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Warning: Postcard Storage
Preserving Your Postcard Collection
There are numerous albums and holders available for storing a postcard collection. Almost all will store and attractively display postcards. But the majority will not preserve a collection, and many have the potential to cause serious damage to the cards. The ideal materials for postcard storage would be of archival quality. According to the Northeast Document Conservation Center, the term 'archival quality' implies two characteristics: 1) Reduction of damage caused by the environment and handling; and 2) No introduction of damaging chemicals to the documents being stored.
To meet the first criterion, the openings of albums and holders should be somewhat larger in size than the postcards. Many album pages have slots which are almost identical in size to the postcards. It is very easy to damage a card (e.g. add a crease, bend a corner, etc.) just by inserting or removing it from such pages. The albums pages and particularly the holders should also be stiff enough to prevent damage from accidental mishandling such as dropping the card on an edge or brushing it against a hard surface. The second criterion is more critical, and most albums and holders fall short of expectations. The problems arise from the chemicals used to manufacture two component materials: the plastics and the papers.
Most of the plastics used to manufacture these storage supplies have added compounds to make them softer and pliable (very thick holders, or "rigids", may be deceptive -- they are hard due to their thickness but may still have the added compounds). Without question, these compounds will eventually break down from the plastic and form an acidic oil. The effects on the postcards being stored range from lifting the inks, to discoloring the cards, to deterioration of the postcard paper. And once the acid has invaded the card, the damage will continue even after removal from the holder or album page. There are albums and holders that are free from the compounds (and as such have the desirable stiffness). They are made from one of the following materials: triacetate, polyester (known as Mylar), polyethylene, polypropylene or uPVC (unplasticized polyvinylchloride). Start by looking for suppliers who claim that their supplies are non-PVC (PolyVinylChloride - the most common plasticized plastic used in albums and holders), but check to see which plastic they use. Most archival-quality storage materials are made today from uPVC, the same material used to make plumbing pipes. A claim that a plastic is "acid-free" is not valid as acidity is a characteristic of papers, not plastics. As no plastics have been truly time tested, it is recommended that even archival storage holders be watched for deterioration and replaced at least once, or better twice, each 50 years.
The paper used in manufacture of storage supplies is also of great concern. This includes paper album pages, paper inserts in the album slots, cardboard boxes, etc. Most papers manufactured today have a high acid content from added chemicals, and have a life expectancy of less than 50 years. When postcards are stored adjacent to such paper, the acid can cause discoloration and embrittlement of the cards. Both types of damage are irreversible, although the damage will not worsen if the postcard is removed from contact with the acid source. Albums and boxes that are acid-free are available. Make sure the supplier specifically claims that the papers are acid-free (pH 7.0 or higher).
You should also give consideration to the how and where of storage of your collection. The best use of holders and albums I have found is to place the postcards into a safe holder, and then into a safe album. The cards can then be viewed in the album. And when occasion arises to remove the card from the album, it is still protected within the holder. Excessive heat and improper humidity can hasten the natural deterioration of the postcard paper. Temperature is best maintained at 72F or below (the cooler the better), and humidity at 45 (+/- 5) percent.
We recommend and have available for purchase the archival-quality holders listed below.
Archival Postcard Holders
You may purchase these holders from our online store: CLICK HERE