The Horrors of Pressure-Sensitive Tape!

Hi everyone, it’s Minton Conservator Jess Hyslop again, here to relate to you a terrifying tale… A story so spine-chilling that it will haunt your waking hours and enter into your nightmares… A tale of… Wait for it…

Pressure-sensitive tape!

That’s right – the latest item I am treating from the Minton ceramics company archive has fallen victim to that terrible creature, pressure-sensitive tape. Pressure-sensitive tape consists of a carrier (e.g. cellophane) coated with an adhesive (usually rubber- or acrylic-based), which will stick to a surface under light pressure. Pressure-sensitive tape was first invented in 1845 by a surgeon, Dr. Horace Day, but it was from the 1920s that different types began to be developed and their use really took off.

SD1705/MS2280 is one of the Minton ‘Pattern and Shape Books’, though despite its name it is not actually a book, but rather a lever-arch file full of single-sheet designs executed in mixed media.

MS2280 before treatment

As you can see from this ‘before’ image, the lever arch file is heavily damaged, with only the back board and metal lever mechanism remaining. As a result, the pages have been vulnerable to dirt and mechanical damage, leading to many tears and folds. However, this was not the most horrifying discovery I made as I examined the item. For what confronted me as I turned the page, but… tape!

Old pressure-sensitive tape ‘repairs’ on MS2280

At some point in the past, pressure-sensitive tape had been added to the pages in an attempt to repair various tears and protect dog-eared edges. These ‘repairs’ were most likely carried out by Minton factory workers who needed to continue using this item for reference – and who weren’t particularly bothered about the aesthetics or longevity of their repair method! As such, the tape in this item is actually part of its history, showing us that it was heavily used, so much so that the workers would do anything to keep it going that little bit longer!

However, despite the interpretive value of the tape repairs, they have done a lot of damage. The tape in question has a cellophane carrier, and the adhesive is probably rubber-based. In most cases, the adhesive has penetrated deep into the paper, where it has cross-linked and hardened. This has made the paper very brittle, stained it a dark orange-brown, and in some instances even made it turn translucent.

The paper here has turned translucent where the adhesive from the tape has penetrated it

My treatment of this item consisted of surface cleaning each page, flattening any folds and creases, and then carefully removing the tape. Most of the adhesive was already so brittle that the tape just fell or peeled off easily, but some required the help of a heated spatula to melt the adhesive and allow me to lift the carrier away. Although the tape told a story of its own, it was removed a) to prevent it causing any further chemical damage, and b) to prevent the now-loosening pieces getting caught and tugged, which may have caused more tears to the fragile paper.

Unfortunately, there was little I could do within the scope of the project to reduce the staining left by the tape. While conservation options exist to reduce staining, they were not viable for this item. However, although the staining will remain, we can think of this as evidence of the way the Minton workers tried to extend the life of the material.

The pages of SD1705/MS2280 have now been placed within archival polyester pockets and into a new archival ringbinder, which preserves some of the characteristics of the original storage system while ensuring the sheets will not be damaged further during storage and handling.

MS2280 after treatment

So, let this tale be a warning to anyone thinking of sticking non-archival tape on a book or paper document! It may seem like a good idea at the time, but like most horror stories it doesn’t tend to end well…!

The treatments described in this blog post and others in the Conservation series are carried out by a qualified conservator. If you have an item in need of conservation, it is always best to ask a conservator for advice. In the UK and Ireland, you can find a conservator through the Institute of Conservation’s Conservation Register.

The Minton Archive one-year conservation project is funded by:
Logos of the Art Fund, The Pilgrim Trust, The Wolfson Foundation, and the National Manuscripts Conservation Trust