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The Best Paper for Long Term Storage

Posted by J Reinhold on 1/17/2018 to About Preservation
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What Paper is Best for Storage?

I don't worry too much about paper anymore. At one time, and this was in the 1980's, it was difficult to find acid free or alkaline paper. Our libraries were burning up, and from within, because most of the paper the books were printed on was highly acidic. Paper became brittle quickly.Permalife Bond Paper

Now, it's different. The paper mills have gone to an alkaline process. But they did not want to change.

If there were one person to thank, it would be Ellen McCready, who with tireless dedication edited the Abbey Newsletter for many years and then, the Alkaline Paper Advocate. She showed how money could be saved by the mills, and finally, after many months, they had no arguments against change.

So nowadays, the bond paper you get at the local office stores, even the cheap stuff, is mostly alkaline. That's a good thing, but now you ask, "Why then do I need to consider the finer papers?" Why even have the 25% cotton (and sometimes the 100% cotton) papers? And, what about the Microchamber papers (active against impurities) and the Permalife papers (buffered with additional alkalinity)? 

You can find a good basic discussion of papers by reading the Conserv-O-Gram: Judging Permanence For Reformatting Projects: Paper & Inks. The short answer to the question about papers begins with the fact that over time, the alkalinity goes away. Even alkaline papers will become acidic eventually. So the real reason you want papers with 25% cotton is because, over time, their fibers are longer, and the alkalinity that is in them will last longer.

We carry the Permalife papers because they have 25% cotton and have been tested to have a 300 year lifetime (assuming proper storage). That paper is also buffered so that its alkaline content is higher than normal bond paper.

It makes sense that the basis weight of the paper will hold up longer to loss of alkalinity. So if you have a choice among paper with weights of 20 lb, 24 lb, and 28 lb, the 28 lb will last the longest - assuming all the other things are equal (25% cotton, for instance). But throw in the addition of buffering and, in the case of Microchamber and Alpha Rag (which have active filters to remove impurities) will change the game a bit.Bond Paper

The cheapie bond paper you can get at your local office store is fine for everyday use. We use it here and print our pamphlets on it. But the fibers are short, and although the paper is alkaline, you need to know that it won't long be 'acid free'. We no longer sell it, since you can get it anywhere. And we no longer sell the non-buffered tissue paper either, with the reason being that it goes acidic so quickly.

So of the paper we sell, we think the Permalife 25% cotton in 20 lb weight (available in letter size 8.5x11" and 8.5x14") is a good paper to use for time capsules. We include the letter size in all of our preservation kits. The letter sized Permalife is often specified for Masters and Doctoral Theses. And now the legal Permalife, being 25% cotton and ivory in color, is now considered acceptable for NSDAR applications and for many legal papers.

We also sell a letter sized Microchamber paper. It is 25% cotton, ivory in color, and has a basis weight of 24 lb. It has the zeolite filters and other active filters that help guard against impurities. This paper works great when you are storing really bad papers such as old newsprint and pulp fiction (old paperback books). The same type of paper is used for our 'Magic Insert' for Newspaper File Kits. It is an Alpha Rag paper, and quite thick. We recommend using it for backings for newspaper storage, poster storage, comic books, and other highly acidic items. These papers are best for those conditions that call for big protection. We don't feel that most current time capsules have items inside that are highly acidic (except for newspapers), so we don't include the Microchamber bond in our kits. So if you have that issue, feel free to add it. We do include the Alpha Rag protection in larger preservation kits - because we include the Newspaper File Kits in some of them.Legal Size Application Paper

For what we feel is the finest for DAR and other legal and lineage applications, for paper that will withstand the test of time and heavy usage, we have the legal sized 28 lb paper that is 25% cotton and ivory in color. It's heavy paper with long fibers, and is long lasting. The paper would make a nice paper for City Proclamations and any works on paper that call for a substantial weight and longevity.

No, you don't need to worry about paper too much today, but you should know that today's papers do differ in how they will last the next hundred years or so.


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