Paper and photographs

A range of our work on conservation treatments of paper items and photographs:

Aberdeen football poster

This poster, advertising a football match played on 14th December 1907, belongs to Aberdeen Football Club Heritage Trust.  Over the years it had become very badly damaged.  As well as the paper support being degraded, torn, stained, discoloured and creased, the poster had been mended with materials on a number of occasions that had damaged it further.  The back had been smeared with a now very discoloured adhesive, there were dark stains from Sellotape, and losses had been covered up with badly matching patches of over-paint. 

Treatment to conserve the poster involved removing the paper backing and as much of the discoloured adhesive as possible. The poster was washed in both water and in organic solvents. Old over paint was removed.  The poster was lined onto a sheet of Japanese paper to give the paper much needed support. The losses were filled with paper patches, and retouching was carried out to fill lost areas of the design.  After treatment the poster was mounted, and framed, ready for display.

Aberdeen Football Club before
Aberdeen football poster after
y 004
Removing the old paper backing
y 039
Detail before treatment showing water stains, discolouration, tears, and losses

Watercolour of Thurso

This watercolour had been very badly damaged.  The paper support was degraded from exposure to light having been displayed for many years: it was weak and strongly discoloured.  The watercolour was adhered on the back around the edge to a wooden strainer, but it was not framed: the stretched paper had been torn and punctured, and had become badly soiled.  The picture, a scene of Thurso by JW Alston (1815-1830) is historically important as it is the only view of Thurso known from this period.

Treatment was carried out to remove the soiling.  The watercolour was then taken off the wooden support. Tests showed that the colours were stable in water, so washing was possible:  the work was washed in alkaline baths to reduce the discolouration in the paper. Some bleaching with a light-bleaching lamp was also carried out.  The watercolour was lined onto Japanese paper to repair and support all the tears, and was stretched onto a new support to keep it flat. Some retouching was carried out with pastel pencils to fill small losses along the tear lines.  A new frame was ordered to protect the work and allow it to be displayed again.

Thurso watercolour before treatment
Thurso watercolour After treatment
Thurso before treatment detail of tear
Detail of some of the tearing
6 removing from stretcher 3
Removing the work from the strainer

Drypoint print by Paul César Helleu

This early 20th century print, a drypoint, by the French artist Helleu, (1859 – 1927), known for his numerous portraits of beautiful society women, had been stuck down onto a very acidic backing card. Exposure to light, and contact with the backing board had severely degraded the paper, turning it from a creamy white to a biscuit brown.  A gap between the planks making up the back of the frame had caused a strong horizontal stain across the centre of the print where acidic atmospheric pollutants had affected the paper. The degraded paper was very weak. 

The print was taken off the backing card using an enzyme bath to break down the adhesive, and the print then given alkaline wash baths to reduce staining and acidity.  The print was then further lightened using a bleaching lamp.  As the paper was still quite weak it was lined with Japanese paper to give it support, before being mounted for framing and display.

Helleu Drypoint Before treatment
Helleu Drypoint after treatment

Foxed print by James McBey

This small etching by the Scottish artist James McBey (1883-1959) was badly foxed and lightly discoloured overall. This was probably the result of the print having being kept in a damp place for many years.  A washing treatment was carried out, followed by overall bleaching with a bleaching lamp. These two treatments successfully returned the paper to its original bright cream colour and removed all the foxing.

McBey print before treatment
McBey after

Wallpaper samples from a National Trust for Scotland property

Having worked on site on the remarkable wallpapers at Moirlanich Longhouse we were delighted to be asked to treat a cut section of layers of wallpaper from the property.  Curators wished to be able to study the many layers that had been pasted one on top of another.

The section was carefully surface cleaned to remove as much surface dirt as possible. Water was applied in a controlled way to separate all the layers.  There were found to be 27 layers of wallpaper in all; this is typical of other areas that we have worked on in the longhouse.  Once separated the layers were kept in strict order: this was essential for dating when the layers had been applied to the wall.  The separated sheets were repaired, and pressed to flatten them, before being clearly labelled, sleeved in clear archival polyester pockets, and housed in a presentation booklet for safe handling and storage.

Moirlanich Longhouse, near Loch Tay
Back side 3
The sample of layers of wallpaper that was brought to the Studio, before treatment
Booklet open 1
Booklet made to house the separated and treated layers of paper
Anna with separated bits 1
The wallpaper layers during treatment

Print by Ben Nicholson with foxing

This print by Ben Nicholson, the British painter and printmaker (1894 – 1982), was brought to the Studio by 'Modern Prints' in a state that is fairly typical of his works: impurities in the paper had caused disfiguring brown spots, 'foxing', to appear all over the work, as well as the paper being lightly discoloured overall - the result of paper degradation due to exposure to light.

The print was treated in alkaline water baths, and then with a light-bleaching lamp, which is chemically the safest way to remove discolouration from paper. It was possible to totally remove the discolouration and the foxing and return the print to its original appearance.

Nicholson before treatment
Nicholson after treatment

Roll of Honour

This Roll of Honour, from Waldorf Astoria Edinburgh – The Caledonian Hotel, lists all staff from 'The Caley' who fought in World War I.  It had, unknown to staff, been hidden away at the back of a cupboard for many years, and on rediscovery, was found to be in a poor state of repair.  The paint was smudged, the paper and canvas support were torn and soiled, and the work was loose on its original support strainer. The client successfully applied for a grant from the War memorials Trust to fund the treatment. 

Treatment included removing the strainer and canvas backing, filling losses and repairing tears, lining onto a new support, removing smudges of media, retouching, and reattachment to the original strainer.  The work was framed and is now on display in the hotel’s iconic lounge Peacock Alley.

1 Before treatment front
The Roll of Honour before treatment
The framed Roll of Honour being 'unveiled' at a reception at the Hotel to celebrate the return of the conserved work
Helen Creasy working on the Roll of Honour 1
Helen Creasy examining the damaged work
3 before treatment detail 2
A detail showing smudges and tears

Conserving Chinese wallpaper at Abbotsford

The Chinese wallpaper at Abbotsford dates to the early 1800s. It was hand-painted in China and was a gift from Sir Walter Scott’s cousin Hugh Scott, who worked for the East India Company.  During the refurbishment of the House Helen and a small team of paper conservator colleagues worked on site to improve the condition and appearance of the paper.  

Over the years the paper had become dirty with soot, stained by water ingress, and had a great deal of poorly matching over-paint - attempts to cover previous stains and damages.  There were some splits and lifting areas where adhesives had failed.

1 June 13 061
1 June 13 148
2 June 13 039
Old glue stains
2 June 13 187
Split and lifted paper
3 June 13 184
Area of poorly matched old over-paint
3 June 13 189
The same area after treatment to cover the old over-paint
4 June 13 089
'Library wall' before treatment
5 June 13 101
'Library wall' after treatment
6 Water stain before
Water stain before treatment
7 water stain after
Water stain after treatment