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Perilous Paperclips!

On #NationalPaperclipDay, Mark Allen, conservator at North East Wales Archives (NEWA) has been considering the damage that these seemingly-innocent items can do to fragile, unique documents.  

A giant paperclip holding together an Illustrated Sale Catalogue of Gloddaeth Hall, Llandudno, 1935 from NEWA, Hawarden (Ref: D/M/6431).

Paperclips have been used to hold paper documents together for over a century and are found in most collections in the archives. A variety of ways of holding single loose sheets has developed over time from wax seals to ribbons, lacings and ties. Many conservation problems though are caused by that small, twisted piece of wire. Steel paperclips can rust causing staining and acid migration leading to embrittlement in the paper. Removal of these clips is essential to prevent avoidable damage.

Some papers are too fragile to bear the pressure of paperclips and they should not be used on records of high intrinsic value. Clips or fasteners should never be placed on photographs, posters, or original artwork, as they can permanently damage the image layer.

The tension of a metal clip over a small area can cause tears or creases. Discolouration will only be visible on the metal objects themselves to start with but then an iron paperclip will turn brown because of rust. Later the archival object will also become visibly discoloured.

The damage is likely to be aggravated by rough handling. Metal oxides and salts are slightly soluble and can penetrate the paper. Once they are present, they can trigger reactions, which in the most serious case the paper is eaten away. Iron particles can accelerate the decomposition of paper.

Clips can distort paper records and keep them from lying flat. Weak paper can break when it is flexed against the wire edge. Loose sheets and documents need to be stored in groups to keep things in order and maintain structure and relationship in a collection. Best practice is to use archival quality folders which are larger than the document and afford adequate protection to preserve and ensure the longevity of important information into the future.

If you would like any advice on the preservation of your records, contact Mark Allen, conservator at NEWA –

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