How do I safely mount old documents for display?
Q. Dear Donia,
I have my grandfather's wedding certificate from the late 1800s as well as his college diplomas that I would like to frame for display. I have considered digitizing them, but one of the diplomas has a ribbon pasted to it that would be hard to replicate. I would like to float the documents on a backboard. How best can I mount the documents to avoid damaging them? Thank you for your help! Rick
A. Dear Rick,
Excellent questions, and thank you for asking how to mount these items safely. First off, please be sure to use the best materials possible at all stages of the framing process to offer the best protection for these items. Using Museum Rag Mat board for the backing and matting, Japanese tissue and wheat starch paste for the hinges (more on this coming), and UV blocking glass or Plexiglas for the glazing.
Since you want to float the items in the frames, you will want to use what is called a “V” hinge so that the item does appear to float in the frame. You will want to use Japanese tissue and wheat starch paste for this process rather than tape or gummed linen so that you do not damage or distort the item. If your diplomas are on parchment rather than paper, please contact a professional conservator in your area as parchment is very sensitive and can easily be damaged if you are not familiar with working with it. Simple directions for mounting can be found in the NEDCC Leaflet 7.4 How to Do Your Own Matting and Hinging. Another option for making a “V” hinge, especially if the documents are smaller, is to use the technique pictured.
Once mounted, you can either cut a window mat then creates an inner frame for the item that does not cover it or you can use spaces at the edge of the glass to prevent the glass from being in direct contact with the item. You want to avoid this sort of direct contact between glass and item because if you get any sort of condensation or moisture in there the items can become moldy or fused to the glass (especially parchment).
To help preserve the items even further, do not hang the framed items on an exterior wall and keep them out of direct sunlight.
Please don’t hesitate to contact the site again if you have any more questions!