Saving Grace: Preserving Church Documents
Churches create and have created all sorts of documents that illustrate
something about their past.† These items by their age, historical or legal
value, or perhaps their ephemeral value, have been saved and maintained.†
Often these pieces of paper have been the victims of well-meaning folks
who tried their own methods of preservation by gluing them to a supporting
board, taping all or portions of the item, or having them laminated. None
of these methods are appropriate ways to preserve historical documents.†
This article will provide a brief description of how to preserve and protect
church documents by encapsulation.
What types of documents would be suitable for encapsulation? Appropriate
items might include certificates, posters, photographs, letters, legal
documents, charters, statements of faith, and other fragile documents.
Some materials should not be encapsulated.† These items include charcoal
drawings, pastel drawings, some watercolors, and some pencil based writings.†
Encapsulation may remove some of the charcoal and pencil writings or drawings
Encapsulation is the preservation process that provides needed support
to a document that is in fragile condition.† This procedure seals a fragile
item between two sheets of polyester film for protective viewing and handling.†
This process is primarily used for single-sheet documents.
While this procedure does stabilize the document and allows for handling
of the item, there are things it does not do.† This preservation work
alone will not slow the deterioration of the document from acid in the
paper and ink.† Documents can be deacidified, but more than likely most
church archives will not be able to treat items in this manner.† One of
the real advantages of encapsulation is that the document can be easily
removed and deacidified or repaired.
Encapsulation is a simple procedure that can be accomplished by almost
anyone. Always be cautious and careful with fragile documents.† Initially
the procedure of sealing items will seem slow, but with more experience,
the process will go quicker.† Even after some experience, it still remains
a time-consuming activity.
- Polyester film.† Only one type of polyester film is considered stable
enough to be viewed as archival.† There are two companies that manufacture
this type of film.† One product is called Mylar®Type
D that is commonly referred to as Mylar.† The other product is Melinex®516.†
Both of these are available from archival supply vendors. The film comes
in pre-cut size sheets or rolls. The film is available in three, four,
and five mil thickness.† Larger items usually require a larger thickness
of polyester.† The greater the thickness the more expensive the sheet.
- Double sided tape.† Use only 3M Scotch Brand double-sided tape no.
415®.† This is the only tape considered archival and
safe for encapsulation.† The tape comes in both† 1/4 and 1/2 inch widths.†
My preference is the 1/4 inch tape.
- Cotton gloves
- A soft lint free cloth
- Weights. Use something small but heavy that is wrapped in a lint-free
All of the items listed above with the exception of the polyester film
and the 3M tape can be purchased or found locally. The film and tape will
have to be purchased from an archival supply vendor.† An encapsulation
kit with appropriate tools can be obtained through University Products.†
This can be a simple way to start an encapsulation program, but you may
get some items you really donít need.
- Be sure your document is flattened well and ready for encapsulation.
- Prepare a large flat surface by cleaning with a lint free cloth. Do
not use a chemical cleaner.† A good folding table is usually ideal.
- Put on cotton gloves and measure the document to be encapsulated.
- Cut two sheets of polyester film with an l† to 1 Ĺ† inch border on
- Place a sheet of polyester film on the cleaned surface and clean with
a lint free cloth. This cleans the surface and creates static electricity
which helps to hold the document in place.
- Place and center the document on the polyester film.
- Place and center the weight on the document.
- Apply the 3M tape on each side of the document in a parallel manner
about ľ of an inch away from the document. At the corners leave a small
gap between the tape. When you are finished applying the tape it should
look like a picture frame with the exception of the gaps at the corners.
Do not remove the coated side of the tape at this time.
- Clean the second sheet of polyester film.
- Remove the weight from the document and place and center the second
polyester sheet over the document with the cleaned side down. Be sure
the document is still centered and not touching the tape at any point.
- Center and replace the weight on top of the second sheet of film.
- Carefully lift one corner of the top sheet of the polyester film.†
Slowly peel the brown protective cover from the tape. Continue this
process for each side and smooth the film as you proceed.
- Take the weight off and smooth the film and make the seal along the
tape line. Use a squeegee to help eliminate any air bubbles.
- Trim the polyester film.† Cut along the outside edge of the tape.
- Trim the corners with scissors, so that they have a nice rounded edge.
- Wipe both the top and bottom sheets of the capsule to remove any lingering
fingerprints and dirt.
This is a time consuming and relatively expensive process, so determine
what you can do within your budget limitations. This activity can vastly
improve the life and usability of fragile documents that are precious
to the churchís heritage.
Archival Supply Vendors
University Products, Inc.
517 Main St., P. O. Box 101
Holyoke, MA 10041-0101
1-800-628-1912 (Customer Service)
The Hollinger Corporation
P.O. Box 8360
Fredericksburg, VA 22404-8360
P.O. Box 4901
Syracuse, NY 13221-4901
© 2010, Southern Baptist Historical Library and Archives
Comments and Questions