It has been said that we do not own things, but only borrow them for the short while we are here. Is it not better
that we look after them to the best of our abilities while we have them, and pass them on in as good as, if not
better, condition than when we received them?
It is difficult, if not impossible, to control
the quality of artifacts in a collection. It is
quite normal to find handmade rag paper
stored next to sulfite pulp board in an historic
collection, and this is where problems
arise. Even if prints are separated by
acid free tissue, storing different sizes of
prints in direct contact with each other
can result in the damage mentioned above,
as well as other types of problems, especially
if the tissue becomes folded or
creased. For example, brittle prints can
lose corners or edges, images can transfer
from one print to another, and acid
"burns" in different sizes and shapes can
One of the best types of protection available
to paper artifacts is matting with acid
free matboard. Matting allows prints of
different sizes to be housed together in
standardized configurations, an important
consideration with small museums which
have minimal storage facilities. It provides
protection from incidental damage
during storage, patron-initiated handling,
and display. It also provides a buffer'
against the environment, and against introduced
hazards such as mechanical
damage, floods, or untreated frames.
It is, however, a technique that requires
some skill to be properly performed, and
the cost may be prohibitive to a smaller
institution. An acceptable alternative is
the Mylbord-L housing, which will be
discussed at the end of this article3.
Now that you've decided to mat your
paper art, there are a number of considerations
that need to be taken into account
before you actually start matting:
- What adhesives can you use for
- How many hinges will the artifact
- What should the hinges be made of?
- What type of hinge is needed?
- When do you use the standard mat
sizes, and when custom sizes?
- Do you use buffered or unbuffered
Let's look at these points individually so
that we can make an educated decision.
After all, whether the object is an original
watercolor, or a poster of a rock star, it's
valuable to you, and someday may be
What Adhesives Do You Need?
There are two points to consider when deciding
on the type of adhesive to use with
your hinges: the adhesive must be fairly
strong in order to support the weight of
the artifact, and it must be reversible,
should the artifact ever need to be unmatted
or rematted. By "reversible" we mean
that it should be easily removed at a later
date with little or no damage resulting to
the artifact. The adhesives that best fit
these criteria are wheat starch paste,
CMC (carboxymethylcellulose), and MC
(methylcellulose), with wheat starch
being the strongest7. Wheat starch requires
cooking and careful preparation,
while CMC and MC can be made and
stored with no difficulty by minimally
trained personnel. They are, however,
weaker, and may release more easily in
How Many Hinges Do You Need?
Before we can decide on how many hinges
we need, I should first explain what they
are and why we need them. Hinges are the
supporting members of a matted print.
They grip the print and hold it to the mat
board. They are attached with adhesive
both to the print and the matboard, and
allow a minimal amount of adhesive to
contact the print. In this way they offer
preventive protection in that they keep the
print relatively adhesive-free, and allow it
to move with changes in the temperature
The number of hinges needed is a function
of the size and weight of the artifact.
The minimum number of hinges, of
course, is two, one at each end of the top
edge. If the piece is larger than 11 inches
along the top edge, however, at least
three, and perhaps four, hinges will be
necessary to provide strong support and
stability. The heavier the artifact, the
more hinges you will require, or a change
in the material used for the hinges will be
What Are Hinges Made Of?
Hinges can be made from two materials-paper
and cloth. The most common
hinge is made from paper, usually long fibered
Japanese tissue, which provides
strength without providing added bulk.
The best Japanese tissue is made from
Kozo, Gampi, or Mitsumata fibers, with
Kozo fiber paper being used most often
Linen hinges are made from gummed
linen tape, which is available from conservation
suppliers. The adhesives on the
tape can be casein or gelatin, and the tape
comes in several widths, with the 1-inch
width being the most common. Linen
tape is used when a paper artifact is too
heavy for paper hinges, and when they
will not come into contact with the artifact
itself, i.e. a watercolor on heavy
card, where the hinges will contact the
What Style of Hinge?
There are two styles of hinges used to attach
paper artifacts: the T-hinge and the
V-hinge. The T-hinge is used on most
styles of mat, with the exception of floating
mats and the sling mat.
T-Hinge: See figure 1.
Traditionally, this was made in the form
of a cross or small t. This format, however,
allowed too much adhesive to contact
the artifact when the long portion was
placed too far into the artifact, and did not
provide maximum stress alleviation.
There was also the problem of hinge failure
when too little of the hinge was allowed
to contact the artifact. The new,
preferred way of constructing the T-hinge,
shown on the right in figure 1, is to have
the bottom portion attached in a horizontal
position, thereby providing more support.
The top or cross portion of the hinge
is then attached in the usual manner (see
the LC manual for instructions).
HERITAGE - Fall 1985
Texas Historical Foundation. Heritage, Volume 02, Number 04, Fall 1985. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth45445/. Accessed May 25, 2013.