Audubon Print Conservation

Reproduced by permission of the author -Ron Flynn

Audubon Print Conservation and Restoration

with Recommendations

By Ron Flynn

Beginning with the Havell (1826-38) Edition, and on through the Imperial Folio, Bien, and all the Octavo Editions up to 1870-71, the original Audubon prints are roughly 130-175 years old today. Except for the Bien edition, which was printed on a lesser quality paper containing some wood pulp, all the other original Audubon Editions were printed on the highest quality cotton rag wove paper. This paper should last for several hundred years or more. However, antique paper MUST be cared for if it is to last that long. A fairly large number of individual Audubon prints coming on the market today are showing up with signs of flaws and physical damage associated with 130-175 years of handling and poor storage conditions. It is also likely that many, if not most, of these prints have become acidic.

pH and Acidity –

The acidity of most all materials can be easily measured. The results are expressed using a numeric scale called pH. The scale has values from 0.0 to 14.0. On this numeric value scale, 7.0 is neutral. Numbers below 7.0 indicate degrees of acidity, and numbers above 7.0 indicate degrees of alkalinity. A pH of 9.0 is ten times more alkaline than 8.0. It is the same progression on the acid side. A pH of 5.5 is ten times more acid than a pH of 6.5, and a pH of 4.5 is one hundred times more acid than a pH of 6.5. The original paper that the Audubon prints were made from was slightly acid to begin with. This was caused primarily from the water used to make the paper pulp, and from impurities, like iron and copper, imparted into the paper pulp from the machinery used in making the paper. These early 19th century papers likely had a pH of 6.5-7.0. This “built in” acid level will initially contribute, over many years, to damage and slow deterioration of the paper fibers.

Causes and Signs of Paper Acidity –

The main causes of increased acidity in the papers of Audubon prints are: airborne pollutants, excessive and improper handling, and improper matting and framing. Over years, airborne pollutants from industry, pollutants from smoking in the home, plus pollutants from heating with wood, coal and oil, will turn paper more acidic. The paper will darken overall (age toning), or darken along the three unbound edges of a book volume (edge toning). Excessive handling and page turning will leave natural oils from the skin on the paper. If the hands are dirty, this may show up immediately as finger smudges. However, these deposits may only darken and show up after many years. Another sign that the paper might be more acidic from handling is the appearance of numerous handling creases. They can easily be seen on the verso by viewing with a light across the paper (raked light). Also, the paper will feel somewhat more pliable or limp and slightly wavy around the edges. Finally, the use of improper matting and framing materials will certainly turn the print more acidic. Any print that was framed 10-20 years or more ago will surely have signs of acid damage. In the years prior to truly acid and lignin free framing materials, top and back matting materials were made from wood products, and the and the acids in them would gradually leech into the print itself. A print in contact with such materials would darken to a brown or gray color. A so-called mat burn would appear on the face of the print where the top mat contacted it. The entire back of the print could have acid burn from whatever was used to back the print. Additional acids from the above sources will migrate into the print and accelerate the damage to the paper fibers and hasten the deterioration of the print. All acidic paper will eventually deteriorate, but the deterioration process can be stopped and prevented with proper conservation treatments.

Other Types of Print Damage and Their Causes –

Storing or displaying prints in areas with excessive humidity can cause the formation and growth of molds and foxing. Molds actually feed on and weaken the paper fibers and can discolor the paper. If the excessive humidity or moisture is seasonal, the print paper will become cockled (wavy or rippled) from alternating expansion and contraction. The progression of foxing will make your print unsightly in time. Storing or displaying prints in areas of high heat will dry out the paper causing embrittlement and accelerate its deterioration. Finally, exposing prints to any source of light for prolonged periods will cause yellowing or darkening of the paper, fading of the colors, and paper embrittlement. Ultra violet radiation from the sun and fluorescent lighting is the most damaging.

Tears in prints usually appear along the margins as a result of careless page turning or handling. However, weakened or deteriorating paper can tear or split anywhere when handled. A fold or crease may have been done for a reason or accidentally, and would be difficult to completely correct. Careless handling usually causes small paper losses such as a missing corner or chips along a margin. Offsetting, the transfer of ink from another print or text sheet, can occur at the time of production or can happen when a volume is stored for long periods with excessive moisture or humidity. Stains from water, wine or other liquids occur accidentally when prints are viewed while drinking, or when prints are stored in low areas of the home where floodwater or backed up sewer water can get to them.

Virtually all of the above print damage can be treated or corrected by an experienced print conservationist using modern techniques and materials. Some damage can only be partially corrected, but technology is advancing rapidly and the things today’s modern experienced conservationist can do will seem almost miraculous.

What is Print Conservation and Restoration? –

The difference between conservation and restoration may seem somewhat hazy. It is quite likely that an antique Audubon print needing work will receive both conservation and restoration measures. Many print conservationists work alone and would do both the conservation and restoration work simultaneously. If a restoration company had several employees, that firm would still do all the work, but different employees might specialize in different areas of the required work. In any case, one firm or person would do all the required conservation and restoration work, and you would not have to send your prints to separate firms. Print conservation simply means to conserve. It would include any measures or techniques that can be used to stop any damage or deterioration of any artwork. Examples of conservation measures are: the use of an anti-fungus gas treatment to kill molds and prevent further damage from them, and the most important treatment, de-acidification, which chemically stabilizes the paper and prevents further deterioration. Restoration deals more with the overall appearance of a print. Restoration procedures are used to restore the paper to as close to its original condition as is possible, while maintaining the original integrity of the artwork. Paper grafting, paper pulp patching and fiber micro-weaving are used to replace missing paper or repair tears. Various marks and blemishes and general soiling can be removed by various cleaning techniques. Discolored or stained paper can be lightened with varying degrees of success, depending on what caused the discoloration or stain. Restoration also involves the cosmetic re-coloring of faded or damaged areas of the image when required, and sometimes a separate colorist may need to be utilized.

Finding a Print Conservationist –

Many libraries, museums and other institutions will have conservationists on their staff to maintain their own collections. In the private sector, there are many individuals and small firms, all over the Country, that do this work for collectors, print dealers and smaller institutions that lack their own in-house staff. Finally, there are a few antique print dealers with their own in-house conservation and restoration departments that do work for individuals, other dealers, some institutions and, of course, on the products they sell. In your local area, you can contact local libraries and museums, antique print dealers, upscale art galleries, or simply look in the Yellow Pages. Ask for recommendations for a print conservationist. You can also do a Web search using keywords, or combinations of them, like: conservationists, conservators, restorers, prints, antique, art, etc. At the end of this article, I will have specific recommendations for conservationists that I have personally used. Each has its own distinctive business structure. You can go to the American Institute for Conservation website at and search for a conservationist in your area. However, I searched and contacted 10 listed conservationists here in the Midwest. All turned out to be private individually operated firms. Everyone of them had a minimum fee from $250-$500 to do any work on any print, no matter the size. For octavo sized prints, at the AIC listed firms, their minimum fees are totally unreasonable, when compared to my recommended firms below.

Dealing With a Print Conservationist -

Conservation and restoration work is very time consuming, due to the drying times between the numerous steps in the various processes required for typical conservation and restoration treatments. Combine this with the fact that experienced quality conservationists are in great demand and very busy. You should figure a minimum turn around time, for your prints, of 6-10 weeks for minimal work, and considerably longer for major restorations. If you examine your print closely and read my article on Definitions of Print Damage and Flaws @, you will have a good idea of what needs to be done to stabilize and restore your print to near its original condition, without compromising the character and integrity of the original print. At this point, you can contact one or more print conservationists, either by phone or email, and describe what needs to be done to your print. You should expect to receive some sort of ballpark estimate or quote for the costs of the work you describe, and find out about how long it will take to complete this work. BE ADVISED, all quality conservationists will not give you a definite quote for costs until that conservationist has had a chance to personally examine your print. Yes, you will have to ship you print for evaluation and a final quote for necessary and recommended work, AND pay shipping and insurance fees both ways. When a conservationist receives your print, he/she will perform some perfunctory tests before quoting recommended treatments and costs. Do not be surprised if these tests uncover molds or acidic conditions, and that treatments for these conditions are recommended. Treatments to kill and eliminate mold, de-acidify the paper, and add buffering to increase the print’s pH, are highly desirable in extending the life of your print. Once the conservationist has evaluated your print and provided you with a quote for recommended work, be sure to ask how successful the recommended treatments will be in correcting the damage and flaws in your print.

Print conservation and restoration is mostly science and technique, and part artistic talent. Experience is the most important quality to look for, along with keeping up on the latest techniques in the industry. Conservationists use the term "reduce" to describe their work and how successful they will be in cleaning your print. I think that some less experienced conservationists use "reduce" too often as a hedge to perhaps describe their uncertainty as to their effectiveness in removing stains or marks, or in making so-called invisible repairs. Yes, there are certain stains, creases or other print flaws that cannot be completely removed or corrected, and then the term reduce is apt. However, when a conservationist has your print in hand, he/she should be able to tell you, based on personal experience, whether the stain or mark can be completely removed, or whether the tear or other flaw repair will be invisible.

One should choose a conservationist who is conservative, rather than aggressive, in describing work to be done on your print. I'm sure there are people still in business who use household or beauty aid products to clean prints. They will aggressively clean and whiten your prints very cheaply, but with chemicals that will ultimately damage the colors on your print and the fibers of the paper. Antique print paper can be lightened/whitened so that virtually any stain or mark can be eliminated. However, if the paper becomes too white, it looks unnatural. I would never buy a print with flaws that could not readily be cleaned or repaired. However, I understand that you may have a print with a difficult problem. The firms I recommend below all use the descriptive term "creamy white" to describe how "clean/white" the paper of the finished print should look. For me, creamy white leaves the print looking natural and like an antique print in excellent condition, while completely removing any stains or marks that were on the print. You may have to decide between having a stain or mark reduced (but still faintly visible) and the paper being creamy white, or removing the stain or mark completely and having the paper a little too white. De-acidification treatments are invisible, and are extremely important in stabilizing and preserving a print's paper. Stains, marks, tears, etc. are aesthetic. If they are not in the image area, they can be reduced or repaired and matted over. If flaws or damage are in the image area, you will most likely have to decide how you want your print to look.

ASK QUESTIONS, and then ask some more questions. I believe that if a conservationist does not own and use a vacuum table, he/she is still in the low tech Dark Ages of conservation. If a conservationist uses the spray/spritz method of de-acidifying your print, those treatments will only last a year or two, and are a waste of time and your money. For quality lasting de-acidification, a thorough washing, using an aqueous solution, plus an enzyme and/or buffering treatment does the best job. As for whitening/bleaching of a print, I would avoid anyone who still uses powdered bleaches neutralized by vinegar, potassium permanganate and chloramine-T, or hydrogen peroxide. These are beauty shop chemicals or 6th grade chemistry at best, and will probably do more harm than good. So-called reducing bleaches, along with chlorite/chlorine-dioxide solutions, both as a gas and a liquid, are among the safest when used by experienced professionals. Finally, bleaching using sunlight or fluorescent light is very safe, easy to control and very effective.

Making the Decision -

Print conservation and restoration work is somewhat expensive. If you owned a damaged document of great sentimental value, you would probably spend the necessary money to have it restored and preserved, even though its monetary value is very low. Simply because visible damage and flaws can be covered or matted over, when a print is framed, does not stop the progression of that damage and make it go away. With Audubon prints, as works of art, you would want to determine the cost effectiveness of the necessary work, compared to the value of the print. Keep in mind that most damage and flaws are slowly progressive, and will eventually lead to to an unsightly or deteriorating print, unless corrective measures are taken. If proper conservation and restoration measures are done now, further damage can be prevented and the print will last for many many years before further treatment is necessary. Most any Havell, Imperial Folio or Bien Edition print would benefit from necessary conservation and/or restoration work.

In the case of the Octavos, both birds and quads, the decision to have a print cleaned or restored is both economic and aesthetic, and must be made carefully. The 500 1st edition octavo bird prints are loosely spoken of, and classified as being in tiers, based upon their retail prices within that edition. The upper two tiers might be those prints that generally retail for $1000-$1500, and $1500 and above (as found in my published Price Guides at ). The middle tier might retail in the $500-$1000 range. Finally, the lowest tiers would be those least popular prints that retail for under $250, and $250-$500. Prints within the various tiers can usually be purchased for much less on eBay. The economic dilemma is that about 400, of the 500 1st edition octavo bird prints, fall into the lowest tiers. These prints can still be purchased at relatively inexpensive prices. The average cost for having conservation and restoration work done on an octavo-sized print might be around $100. Can you justify spending $100 to restore a print that you spent little more than that on?

I would offer the following general guidelines. First, if you are acquiring or collecting large numbers of octavo prints in the hope of price appreciation within say the next 5-10 years, and you have no intention of framing and displaying these prints, I would only consider spending money and having the upper tier prints restored. However, you should buy prints only in the best condition that you can find and afford. If you are a serious small collector and intend to some day soon frame and display your collection, I would definitely consider having restoration work done on any of your prints that need it, regardless of cost effectiveness. The two most popular ways of collecting Audubon octavo prints are to collect an eclectic selection of prints representing birds or quads that you know or like, or are indigenous to your area. The second way many people collect is by genus (that is collecting all or some birds or quads within a given genus, like hummingbirds, woodpeckers, ducks, bears, cats, etc.) If you collect in this manner, some of your prints will be expensive and some relatively inexpensive. Before you mat, frame and display your collection, I believe it is well worth the cost to have conservation and restoration work done on those prints that need it, BEFORE matting and framing them. It is well worth the cost to preserve the prints in your personal collection, no matter what you paid for them.


I have personally used the following RECOMMENDED firms for conservation and restoration work on Audubon prints. All do excellent work. I cannot recommend any one over another. Contact them all, and discuss your needs. They are listed alphabetically.

Jenny Kipp Art and Old Print Restorations
Email - Phone - 978-494-2181 updated 5/1/2010
Jenny did some conservation and restoration work for me a number of years ago, when she lived in Colorado. She worked on a number of my Audubon prints, each with different issues.. I highly recommend her work. She is thorough, efficient, and utilizes the most modern techniques in a conservative manner. Her prices are reasonable.Jenny went into another business in California for a couple years, and discontinued doing conservation work for the public. She still does conservation work for museums and her father, Joe Kipp. If you are in the Northeast, click on the above link. It will take you to Joe Kipp's conservation website in Massachusetts. I have not personally used Joe Kipp. However, many people have told me he does excellent work. His posted hourly rates are reasonable. You may want to try him. Jenny Kipp is now in Denver, Colorado, as of May, 2010, and doing conservation and restoration work for the public. Contact her at the above email address or phone number.
Joel Oppenheimer Inc. (312) 642-5300
Joel Oppenheimer is a highly respected antique print dealer located in Chicago, IL. They have their own in-house conservation and restoration department. They will do work for individual collectors. Depending upon what work you need, they might be a bit costlier than the others. Octavo sized prints will average $150+. When you purchase antique prints from J.O., they automatically send them to their conservation and restoration department for any work needed, and then they mat them using museum quality materials. All of this is included in the retail price.

Patrick McGannon (404) 624-3876
7990 Georgetown Circle
Suwanee, GA 30024
Patrick was trained, and worked for a number of years, at a major conservation and restoration shop before moving to Atlanta and starting his own private business. He works on all paper prints and will do work for individual collectors. He is conservative in his approach to print conservation and restoration, and uses the safest treatments, especially for lightening/whitening of paper. Octavo sized prints will cost $60+, depending on work required.

The Philadelphia Print Shop Ltd. (215) 242-4750
The Philadelphia Print Shop located in, of course, Philadelphia, PA, is a highly respected and well-known antique print dealer. One of the owners is Chris Lane, who is regularly seen on the PBS Antiques Roadshow, and is a noted author on topics pertaining to antique prints. They do not have their own in-house conservation and restoration department. Instead, they send out this work to a local conservationist, who works under the direct supervision of Chris Lane. Of all the recommended firms, this one is probably the most conservative. Octavo sized prints will average $100+.


Margaret Moreland Fine Art
Baton Rouge, LA No URL
I called Margaret Moreland and discussed her conservation techniques, and subsequently sent her 3 Audubon octavo quad and bird prints for routine cleaning and de-acidification. The prints exhibited minor soiling and finger smudges in the margins, light toning around the 3 unbound edges, and a tiny fox mark or two, but nothing complicated or difficult. I sent a cover letter with the prints describing what I wanted done to each print. As is her custom, Margaret called me after receiving and examining my prints, and we went over what was to be done to each. The prints came back within 3 weeks, and I was disappointed that none of the prints was completely clean. The soiling, finger smudges, toning and few fox marks were all "reduced", but were not eliminated. Red colors on antique prints present a bit of a problem for conservationists, but experienced people can clean and de-acidify antique prints, with red colors, without damaging or fading the reds. Despite my wishes and her agreement to clean and de-acidify my Audubon octavo American Robin print, it was only dry cleaned on the surface, and NOT washed and de-acidified. The other two prints, one quad and one bird, were washed and de-acidified, but they were still not completely cleaned. I cannot recommend this firm.
Tracey Heft
I never sent any prints to Tracey Heft, but we exchanged several emails that confirmed to me that she had little or no experience in conservation or restoration of antique prints, despite what she said. Among quotes from Tracey are - "De-acidification of the prints will not be possible due to the hand-coloring" and "the removal of overall toning and especially the foxing is not done without a severe treatment including bleaching of the prints. Once again, not possible due to the water-based nature of the treatment materials." Well, I've had scores of antique hand colored prints cleaned and de-acidified without problems. I conclude that Tracey doesn't have enough experience to be working on antique hand colored prints, and therefore I cannot recommend this firm.

Skip Carpenter phone - 508-842-8250
Shrewsbury, MA 01545
Skip was recommended to me by an Ohio print dealer. However, after 10 minutes of talking with Skip on the phone, I determined I would never send him one of my prints. He charges about $25.00 to clean and de-acidify an octavo or folio size print. For whitening, he uses powdered bleach neutralized with vinegar. For de-acidification, he uses a spray/spritz solution. I cannot recommend this firm.

ADDED May, 1, 2010, From Harry Newman at The Old Print Shop in New York City - "I have several restorers that I recommend. One is here in NY. Her name is Andria Pitsch. (212) 594-9676. She is one of the finest paper conservators I know. She knows when to push and when not too. Another is Mindy Horn. She is located in Weston, Connecticut. (203) 454-2362. She is also very good at what she does."

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