Documents, letters, maps, architectural drawings, newspapers, and works of art on paper that have been rolled or folded for long periods of time may sometimes be flattened using carefully controlled humidification. The following post will show you how to unroll your rolled paper documents with the most care to preserve the documents in the best way possible.
Extreme care must be used when initially opening papers that have been folded or rolled for long periods. While some papers remain supple over time, others may grow increasingly fragile due to inherent weaknesses, acidic paper, widely fluctuating temperature and relative humidity, or exposure to light and/or to chemicals in the atmosphere. As a result, paper remembers creases, folds, and curls. If records are not flattened carefully, they may crumble and their valuable information can be permanently lost.
Objects that have been stored on wooden shelves, in drawers, or in paper tubes that contain acid will usually discolor and deteriorate with time.
Never attempt to open a rolled or folded piece of paper if you are uncertain of its condition, particularly if the climate is extremely dry (less than 35% relative humidity).
Special care should be taken with old drawings and documents that were rolled using rubber bands or placed into storage tubes, to prevent damage or loss of the paper edge. Often the top and bottom edge of the rolled paper becomes brittle and broken from handling or improper storage.
Paper is hygroscopic, meaning that it readily gives off and receives moisture from its immediate environment. A controlled and short exposure to high relative humidity (65-100%) can often help to soften and relax paper, making it easier to handle so that it may be flattened for safer handling, framing and storage. Keep in mind, that humidification treatment is not appropriate for all paper materials. It is strongly recommended that historically important documents and valuable works on paper be examined by a paper conservator before any treatment is attempted. In most cases, humidification and flattening should be done by an experienced paper conservator.
Never attempt to humidify papers that contain water soluble mediums to include watercolors gouche and some inks, friable mediums made of chalk, charcoal, or pastels, or heavily textured mediums such as oil or acrylic paints. Do not attempt to humidify photographs, parchment, vellum, or objects that are constructed from one piece of paper affixed to another.
Paper conservators use different methods and equipment to humidify paper objects. The choice is determined by the size, shape, composition and number of papers to be flattened. There are two most commonly used methods of humidification: one uses hot water vapor, the other uses a gentler process involving the cool mist of an ultrasonic humidifier. Ultrasonic humidification allows a free and even flow of air over the entire surface of the paper and throughout the sealed environment.
After humidification, the paper is dried and flattened under precisely controlled conditions. In some instances the process must be repeated until the paper is flat.
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