelic items they are meant to be used with.

However, all that the the adjectives should be read to mean is that (on their own) “acid free” and “pH neutral” philatelic products will cause no immediate damage to your collection.

In fact, over time, all acid free and pH neutral paper will turn acidic, either from their own internal decomposition (albeit via a slower process than that which occurs in acidic papers), or from external influences (such as transfer of acidity from the stamps mounted to the paper the stamps are mounted on, from interactions and decomposition of plastics mounted to the paper, and/or interactions with the environment).

Still not convinced … these 2 stamp illustrate why acid free pH neutral paper is not your “best” choice.

The discolored stamp to the left was framed and mounted faded duck stamponto acid free pH neutral paper. The undamaged stamp on the right was mounted on archive grade alkaline buffered paper. The two stamps are shown after they were subjected to a pollutant (a component of smog) in an accelerated aging test.

It’s for this reason that museums do not use acid free and pH neutral paper products with their treasured items.

Instead, for display and storage of inherently acidic philatelic items, museums use ISO 9706 standard archival grade “alkaline buffered” paper; the reason being is that when inherently acidic paper items such as stamps are mounted on archival grade alkaline buffered paper, the eventual acidic reactions within the paper of the stamps become neutralized by the alkaline buffered paper (not convinced – look again at the rightmost duck stamp above).

During the period of time that the acidic reactions in an acidic item are neutralized, its life is extended is extended (a benefit that “acid free” and “pH neutral” paper cannot provide), but it should not be forgotten, given enough time , the alkaline reserve within alkaline buffered paper products will become depleted.  Thus, unless alkaline buffered paper products are monitored for their efficacy and replaced when needed, the harmful reactions within any acidic items (i.e. the paper items that philatelists typically collect and enjoy) they are being relied upon to protect will eventually begin anew. If your interested in the technical details of the manufacture and ISO 9706 standard archival grade paper products.

The story with regard to the (P)aper doesn’t end here; my next post will have more information, and of course commentary.

Museums with Lousy Light Control Why You Should Use Alkaline Buffered Paper Storage Products and Stamp Album Pages
Museums with Lousy Light Control
Why You Should Use Alkaline Buffered Paper Storage Products and Stamp Album Pages


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