Conservation vs. Restoration

John Reid from OzFilm has written two excellent articles on linenbacking:

The first article questions the use of wheat paste as an adhesive in restoration. The second article suggests some separation between conservation and restoration.

First, I want to strongly state that wheat paste (conservation grade – highly refined) should be the preferred adhesive for any support work that is done with conservation as a priority.

Let me say it again in case you missed it:

Wheat paste should be the preferred adhesive for any support work that is done with conservation as a priority.

But for the focus of this post, I want to clarify two words that often get mixed together: conservation and restoration.  I use to think that these two words were interchangeable, but am finding that they are very far apart in some cases. I think that like me, most collectors just assume restorers are conservators and approach any restoration with conservation in mind.  The other shitty thing, is that this is what they tend to sell you.

We are going to take your pig, put some lipstick on it and you will be happy.  All the while giggling because they have your money and you have no way to tell what was done to your poster or not done to your poster.

These two words are different. For example, you can have a restoration that is done using conservator best practices or have a restoration that doesn’t have conservation in mind at all – like using wall paper paste and non-pure water sources.  At the end of the day, you get your poster and it looks great and you stick it in a drawer or hang it up. The question is, which one has been given the conservation “muscle” for the long haul?

Conservation vs. Restoration

The basic definition of Conservation is the act of preserving, guarding, or protecting. Conservation involves protection and restoration using “any methods that prove effective in keeping that property in as close to its original condition as possible for as long as possible.”

The waters are muddied even more when you consider there is an American Institute for Conservation (AIC) whom certifies conservators and has a dedicated subgroup called the Book and Paper Group (BPG) which happens to be the largest of the specialty groups within the Institute.  Have you ever heard of the AIC before reading this?  Why haven’t you?!  I would take a guess and say that 95% of all the poster being linenbacked and supposedly conserved for generations to come, weren’t treated by an AIC professional (or similar agency abroad) and better fit the definition of restoration versus conservation on methods performed alone.

You see conservation is a funny thing, technically.  You can’t use conservation principals in one step and neglect them in the next.  You can’t use purified water and the correct deacidification solution and then used a wall paper paste adhesive which hasn’t been studied for its longevity and may have chemicals that can degrade the paper over the long term.

John’s article illustrates the idea of best practices which should be followed for conservation.  So I ask you, why are you not demanding conservation based practices on your posters?   So onto the idea of Restoration.

Restoration, simply, does not imply conservation. Period.

Let me say that again.

Restoration, simply, does not imply conservation. Period.

Restoration, simply, means the act of returning something to a former condition. There are no attached guidelines on how the item is supposed to be returned to this former condition…

Reading Restoration on your favorite restorer’s (I will now refrain from using conservator unless I am sure) website does not make it automatic that your paper article will be conserved at all. Worse and most likely, is that these restoration “businesses”  (I stress businesses because they exist to make a profit) are not out to preserve and protect your item, but to sell you the idea that your paper item, quickly, through the use of this super secret magic trick, will become like it was when it rolled off the press.

The problem is that in order to continue perpetuating this illusion to customers, conservation takes a back seat to speed and the need to mask defects with permanent and semi-permanent mediums. In fact I would challenge any of you to actually find a prominent movie poster restorer that has an AIC professional on staff.  I would go even farther, with the “pass it down” ideology that is prominent with our (movie poster) restorers, to question if any actually have a degree in conservation.  “uh, well, uh, I just learnt from the guy before me – but I have an art degree…”

What I have also found is that most conservation based organizations don’t use the term restoration alone, often not at all.   My next challenge for you is to find the term conservation on your restorer’s website.  If they are not conservators, it won’t be there. And don’t be fooled by the “museum” standards bit…  If they don’t have a section on conservation, it’s not a priority IMO.  Or… They don’t know what it is.

So what have we learned today?  It has been a long time since I found something worthy of posting about.  Some may consider this just a rant, which is fine.  But if I have enlightened anyone about something that is truly missing from our hobby – conservative practices… Then rant = success.

Pulpfixin out…


UFC 9 Gallery

Emerging Necessity of a Conservation, Support, and Restoration Scale

While conversing among one of the finest groups of movie poster collectors in the world on,  I have come to the quick realization that there is an emerging necessity to develop a Standard Scale for conservation, support, and restoration.

So, on my own, I have developed a five level scale:

Level 0. Non-Wet Conservation Only

Perhaps supported by loose acid free paper in storage and, at the most, an application of fast drying acid removal chemicals such as Bookkeeper® Deacidification Spray or Wei T’o  both forms of magnesium oxide. The magnesium oxide, once it reacts with the atmosphere, forms magnesium hydroxide and then reacts with the acids in the paper to form magnesium salts.  This can be done without total wetting of the paper.  However, research has shown that the magnesium salts can create a chalky appearance on the paper effecting color.  Magnesium based deacidification is also know to yellow in humid conditions.

Level 1. Wet Conservation Only

This involves the deacidification of the paper…

A quick rant: Why the hell would a true conservator offer deacidification as an additional service for an additional fee.  What is the point of linenbacking/paperbacking without deacidification???  It all starts with deacidification…  If any linenbacker provides backing services without deacidification, that is a red flag in my opinion…

and then re-flatten by weight or vacu-seal heat press.

Conservation comes in the form of deacidification and removing dirt and grime from the poster.

Deacidification comes in the same magnesium oxide form (spray or submersion) as described about or complete submersion in a calcium hydroxide solution (at the right ph level) and soaked for 20 to 30 minutes (I prefer calcium hydroxide).

Washing the poster can be accomplished by using a mild soap such as Orvus to lift dirt and other grime and rinse it away.

Spot Cleaning can be accomplished with the use of a suction table and applying various solutions or bleaches to specific areas.  The suction table can be arranged to provide suction directly under the stain and as the solution is applied, it is drawn through the stain (by suction) assisting in its removal.  Spot bleaching with can also be accomplished for stubborn censor stamps etc.

Optional Methods

Bleaching (Optional) has been placed in Level 1, as it is a widely accepted practice to safely bleach paper and restore the original level of brightness to a poster. Bleaching is not needed to conserve a piece of paper, but only to improve its appearance. Patina or discoloring of paper may have been caused by weathering, acidity, dirt grime, etc… It is often thought of that bleach cleans or whitens.  However, bleaching actually removes chromophores within the paper itself by destruction. What a word!  Chromophores are what controls the absorption of light within a pigmented or yellowed piece of paper.  Once they are destroyed, there is a reduction in the light absorbing capacity of the paper.  Some collectors believe this destroys the essence of the item and that is why this is optional.  Bleaching is irreversible (except there is such a thing a tea staining) but is widely accepted.

Level 2.  Conservation and Support

Support of the structural integrity of the poster after Level 1 conservation.

Support can come in many forms:

Encapsulation involves placing the object between two sheets of mylar and sonic welding the edges, while a magnetic sheet is used to push all air etc. from between the two sheets.  The end result can actually fool you into thinking that the poster is laminated, but is actually just sandwiched between archival materials.

Re-sizing Mixtures of methylcellulose, or carboxymethylcellulose (CMC) can be introduce into the fibers of the poster in the form of starch and gel backing creating a transparent film on the back of a poster. CMC is a much stronger sizing agent and adhesive. The result is like a starched shirt stiffening the poster.

Mending Tissue Spot Repair and flattening.  This involves applying Japanese mending tissues to tears or soft spots with wheat paste adhesive and flattening.

Paperbacking using Japanese paper (or any acid free paper of greater strength) to mount the poster with wheat paste adhesive.

Linenbacking using Japanese Masa paper, adhered to a stretched cotton canvas (unprimed), to created a very sturdy support for the poster.

Level 3. Conservation, Support and Reversible Restoration

Including all of the above, this is where the separation begins to widen between the two schools of thought regarding restoration.  There are two basic categories of restoration: structural restoration, and image restoration.

Structural Restoration refers to the poster being considered a structure and that the poster as a whole, without any missing paper or surface, is a complete structure.  Restoration of this kind involves mainly paper fills which can be accomplished in several ways.  All are reversible in the form of easy removal with steam or submersion in water.

Complete Paper Placement involves structurally repairing a missing section of poster with a piece of paper having nearly identical (or as close as you can get) characteristics (thickness, sheen, age, color, etc.).

Paper Pulp Fills for smaller areas are created by double boiling similar paper and creating a compound (I’ve found to be knotty) to fill voids.  One drawback is that after the fill has dried, it does not sand well.

Cellulose Compound Fills for smaller areas by creating a paste of cellulose powder and methylcellulose or CMC. Calcium Carbonate can be added to assist in smoothness.  This is great stuff and easy to sand and surprisingly easy to paint over.

Image Restoration involves in-painting damaged areas to complete the original image on the poster.

Reversible Mediums include water color pencils, pigments, gouache, and concentrated liquids such as Dr. Ph. Martin colors.  I have applied all of the mediums and removed them when needed.  These, I would say, are not completely reversible as some pigment does get trapped with in the fibers of the damaged areas, but could be removed with submersion in water.

Level 4. Conservation, Support and Irreversible Restoration

Ask yourself this question “As the restoration of an item nears perfection through irreversible means, is it still the same item?”  I answer this strongly as NO…  I have the opinion that there should be a ‘spirit of restoration’ and that that spirit can die with the attempt to make something it is not through irreversible means.  So, what are irreversible means?  I am talking about semi-reversible and irreversible in-painting and contrast reduction finishes.

Some of the most prominent and accomplished restorers obtain results through the use of semi-reversible and irreversible means.

Semi-Reversible Mediums include those that require the use of solvents such as solvent reversible varnishes. I put this in this category not because of its highly unlikely ability to be reversed, but because this medium is used to mask damaged areas in the form of an opaque medium used to obtain perfection in image replacement.

Irreversible Mediums includes the direct use of acrylic paints such as Golden Colors, Creatix, and other airbrush paints. This too is also used mainly because it, combined with highly skilled paper compound fills, can mask damaged areas completely… Seriously!  This can not be accomplished with reversible mediums such as water colors – they are not opaque enough…  The restoration is now not only irreversible but has merged acrylic (a plastic) with paper. So paper and plastic?

Additionally, some restorers have a policy of utilizing overall poster finishes to reduce contrast.  If you use reversible mediums, they leave contrasting finishes; usually flat matte.  This is especially noticeable on posters with semi-gloss or gloss finishes. When on the poster, the light is absorbed differently by the in-painted area and from different angles the colors can seem to change.  Blacks are especially freakish, going from light gray to dark, dark black, based on the viewing angle.  So how do you fix this for the guys that wants it ‘minted’?  Spray the entire thing with fixative…

Which brings us back full circle to my previous post on fixatives.

This scale Level 0 – 4 doesn’t say, allow for a Level 1 guy to demonize a Level 4 guy, but what it should do is provide a better understanding of where you want your pieces to be. Ultimately it is the choice of the collector what level they want to be at.  I also want to open the eyes of uneducated collectors, that the perfect piece you are buying may no only be some awesome paper but plastic as well…

This scale can also be used as a tool to instruct restoration experts on what you want done to your poster and what is unacceptable.

In my journey to the discovery of all the dirty little linenbacking and restoration secrets, I have learned that you really can conceal and hide and deceive…  I have ultimately arrived at the decision, with my wife and restoration partner in this mess, to take a path moving away from image restoration, in total, have decided to no longer to do major image restoration work.  In fact I’ve had thought of doing no more that Level 1 and 2 efforts in the future…

What you want to do is of course up to you and your restoration expert.

Experiment with Fixatives

One of the most coveted secrets (or widely not mentioned to customers) of linenbackers/restorers from the ‘make it perfect’ school, is the application of a fixative after in-painting. Fixative allows a restorer to even out the finish across an entire poster producing a better result visually. So you may ask ‘What is the big deal?’…

Fixative is not easily reversible!

Once it is applied it can not be removed with out solvents. Which in most cases, if a removal attempt is made, the action will remove the underlying ink of the original printing as well – damaging the poster.

Here is an example of what fixative can do for a poster that has been restored.  This poster has been one of my experiments from the beginning.  The poster had multiple types of touch-ups including water color pencil, gouache, a mixture of gouache and gum arabic, and Dr. Ph. Martins Air Brush Water Colors.  I also experimented with gum arabic to develop additional sheen etc. before learning that most contrast is concealed with fixative.

So this is the perfect poster to illustrate its effects.

To enhance the experiment I took diluted black gouache and placed two streak across the middle (equal into each quadrant) just above the title and another single streak in the border area just above Clint’s head.

For the experiment  I basically divided the poster into quadrants:

  • The lower left quadrant was the control without any application of fixative,
  • The lower right was sprayed with Krylon Workable Fixative (supposedly matte finish),
  • The top right was sprayed with Blair Matte Spray Fix, and
  • The top left was sprayed with Krylon UV Archival Matte Varnish.

What fixative can do to even the contrast of in-painting….

As you can see, the streaks basically disappeared in all three quadrants sprayed with fixative.  The Blair Spray Fix seemed to work the best, to my eye, being most matte and void of contrast.  The Krylon Varnish was terrible and would have been a mistake to use on an actual poster.  The Krylon Workable Fixative had more sheen and did not cover as well.  I am not sure how the temperature impacts the application.  I say this, because in earlier attempts, while spraying in 95 degree + weather, this fixative produced a very nice (super matte) finish.  The temperature at time of this application was 70 degree (F).  Maybe a good future experiment….

So what does all this mean?  It could mean a lot or not much at all.  There seem to be two very different ends of the spectrum regarding conservation, support, and restoration.

On one end, collectors want untouched pure paper, free of any restoration at all.  Just conserve and support! This is typically referred to as a ‘European Style’ – This poster was backed European Style…

The other extreme, as I have mentioned, is the ‘Make it Perfect’ school of restoration.  As in Man that restoration job made my poster look perfect… or Mint it!

So what does this have to do with fixative?  Well this is more a lesson in the statement and determination of an emerging necessity for a scale of conservation, support, and restoration. It is obvious that it is getting harder and harder to determine what has been done to a poster during restoration. I want to educate you on this scale in five (5) levels in my next post…

Mel’s Girls….

So on the second day of my ‘stay’-cation I back three of buddy Mel’s one sheets…  Little did I know the surprises waiting for me…

First up:

Voodoo Woman US One Sheet from 1957.

Voodoo Woman is a 50’s horror movie directed by Edward Cahn and stars Marla English, Mike Connors, Tom Conway, and Mary Ellen Kay.  Basically, there is this ‘mad scientist’ trying to use voodoo and elixirs to create some super woman in the jungle (I guess because the jungle helps the Voodoo?).  Anyway, Marla and Mike’s characters are looking for gold in the same jungle and wouldn’t you know it the mad scientists stuff just won’t work on tribal women… So you guessed it, use a blonde!  And it worked!  Kind of.. She escapes the manifestation and then it is all about escaping the jungle…

Before Pics:

Voodoo Woman (1957) Before

Voodoo Woman (1957) Before – Reverse

If you study the two before pics the poster looks innocent enough; simple backing job right? Well upon closer inspection, some dummy put about twenty slivers of clear scotch tape on tears etc… Oh Fun!

One and a half hour later….

Big Pile of Tape

Now that is great but as always with tape, and I would say I did a rather good job of removing it, the poster just doesn’t look the same:

But that, too, is ok, because I have this great paper fill paste now and an airbrush!

Here she is backed and ready for resto:


Now on the the second one:

The Big Heat US One Sheet – A 1953 Noir Film

The Big Heat, a noir film directed by the great Fritz Lang, stars Glenn Ford, Gloria Grahame, and Lee Marvin (the little guy).  Basically, a cop’s ‘sweety’ gets murdered and he decides to take on the mob…  In the middle is a bunch of hub-bub, he resigns etc…  But in the end, the bad guys go to jail and he is a reinstated.


The Big Heat (1953) Before

The Big Heat (1953) Before – Reverse

Now I expected this one to be a pain, easily seeing the tape on the back.  But since they were large pieces, it was only 15 minutes before she was ready for a wash…

Tape Removed

But like before the tape took it’s toll.

This poster also has a large piece missing at the top right that I will have to find a suitable paper for and plenty of small fill work.  Here it is ready for more:

The Big Heat (1953) Freshly Backed


Blond Ice US One Sheet – A 1948 femme fatale…

Blonde Ice is a 1940’s femme fatale directed by Jack Bernhard, starring Robert Paige and Leslie Brooks. This gal marries rich and then mysteriously the husband die off (oh wow; I wonder…). Now the coppers on on to her, so what to do?  Let’s frame the boyfriend!


Blonde Ice (1948) Before

Blonde Ice (1948) Before – Reverse

Thankfully, no fireworks to show you on this on.  It was in relatively great shape with some separation on the folds…  These folds did further separate during the washing but were easily pushed back into place during the backing process.  Nothing but a ‘freshly backed’ photo to show you here:

Blonde Ice (1948) Freshly Backed

A fun second day to my ‘stay’-cation adventure.  This morning was crazy sock day for ‘My Girl’, here with Mel’s…

My Girl!

Hour Before Dawn US OS (1944)

Hour Before Dawn US OS (1944)

Hour Before Dawn US OS (1944) B&A

Just shipped this one out.  It was washed and deacidified.  No bleaching was done at the request of the owner.  It was touched up with water color pencils not for perfection but to make it easier on the eyes.  Airbrushing on Veronica’s forehead was completed to remove a distracting cross-fold.