For all that the invention of scotch tape has made life easier, it has also made life much more difficult for those who now have to deal with the consequences of more than 150 years of tape application on paper and works of art.
A thorough article by the Atlantic (link here) outlines the history of tape use. It also lists some of the unique qualities of tape and challenges it poses as well as several ways of dealing with them. Tape comes in many different varieties, each one of which poses unique challenges to the conservator who wishes to remove the tape and reveal the work behind it. This variety, compounded with the even greater range of paper and ink, is enough for a headache even before one has begun the painstaking process of taking the tape off! But no matter the kind, the challenge is clear. Tape binds so well that it’s often extraordinarily difficult to remove the tape without removing at least the top layer of the paper to which it has been attached.
Conservators approach tape removal through various methods. One of them is to remove tape mechanically using a microscope and precise tools. Another, especially useful with older tapes, is to apply a solvent that dissolves the adhesive which binds the tape to the page. Sometimes, this can even be done by soaking the whole page in ink and dye friendly solvent solution! Another possibility is to use a stream of hot air to soften the adhesive, or a vapor chamber to slowly dissolve the adhesive. Additional variations on these processes, such as using more precise tools to apply the adhesive, or a new gel featured in the article (really quite interesting!) make tape removal something akin to an art, where the conservator has to use their experience, judgement, and creativity to decide how to approach the task.
But all of this shouldn’t discourage you. After all, we agree with the article; paper may be “difficult to work with” but for all that, it continues to be immensely rewarding.
And here is a translation to English of a post by Mihai Vârtejaru, our colleague from Bucharest, Romania. He describes how he had to remove layers of scotch tape from an old prayer book.
And please do not ever “repair” paper objects with scotch tape! Future generations of book restorers and conservators would truly appreciate that!
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