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Flattening Folded or Rolled Documents

Examining artwork on paper
Examining artwork on paper

Folding and rolling a document repeatedly to place in an envelope or tube weakens the fibers of the paper. Attempting to flatten the paper by bending in the reverse direction or by applying heat, will cause the weakened fibers to break or tear resulting in permanent damage. Fortunately, there are methods for flattening these documents without damaging the paper and the writing on the surface.

There are many ways to flatten documents, but one of the safest ways is by using a humidification chamber. Before the artifact undergoes any humidification, the object should be cleaned to make sure no dirt spreads to other parts of the document and an Ink Solubility Test should be performed to ensure that no writing will damaged.

Flattening
Supplies:

  1. Clear container with lid larger than the document you are flattening

  2. Room temperature water (amount determined by the size of your container)

  3. Weights to create pylons

  4. Plastic grating

  5. Hollytex (spun polyester)

Steps:

  1. Put a couple inches of room temperature water into the clear container, leaving room for the grating to be above the water

  2. Put weights in water to create pylons for the grating to rest on

  3. Place grating on top of weights and make sure it is at least a couple inches above the water

  4. Place a sheet of Hollytex over the grating

  5. Place document on Hollytex

  6. Put lid tightly on clear container

  7. Let sit for about four hours checking it regularly, can leave in longer if needed.

When the document has almost completely flattened, it will be supple enough to remove from the humidification chamber and set to dry. During the drying process the document will continue to flatten.

Drying
Supplies:

  1. Acid-free blotter (four sheets)

  2. Hollytex (two sheets)

  3. Acrylic or plexi sheet

  4. Weights

Steps:

  1. Lay two piece of blotter on surface table

  2. Remove document from chamber using the Hollytex, do not lift the document itself as its fibers will be softened and more likely to tear

  3. Place Hollytex and document on the two pieces of blotter

  4. Place the second sheet of Hollytex on top of the document, being careful not to create any creases

  5. Place two remaining pieces of blotter on top of Hollytex

  6. Place acrylic or plexi sheet on top of blotter to help distribute weight

  7. Place weights on top of acrylic sheet

  8. Let sit over night

If the document is really wet for some reason, you can change out the blotter and Hollytex and allow it to sit longer. When it is dry your document should be mostly, if not all the way flat and will be suppler than before. Now the document should be safe to frame, put in an album, or folder.


National Postal Museum’s Preservation Staff performing the above treatment.