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Music Preservation: seminar handout

Reducing the Entropy of Your Sheet Music Collection

David Reffkin

This is the handout supplied at my seminars on sheet music and photo preservation. It is a summary of the information in selected slides. For additonal help, please send a question through the Contact page.

 UV damage

-Paint walls with zinc white or titanium oxide, which has no UV.

-Use 60-watt or lower incandescents at least four feet from materials.

-Parabolic aluminized reflector incandescent bulbs block infrared while emitting visible light using a dichroic (or dividing) filter.

-Add blinds, curtains and UV filters on windows and fluorescents.

-Limit the light exposure. The ideal display maximum is five foot-candles (five candles, one foot from paper).

Water damage

-Keep materials in an air-conditioned room under 65º to inhibit fungi.

-Use humidifiers and fans to speed drying.

-Separate items onto a flat surface between layers of highly absorbent fabric.

-Weigh down papers with a flat object to minimize curling and wrinkling.

-Never use an iron on papers and photos.

Mechanical Damage

High humidity:

-Metal paper clips and staples rust, leaving reddish-brown stains.

-Adhesives, including rubber cement, soften and leave brown stains.

-Rubber bands soften and stick to paper.

-Tape softens, adhesive separates, leaving sticky colored stains; removing it can damage the paper surface.

-String becomes acidic, leaving colored lines.

Low humidity:

-Adhesives dry out and detach, leaving stains.

-Rubber bands dry out, leaving a sticky, hard, colored residue.

-Tape dries out and detaches, leaving a residue.


-Use aluminum or stainless steel frames. Wood contains acidic compounds.

-Plexiglas or a similar material cuts at least 90% of UV light.

-pH-balanced rag-board mats stop acid migration. Mats prevent contact with glass, which accumulates fungi and water through condensation. This also prevents items from adhering to the glass surface.

-Use rag fiber hinges with pH-balanced adhesive to secure items to mats. Don’t use glue or pressure tape.

-Seal the back of the frame with pH-balanced paper to stop dust and insect infestation.

-Hang items away from direct sunlight and fluorescent lamps. 


-Humidity test cards

-Away from cold or hot walls, fireplace, radiator, fan

-Pack in plastic with silica gel.

-pH-balanced folders, boxes with calcium-carbonate buffer

-Interleave yellowed, brittle docs with pH-balanced, buffered tissue paper.

-Polyethylene bags, also called Mylar

-Change environments gradually.

-Never use PVC (polyvinyl chloride) for photos. It secretes hydrochloric acid and ruins emulsions.

Basic repairs

-Staples: do not use staple removers. Use something similar to a micro-spatula.

-Paper clips: do not slip them off in the usual way. Hold the rounded end and bend one side of the other end so it is vertical to the paper, then remove.

-Rubber band residue: use a micro-spatula to gently scrape it off. Don’t try this on photos.

-Rubber bands that are soft or sticky: lift one end by hand and use the micro-spatula to lift off the rest of it.

-String: cut it away without sliding it on the paper.

-Tape adhesives and glue – go to a conservator.

-Tears: use archival quality tape.

-Folds: flatten, and use a bone knife to smooth creases.

Advanced repairs

-To flatten a fold (non-printed areas such as margins), lightly spray water on two pieces of white paper. Put the folded area between the two, enclose in plastic, place between two sheets of pH-balanced paper and place under a flat heavy object for a day.

-Surface dirt – use a dry cleaning pad, then clean away residue with a soft-haired brush. This is not for photos or especially fragile documents. Do not use pencil, ink or art erasers.

-Two products to try: Pink Pearl eraser for dirt; Filmoplast for minimal back-of-document taping

-De-acidification: a non-toxic alkaline solution spray or liquid neutralizes acids, but does not repair damage. Test on paper or ink with a swab or brush. Follow the instructions using a medium sized soft-haired brush to apply even strokes, and another smaller brush to clean away the powder residue. Important uncontaminated documents can be treated to avoid future problems from acidity. Do not use on photos.

-Encapsulation: there are several methods for enclosing documents in plastic sheets with proper tape. This is not for artwork such as charcoal, graphite or pastel – the static charge of plastic will loosen the pigments.

-Curled photos: lightly moisten the back with a pH-balanced sponge. Place between sheets of pH-balanced blotter paper, with a heavy object on top for a few days. Completely rolled-up documents should be left in a humid environment for a few days, then unrolled and pressed flat between protective pages for a day.

-Cleaning photos: use non-water-based photograph cleaner for finger oils, ball-point inks, adhesives and soot. For daguerreotypes, tintypes, ambrotypes, or glass-plate negatives, go to a conservator.

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