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Paper Storage

March 16, 2021

This information is reprinted from the For Beginners column of Hand Papermaking Newsletter #78 (April, 2007).

So you’ve managed to beat your pulp, master the pulling of a sheet, press out the water, and get the things dried. Now that you’ve got a big glorious stack of sheets sitting there what are you going to do with them? Shuffle them into some semblance of order and stick them on the edge of a shelf somewhere? Stack them amongst old bills and syllabi? Do as I say, not as I do. Following are some tips for keeping your paper safe, protected, and long-lived.

Store your papers flat. As we all inevitably discover at some point in the papermaking and drying processes, paper has an incredible memory. Rolled paper is going to retain those curves. Storing paper on an uneven surface such as the top of a row of books on your shelves will cause unusual and generally undesirable cockling. Flat files are amazingly simple solutions to these problems if you can afford them, as are shallow boxes or shelves. Ideally, paper should be stacked only on other paper of the same size, but be especially cautious about stacking larger papers on top of smaller ones, as gravity will work against you here and cause bowing.

Alternately, papers can be stored vertically in boxes if they are stored with care. You neither want to overstuff the boxes nor under-fill them, allowing your paper to slump. Use spacers of a material such as corrugated board (preferably acid-free) or matboard to fill extra space. If you are tight on space and find you must store your papers rolled for a while, roll them around a tube that is at least the width of your rolled paper to prevent the edges from crushing. Use a tube of the widest circumference possible.

Keep your papers clean and acid-free. Storing papers inside drawers, boxes, and folders keeps them free of dust. In addition to making you sneeze and making your papers dirty, dust can cause paper to become brittle, and might contain moisture and environmental pollutants that can discolor and stain the paper. Your paper should be in contact only with acid-free surfaces. Look specifically for the label “acid-free” on materials such as boxes, folders, or interleaving, which you buy for housing your papers. The label “archival” does not necessarily guarantee that the material is stable. Webster’s dictionary does not specifically define “archival” as “pH neutral,” leaving manufacturers some leeway in how they define the term.

Temperature and humidity extremes should be avoided. High temperatures make your papers brittle; drops in temperature increase the relative humidity, which can promote mold growth and foxing (the introduction of mysterious brown spots), and can also make your paper curl. If you are super-fastidious and go out and purchase a hygrothermograph, you might like to know that the ideal storage conditions are between 60 and 65 degrees Fahrenheit at 60% relative humidity. As for the rest of us: don’t store your paper in the attic, basement, or garage.

Avoid exposing your papers to light, which can bleach them. If you are storing papers in the open (on shelves, for example) wrap them or enclose them in folders for protection.

Keeping your papers in folders will also minimize the need to be constantly flipping through them to find things at the bottom of the drawer. It is important to protect paper from the oils in your skin. While we all enjoy touching a beautiful sheet of paper, each handling contributes to its eventual demise. You should especially separate papers containing acidic materials, such as plant fibers that have not been cooked with a caustic, to keep these non-archival (ahem) sheets out of contact with your other papers.

Whatever you do, do not organize your papers with paper clips! This may seem obvious, but I have pulled rusty paperclips from archived documents. Paperclips leave an indelible impression and, sometimes, rust-prints. The aforementioned folder is the best way to keep your papers organized. Some people store their papers in plastic bags. A note on using plastic for storage: make sure that your papers can breathe! Closed ziplock bags for smaller pieces could create a mold factory if there is any moisture in the environment. It has been suggested that wooden files are best for storing paper as they stabilize relative humidity and do not rust as metal can.

As artists, we do not always treat our creations as well as we ought, but making an effort to house our work with care ensures that the fruits of our labors will last a bit longer. Part of the beauty of hand papermaking is the ability to make papers that can far outlast contemporary commercial papers--or the lifespan of a CD. While I do not believe we need to try to make paperworks--be they art or artifact--last forever, there is something to be said for taking responsible stewardship of the handmade in a time of the lightning-speed ephemeral. In short: don’t treat your paper like dirt. It will never stand up to as much erosion as dirt does.

by Mary Tasillo