Stamps Are Art

Protection, Preservation, and Care

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

May 22, 2014

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 ydead-sea-scrollears 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.

declaration_of_independenceCompare 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  Why is it that that this historical document has ended up in such poor condition.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


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 abused-Scott-#1sunlit 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 Museums with Lousy Light Control
Preservation and Care of Stamps, Comics, Baseball Cards and Paper Based Art Collections
Museums with Lousy Light Control


Stamps Are Art | All Rights Reserved
Copyright 2014