The Abbey Newsletter

Volume 12, Number 6
Sep 1988

The Bookplate Question

From time to time the Newsletter office gets an inquiry about bookplate paper for a library that wants to print its own bookplates. They want materials (paper and adhesive) that will not harm the book by staining adjoining paper, leaving sticky residue and so on. Although gummed paper suitable for bookplates is manufactured (by Brown-Bridge, Dennison, Ludlow, Eastern, and Nashua, among others)' and at least some of it uses permanent paper (most of Brown-Bridge's Pancake brand uses Glatfelter paper), the adhesives used are an unknown quantity, and no unprinted gummed paper is represented to buyers as a permanent material by the manufacturer. This does not mean that none are permanent, only that they are not sold as such by the manufacturer. No one has ever done a comparative study of the permanence of gummed papers on the market, and it is unlikely that anyone ever will. The CCI has tested certain gummed linen and paper tape, but not sheets of gummed paper for printing bookplates. They tested Dennison gummed linen tape in 1975; the starch and gelatin adhesive browned when aged at 105°C, bet did not affect the linen. The adhesive in the Dennison gummed white paper that they tested in 1985 (used for hinging) was starch. No comprehensive testing for permanence was done.

Because of the difficulty of artificially aging adhesives, it is hard to predict their future performance. The pH of dry gum adhesive may be as low as 4.5 or 5.0, but this does not mean it will have a short life. With adhesives, pH isn't everything. In fact, pH isn't everything with anything; leather, for instance, is stable at pH values as low as 3.5.

In order to sidestep the adhesive problem, libraries could simply have their bookplates printed on permanent paper and stick then in the book with paste or PVA or methyl cellulose. Or they could use one of the preprinted bookplates on the market. The most carefully produced gunned bookplates may be those from University Products, which has them printed on acid-free paper and applies a dextrin adhesive with its own coating machine. Or they could get together and place a joint order for 5000 pounds (the likely minimum) of gunned paper in a special run, with Dennison or another of the gummed paper manufacturers.

The proceedings of the IIC Paris conference in Paris in 1984, Adhesives and Consolidants, contains two papers that look especially useful for evaluating the permanence of adhesives. One of them, by Jane Down, is entitled "Adhesive Testing at the Canadian Conservation Institute, Past and Future." She says that they use natural and light-induced aging only. This means it may be a long time before results are published. But the article is useful for its carefully chosen list of characteristics to look at: acidity or alkalinity, emission of dangerous degradation products, flexibility or brittleness, shrinkage, solubility and removability, and discoloration.

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