(Book and Paper) Select Tips and Tricks in Paper Conservation by J. Franklin Mowery


Link to abstract:
Frank Mowery’s talk covered four wonderful tips he developed over the course of his 49 years of experience as a paper conservator.

Tip No. 1 “Kick-a-poo Juice” solvent mix

Not all solvents work with all tapes. We often employ a degree of trial and error to identify the best solvent for the particular tape we are dealing with. Frank’s “kick-a-poo juice” is a combination of 5 solvents that he discovered worked remarkably well together, and have also effectively solubilized all the tapes and adhesives he has encountered.


1 part acetone
1 part methylene chloride (dichloromethane)
1 part MEK
1 part tetrahydrofuran
1 part toluene

Please remember your health and safety procedures including using the right PPE, and ensuring appropriate ventilation and safety precautions.

Tip No. 2 Nalgene pipette modification

To deliver a controlled stream of the solvent cocktail mentioned above (or other solutions we use in treatment), Frank recommends a simple and useful modification to the standard Nalgene pipette. By narrowing and extending the channel at the end, you can deliver a steady and controlled flow of solution. This is simply done by placing the end of the pipette between your teeth, and tugging. The tip will elongate and stretch, producing a pipette with a longer channel, and more controlled delivery.

Frank's modified pipettes
Frank's modified pipettes

Tip No. 3 Mylar Vapor trays

This is a method Frank uses when he wants to work with a solvent to pre-treat an area or even the entire surface of an object. The use of this solvent tray minimizes exposure and evaporation rate of the solvent.

  1. Make 3 trays out of 5 mil mylar, each tray larger and deeper than the one before.
  2. Make a pleated platform (image below) with perforations that will lift and hold the object. This platform will sit in the smallest tray (tray 1) which holds the solvent. You can make this to whatever size needed to support the document; ensure that the peaks of the tray are higher than the solvent surface.
  3. Tray 2 acts as a lid to cover tray 1 which holds the solvent, pleated platform, and the object.
  4. Tray 3 is the largest and deepest, it will form the bottom tray into which the solvent tray (tray 1) and its cover (tray 2) will be placed. Add about 1 ½” of water into this tray. The water effectively seals the solvent inside Trays 1 and 2. See the diagram below for a visual of how to set up all the components.
Perforated and pleated solvent tray
Perforated and pleated solvent tray

Diagram of solvent chamber
Diagram of solvent chamber

Tip No. 4 Washing sleeves

This is a technique Frank developed to aid in washing paper objects that are physically unstable, with tears, losses, insect damage etc. The washing sleeve is made up of 3 parts: a 5 mil Mylar support, and two layers of Reemay/Hollytex. All 3 components are welded along one edge using either a heat welder or an ultrasonic welder.

Using this sleeve, fragile objects can be safety handled with no risk of physical damage when wet. When wet treatments are completed, the sleeves (with the object) can be drained on a line or flat on a screen before final drying. The washing sleeves are also helpful with larger objects, providing additional support during the washing process.

Washing sleeve
Washing sleeve

Stacey M. Kelly
Paper Conservator
U of Utah, J. Willard Marriott Library