How do I preserve autographs on a baseball?
Q. Dear Donia,
My mother-in-law gave my deceased husband a signed baseball from the Pittsburg Pirates. It's in a plastic case in a trunk, but I've noticed the signatures are fading. What would be the best way to preserve this ball? Thank you, Shari
A. Dear Shari,
What a great item to have! Thank you so much for asking this question because there is a LOT of conflicting information out there. I contacted the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY to see if they had any advice, and they had a handy document all ready to go as this is a common question for them! You will see that you are on the right track by storing the baseball in the dark. You will also note that the fading of the ink is a natural part of aging for items like this. Please resist the urge to "enhance" the signatures as it will ruin any value the baseball may have.
Thank you for asking and if the information below generates any new questions, please don't hesitate to contact Dear Donia!
There is no way that we know of to restore autographs on baseballs. However, by following simple procedures, you can preserve what is left of the ball's signatures and retard their fading.
1. We suggest keeping balls in a plastic bag or "globe" in order to prevent finger dirt and oils from causing further harm to the autographs. When handling balls touch only the seams (Long term storage in plastic in not recommended. Leather needs to breathe). Dear Donia Note: When not handling, you can wrap the baseball in acid-free tissue to protect it—this will allow the leather to breathe and protect it from other items in your trunk.
2. Keep baseballs in a dark, cool environment away from all light sources. Fluorescent light and sunlight will do a great deal of harm to inked signatures because ultra-violet rays break down color pigments. (There are UV protection globes on the market but these are new and have not been tested over long periods of time.) Ideally, keep balls in a closet or drawer, only taking them out for exhibit purposes periodically.
3. Try to keep the environment (i.e. temperature and humidity) consistent, about 45-50% relative humidity is excellent. Avoid big fluctuations in temperature and extreme heat. [Our baseballs on exhibit are in cases with low level light—under 5 foot-candles or 50 lux. We are currently changing over to fiber optic lighting to lessen the UV effect even further.]
4. We recommend no chemical treatment of the ball's surface. By coating a baseball with resins, such as shellac or varnish, the ball will "yellow" resulting in the ultimate deterioration of the autographs.
5. Due to the organic nature of the ball's surface, fading and blurring of signatures is inevitable as a result of the natural aging process. This process causes dyes in the ink to diffuse out of the ink-line into fatty components of the leather.
6. Our experience has shown that recent autographs written with ball-point pens fade more rapidly than signatures from the 1920's and 1930's utilizing carbon-based inks. We recommend a more permanent ink be used, such as India ink, for signatures.