The removal of cellophane tape from paper is an aggravating and extremely time-consuming task. However, over the past two years I have been using a fairly simple technique which has been very successful with almost all types of tape. It involves a soldering iron to heat a spatula tip which easily removes the tape's carrier. Standard solvents, or in some cases a rubber cement "pick-up" or eraser, can be used to remove the adhesive residue. The time saving is very attractive and the elimination (or at least the reduction) of the use of solvents makes this technique even better.
The idea came when I was confronted with a church record book with over 500 inches of cellophane tape. I had heard that it could take an average of eight minutes per inch to lift cellophane tape using traditional solvent methods. That was simply too much time. Another technique that had been suggested was to chill the tape with dry ice. That was not successful despite the fact that the temperature achieved was about -20°F. I then tried heat, using a modified soldering iron with a spatula tip. The result was a reduction of more than 75% in time required; i.e., we completed the job of removing the carrier and residue in approximately one or two minutes per inch. This great time savings is especially important now, considering that we are working on two more books with over 1500 inches of tape.
Over the past year I wanted to finish developing this tool and offer it to fellow conservators. I tried many different styles of soldering irons and tips in order to obtain the best arrangement. Unfortunately, time has been at a premium for me and this is one of those projects that has been put on the back burner.
Recently I noticed that one of our suppliers has a tool that seems to work quite well in this application. University Products, P.O. Box 101, Holyoke, Massachusetts 01041, supplies a "Heat Transfer Tool," catalog number 452-1001. I have found that the "wide flat spade" tip (which is sold in a set of 14 tips for various uses, but which may be available individually) is very good for tape lifting; however, you will have to modify it. Simply sharpen the tip to a knife edge, then dull that edge to prevent cutting or digging into the paper. The "Precision Temperature Tool" (no. 452-1003) is needed to control the temperature for the various types of tape to be encountered. Note: temperatures at the tip in the range of 450°-650°F are required for tape lifting.
After coming up with this idea, I discussed it with several colleagues who said that they use a tacking iron or hair dryer to heat the tape. Although I have not tried those methods, I feel the soldering iron is better because of the concentrated area of heat along a knife edge.
I have one more suggestion to ease the lifting of tape: use a piece of magnetic plastic sheeting (available from Adams Magnetic Products, 4547 W. Addison, Chicago, IL 60641, 312/286-6686) to hold the paper to a metal work surface. Because of the uniform holding power of a sheet magnet, this technique is useful for holding paper while lifting tape. It is also useful when erasing a sheet of paper.