Paper Money

Don't do it yourself

This month’s column is the third and final installment in a three-part series discussing the degradation and preservation of paper money.


Paper, by its nature, can tear and crease easily. Notes that have been in circulation often come into one’s collection torn and creased. Please resist the urge to repair torn notes or remove creases.

Although clear self-adhesive tape may seem like the perfect solution, these tapes tend to discolor over time and stain the paper. They can also be very difficult to remove years later. Household glues and adhesives are also not recommended, for exactly the same reasons.

Repairing bank notes is a job for a professional conservator specializing in paper conservation. Removing or lessening creases is also a job for a professional.

For a referral, consult your local museum or contact the American Institute for Conservation of Historic & Artistic Works. Through AIC’s website (

The “How Should I Choose a Conservator” section is a primer designed to help you choose the conservation professional to suit your needs.

Protecting fragile notes

Placing a torn or delicate note in a lightweight (e.g., 3 mil) polyester folder can help hold the note together and make handling safer.

The static charge on the polyester helps hold the note together. You can either purchase these folders from archival supply houses or make your own. If purchasing folders, choose ones that are either sealed on two edges, or ones that have a single fold.

A fragile note can be given extra protection by placing it first in a polyester folder that is larger than the note but smaller than the holder, then slipping that into the holder. The folder will support the note and protect it from damage while making it easier to slide in and out.

Damage from light

As we remember from last month, light causes paper to degrade and inks and pigments to fade. No one can escape the fact that exposing a paper note collection to the light puts it at risk.

As the steward of your collection, you need to weigh the risks and make an informed decision. When dealing with light and potential light damage it is important to keep in mind the “Reciprocity Law.” This law states that: a) the amount of degradation from light is dependent both on the amount of light and on the duration of exposure; b) the effect of light is cumulative; and c) there is no level below which light is inactive. What this means is that we need to consider the dose of light that an object is being exposed to, not just once, but every time. In other words, exposure to 50 footcandles for one hour is the same as exposure to 5 footcandles for 10 hours.

Many museums consider the dose of light to which light-sensitive works are being exposed. In some instances, they may decide to exhibit an artwork at higher light levels for a shorter time rather than taking the traditional route of exhibiting it for a long period of time at lower light levels. The decision is yours.

Supplies sources

Polyester and polyester folders are available from archival supply houses Carr McLean (, Gaylord Brothers ( or University Products Inc. (

Susan L. Maltby, Toronto, is a private conservation consultant, with an interest in numismatic preservation.

Community Comments