August 2010 Family Archivist

By Sunny McClellan Morton Premium
Ask the Archivist: Lamination Examination
What’s so bad about lamination? Pretty much everything, according to Craig Tuttle, university archivist at Fayetteville State University in North Carolina and the author of An Ounce of Preservation (Rainbow Books).

Q. What is lamination?
A. Two processes are used to laminate documents: One uses heat to seal the document between two sheets of plastic; the other uses acidic adhesive.

Q. Why is lamination a bad preservation tactic?

A. The whole process is destructive—you’re putting plastic on the face of the document. Heat triggers chemical reactions in the plastic sheets and acidic adhesives bond with paper, accelerating the deterioration of the document. The plastic used to laminate documents often is chemically unstable. When it breaks down, it produces harmful chemical byproducts. Even if chemically stable plastic is used, heat-sealing the document still will cause the plastic to bond with the paper.

Q. Why do people laminate stuff anyway?
A. It’s based on the misconception that lamination protects documents. In the 1950s and 1960s, many libraries laminated historical documents with the mistaken belief it would preserve the items. The practice only accelerated their deterioration. While people’s intentions were good, the result was bad.

Q. How are some laminating products “acid-free?”
A. “Acid-free” is a misnomer and doesn’t mean the product is archival. Archival materials are actually pH-neutral (with a pH of 7) or pH-buffered (7.5 to 8.5).

Q. What are safe alternatives to laminating?
A. Anything you do should be easily undone without damaging the items. Encapsulation is an excellent idea. You can enclose items in chemically stable polyester plastic sheets sealed with pH-neutral double-sided tape.

Q. What if something’s already been laminated?
A. Conservation technology has gotten to the point where it’s possible to undo this, but it’s extremely expensive. If you can’t afford to have the work undone — that’s 95 percent of us — try to neutralize it through environment. Keep the laminated item in moderate temperature (68 degrees Fahrenheit) and relative humidity (45 to 50 percent), and away from light. Interleave laminated items with pH-buffered tissue paper and store them in archival-quality flat boxes.

Q. What about copying the image to save it?

A. That’s an excellent alternative for two reasons: it lets you and others readily access the item, and it minimizes exposure of the original to undesirable environmental conditions. A digital camera is best, but you can use a scanner or, as a last resort, photocopy the items onto archival-quality paper.
Resource Roundup
Use these archival resources for completing the projects described here.
Crystal-clear archival polyester sheets, from $13.20 for 25
Hollinger Metal Edge, (800) 862-2228, <>

3M pH-neutral, double-sided polyester tape, $8.63
University Products, (800) 628-1912, <>

Heavyweight polypropylene sheet protectors (item 20051854), $14.99 for 100
OfficeMax, (800) 283-7674, <>

An Ounce of Preservation by Craig Tuttle, $12.95

Rainbow Books, (863) 648-4420, <>
Archival Action: Encapsulate an Heirloom Document
Time: 20 minutes
Cost: Less than $10
From An Ounce of Preservation by Craig Tuttle, these instructions tell you how to encapsulate an invaluable heirloom document using archival plastic. Just be sure to practice these steps on blank sheets of paper to get the hang of it before you tackle Great-grandma’s birth certificate.

  1. Measure the length and width of the document to be encapsulated. On a cutting mat with a grid, cut two sheets of archival polyester plastic large enough to leave a 1-inch border around the document.
  2. Place one plastic sheet over the document and a paperweight on top. Then center the sheet over the document using the grids on the cutting mat as your guides.
  3. Apply 1/4-inch wide, pH-neutral double-sided tape (see resource roundup, opposite page) to each edge of the sheet, leaving 1/8-inch of space between the document edge and the tape, and between the ends of the tape strips. (Don’t peel off the backing strips on the tape just yet.)
  4. Place the document on top of the taped side of the polyester sheet and then place the second sheet over the document. Slowly peel the tape strips one at a time while holding the polyester sheets in place, and then use your finger to seal them together.
  5. Use the ruler to trim the excess plastic with an X-Acto knife or scissors. Rub a soft cloth over the tape strips to complete the seal. Use a pair of scissors to round off the pointed edges of the polyester sheets.
Family Tree Magazine Plus members can view more encapsulation advice (with step-by-step photos) on our website at <>.
Heirloom ID: Seeing Double
bifocals, circa 1790
Imagine sporting these specs! The steel-framed eyeglasses have double-hinged sidearms and a second, flip-down pair of lenses that supply additional magnifying power. The name of the owner, Bedlord Kington, appears across the top. This pair likely was made around 1790 by an English optician. The English experimented with bifocal lenses in the latter half of the 1700s; inventor Ben Franklin apparently had split-lens bifocals made for himself in 1784. The first patent related to eyeglasses was given to Addison Smith of London in 1783 for double spectacles that rotated down (only a few examples like the pair shown here still exist). In 1797, John Richardson expanded the idea with four-lens spectacles that rotated in from the sides (a more common style) and obtained the world’s second eyeglass patent.

David A. Fleishman » curator, <>
From the August 2010 Family Tree Magazine