NOTES FROM PRESERVATION
Mummy's Paper and Tape
I've begun reading Anne Rice's novel, The Mummy, in which Ramses the
Second, a mummified Egyptian king, comes back to life to carry on a would-
be simmering romance with a young, independent English woman. A book
lover is like the English woman; capable, of sound mind, and willing to be
taken up in the story being read. A great book is like Ramses. It should last
centuries and be meaningful throughout time. Moreover, like Ramses, a
great book may be musty, parched and brittle, but is full of the freshness of
the story it tells.
The secret of Ramses' rebirth is the elixir of immortal life. Preservation of
book and paper materials, however, has no such chemical yet. Though we
have chemicals which prolong life, we're still left very much as the ancient
Egyptians were left with the wrappings holding the pieces of the body to-
gether. This is a story of paper repair, and of tears in particular. Throughout
time, book lovers have sought to preserve their books not only through bind-
ing, boxing or encapsulating but by repairing tears which could eventually
result in the loss of a book from the inside out.
Paper repairs have been made with various types of wrappings or tapes
and adhesives. Fish skin tape was used as if replacing old skin for new -
on parchment and vellum, prior to the 1600s. Paper tape was used before the
1900s. Stronger than fish skin, paper provided a more durable repair, but
was harder to read through. Glassine or waxed paper tapes began to replace
paper tapes in the 1900s, and plastic tapes soon followed. Plastic tapes were
stronger and could be read through more easily than preceding tapes. Unfor-
tunately, because they were chemically manufactured, their decay released
more harmful chemicals than other less durable but more permanent tapes.
Starch pastes made from wheat or rice flour were used with tapes since an-
cient times. These were water soluble and easily removed. Animal glues,
which were stronger than starch pastes, appeared in the 1700s. These were
more acidic and embrittled more rapidly than starch pastes, however, and
they were not water soluble or easily removed. Both starch and animal based
adhesives were messy to make and to apply. Pre-applied starch and animal
based adhesives, which appeared in the mid-1800s, simply had to be wetted
Sand applied, eliminating the mess of preparation. Synthetic or self-
adhesives, which appeared in the early 1900s, simply had to be applied.
These adhesives were synthesized, often with unstable and acidic chemicals
which ooze both into the paper resulting in stain and out from under the tape
causing pages to stick together. Scotch tape is an example of self-adhesive
tape. These tapes are generally irreversible, and are removed only with great
trouble and damage.
Guidelines for the use of tape on materials to be preserved for eventual re-
birth or continued use are simple. Materials should be: 1) durable, allowing
the mend to bend with the paper; 2) permanent, without containing chemi-
cals which will harm materials as they age; 3) reversible in case new and bet-
ter treatments become available or old treatments begin to harm the paper;
continued on next page 0
and 4) used in a manner which is not harmful to the paper. Tapes which
are too heavy or don't readily bend can cause paper to break around the
tape. Acid-free paper tapes are the most permanent tapes and perhaps the
more durable. Since they're paper, they are sympathetic to the paper on
which they're being used. Thin Japanese tissue paper is strong and yet thin
enough to read through. Starch pastes or reversible, stable, water-soluble
and non-acidic self-adhesives allow reversibility.
The Preservation Office recommends the use of "document repair tape"
for repair of paper tears. This tape, produced by Archival Aids@, is com-
posed of thin Japanese tissue with a stable, non-acidic and reversible self-
adhesive. It can be used by anyone. (I would use it here if I had the creative
stamina to wrap myself in it and go into a deep, cocoon-like sleep similar to
that Ramses awoke from.) It should be used as Scotch tape was used. Re-
member that complex tears should be repaired by the Conservation Unit of
the Preservation Office. Also be aware that any repair to brittle paper is a
very temporary repair. If the paper has a double fold test measure of 1 or
less, the tape may not hold long, but long enough for the Brittle Books Pro-
gram of the Office to process the book and send it on for preservation photo-
copy, microfilming or withdrawal.