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Saving Grace: Preserving Church Documents

Bill Sumners

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 None of these methods are appropriate ways to preserve historical documents.† This article will provide a brief description of how to preserve and protect church documents by encapsulation.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 from paper.

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.

Materials Needed

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Cotton gloves
  4. A soft lint free cloth
  5. Weights. Use something small but heavy that is wrapped in a lint-free cloth.
  6. Scissors
  7. Squeegee

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.

Procedure
  1. Be sure your document is flattened well and ready for encapsulation.
  2. 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.
  3. Put on cotton gloves and measure the document to be encapsulated.
  4. Cut two sheets of polyester film with an l† to 1 ņ inch border on each side.
  5. 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.
  6. Place and center the document on the polyester film.
  7. Place and center the weight on the document.
  8. 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.
  9. Clean the second sheet of polyester film.
  10. 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.
  11. Center and replace the weight on top of the second sheet of film.
  12. 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.
  13. 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.
  14. Trim the polyester film.† Cut along the outside edge of the tape.
  15. Trim the corners with scissors, so that they have a nice rounded edge.
  16. 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)
www.universityproducts.com

The Hollinger Corporation
P.O. Box 8360
Fredericksburg, VA 22404-8360
1-800-634-0491
www.hollingercorp.com

Gaylord Bros.
P.O. Box 4901
Syracuse, NY 13221-4901
1-800-634-6307
www.gaylord.com




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