Family Archivist: Caring for an Old Diploma

By Denise May Levenick Premium
Q. How do I care for and display my grand­mother’s college diploma? It’s now in a wooden frame with a plain cardboard backing.
A. Old frames are often wooden with simple cardboard mats or backings, materials that are high in wood pulp and acids harmful to paper and photos. You’ll want to replace these materials with archival quality, acid-free and lignin-free frames and mats to protect against deterioration caused by wood pulp products. Avoid using regular cardboard or poster board when reframing family history documents because they can cause yellowing and brown spots.
You’ll also want to protect your diploma from artificial and natural light by displaying the framed work in a hallway or on a wall away from windows and direct lighting. Using archival UV glass in the frame adds another layer of protection against fading and light damage. Documents and photos should always be mounted with a 100 percent rag, acid-free, lignin-free window mat next to the glass, allowing the item room to “breathe.”
Your local art framer should be familiar with the use of conservation-quality framing materials, but expect to pay more than for standard materials. If you decide to try do-it-yourself reframing, purchase acid-free mat board and backing board at a local art supply store and have the mat custom-cut. Use a metal or wood frame that has been sealed with polyurethane.
Instead of a cardboard insert in the frame, use another piece of acid-free, lignin-free backing board cut to completely cover the back of the diploma. Old-fashioned frames often added a final brown butcher-paper backing glued to the frame to seal out dust. Be sure to use acid-free paper instead. As an alternative, scan the diploma and order a print for framing, as described in the tip below.
Fake It ‘Til You Make It
Could you tell the difference between an original document and a high-quality print or color photocopy? Probably not, at least without a close inspection. Add a frame, mat and glass to the copy, and visitors can enjoy viewing it while you rest with the knowledge it is protected from light, dust and other environmental factors.
Scan your original document at 600 dpi (dots per inch) in archival TIFF format and back up the file with your genealogy documents. Give a copy of the digital file to relatives for safekeeping. Then place the original in an acid-free, lignin-free folder or envelope and store in an archival box. Make a high-quality reproduction copy to frame as desired and display anywhere in your home or office.
Welcome Mats
When it comes to displaying old documents and photos, museum-quality window mats are your best preservation bet. Archival suppliers such as University Products, Holllinger Metal Edge and Gaylord Archival carry museum mats cut from Artcare Alpharag, a buffered four-ply white mat board that neutralizes acidic gases. The heavy, cotton rag mat showcases the item in the window opening and provides support with a back mat mount. 
From the May/June 2015 Family Tree Magazine