Print Storage

Reproduced by permission of the author - Ron Flynn

Print Storage

Care and Protection for Your Antique Prints

By Ron Flynn

Whether you are a serious collector with many prints, or a casual collector who buys only a few Audubon prints to eventually frame and hang on a wall, there are some basic steps to take in order to protect and preserve your prints while they are being stored.

All original Audubon prints, from the Havells through the later edition octavos, are roughly 130-175 years old now. All editions, except the Bien, were printed on very high quality cotton based wove paper. These papers should last for many hundreds of years with proper care and storage. However, many original Audubon prints are beginning to look old today. Besides the usual flaws that show up on prints of this age, the papers they are printed on are showing signs of being acidic. This is due, in part, to impurities in the paper itself. However, the main causes are:  improper storage and framing, excessive heat and humidity, exposure to light, and pollutants in the environment. The signs of acidic paper are foxing, molding, discoloration, and either limp or brittle paper. In time, the acids in the paper will begin to breakdown the fibers of the paper, and then the paper itself will deteriorate.

Before storing away your antique Audubon prints, examine them closely. Determine their condition and flaws, and look for signs of aging and acidity. Before putting your antique Audubon prints into short or long term storage, you might consider having print conservation or restoration work done on them, to preserve them for another 150 years or more. You should particularly consider repairing tears, cleaning, and de-acidifying them. You might also read my article on Print Conservation and Restoration.

The first step in storing your Audubon prints, whether they are original antiques or modern high quality restrikes and facsimiles, is that THEY MUST BE STORED FLAT ! If prints are rolled up and stored in a tube for even a few days, the connecting fibers that make up and hold the paper together will be bent, stretched and weakened. This is true for the Havells, Biens and Imperial Folios. There would never be a reason to roll the smaller octavos. I believe each print should be individually stored in a protective envelope or other appropriate packaging. This will be discussed in detail later in this article.


It is quite logical to store your Audubon prints in your home. First, be sure to purchase a rider on your homeowner’s or renter’s insurance policy to cover the artwork you own. After a couple of insurance claims over 30+ years, I am glad that I have always paid the few extra dollars for replacement value insurance coverage. With actual cash value insurance coverage, the insurance company is going to try and depreciate your artwork if you have a loss for whatever reason. You should always have photos or a video of your artwork kept in your safety deposit box, plus an itemized list of all prints. With replacement value insurance coverage, in the event of a loss, you may not even need your original purchase receipts. You should keep one or two up to date price lists, from reputable dealers, as your evidence of replacement cost. No matter where you acquired your Audubon prints and how much you paid, artwork does appreciate in value.

Generally, store your prints flat, in a cool dry dark location. This is ideal, but perhaps not entirely achievable. If your home has central air conditioning, with an automatic humidifier for added moisture in the winter heating season, this is probably the best setup you could have short of a climate controlled room or paper vault. Avoid storing your prints in areas of extreme heat, such as: in an attic, near a heat register, or in a stuffy closet. Avoid storing your prints in areas with excessive moisture or high humidity, such as: in a damp basement, in a crawl space, and in any bathroom areas. Do not store your prints in any location where they will be exposed to any light source. You also want to insure that your Audubon prints are stored so that rodents and insects and curious little fingers cannot come in contact with your artwork.

Obviously, with collectible and valuable artwork in your home, you must consider the possibility of theft and fire (including smoke and water damage). There are other considerations when your Audubon prints are on display in your home, and they are covered in detail in my Matting and Framing article.

If you do not rent a safety deposit box at a bank, you can purchase high quality fireproof storage boxes that can be kept in your home. Unfortunately, these boxes do not come in sizes large enough to store Imperial Folios and larger editions. They would certainly be stolen if found in your home by a thief. However, they do provide effective protection from fire, smoke and other airborne pollutants, as well as being waterproof. They can be used to store valuable and important papers, evidence of your Audubon prints, and will even hold octavo sized Audubon originals.


I don’t know how many people might rent a safety deposit box at a bank. Security, of course, is excellent, but size is limited. I have never seen a bank safety deposit box that will hold any Audubon prints larger than the octavos. However, private vaults do have larger storage facilities. Storage conditions in a bank safety deposit box or private vault are usually ideal. If your Audubon print collection is fairly valuable, the annual rental fee for secure storage is well worth the price. Homeowner’s or renter’s insurance policy riders on artwork usually extend your coverage to a secure storage facility. Most bank and storage vaults have sprinkler systems in case of fire. The actual vault sections, as well as the storage boxes inside, are not usually waterproof or smoke proof. Take this into account when storing your artwork. Also, some secure storage facilities might have some type of gas release security measures in case of break-in and theft. 


I stated earlier in this article that I believe that Audubon prints should be individually stored in some sort of protective envelope, sleeve or package. Besides the location and environmental considerations mentioned above, an individually packaged and sealed print is protected from airborne pollutants in the storage area. A number of archival products designed specifically for protective packaging are available. I will provide a list of archival supply stores at the end of this article. There are several archival paper sheet products (some like a tissue paper and others more like a glassine or waxed paper) that come in various sizes. These would be used for long term protective packaging and storage, as the sheets would be folded and neatly creased around your print (like wrapping a present) and then sealed with archival tape. This would make a type of package that you would not be going into on a regular basis, and your prints could not be clearly viewed through these products.

The clear plastic sleeves or pockets made from polyethylene, polystyrene or other archival plastics are much more versatile. They are available in various sizes, but I have not found one large enough to hold a double elephant sized print. They are sold as individual print holders in various quantity packages, but also often come as pages in a protective folio or presentation portfolio. The protective folios or presentation portfolios, with either hard or soft covers, will come with a fixed number of sleeves or pockets, or they will be like 2 or 3 ring binders enabling you to add more sleeves or pockets. These products offer added protection and are great for home storage, as well as carrying your prints around. I have a zippered soft cover presentation portfolio that I use to store and transport my antique folio sized prints. It is a bit flexible. For added support, I placed a sheet of acid-free foamcore in one of the clear plastic pockets.

I prefer to store most of my prints in a flat crystal clear poly envelope/bag that is made from 1.6 mil BOPP film. They are museum and archival quality and have a reseal-able adhesive flap. They come in over 70 different sizes, including the 30-7/16” x 40-1/4”, and a few other large sizes that will hold a double elephant print. They are available online. For small, non commercial,  orders go to . Anyone can order from this site. You do not have to be a dealer.

For my octavo sized prints, I use the size for 8-1/2” x 11” (the bag is slightly larger to allow for expansion). I insert a piece of 8-1/2” x 11” acid and lignin free art paper for extra support and protection. I center the octavo print on the paper, and slip each corner of the print into clear archival Mylar mounting corners. The corners hold the print on the backing paper and prevent the print from shifting around and getting damaged. I also use these same clear flat poly envelopes for retail packaging of the Giclée Fine Art Prints, of my wife's watercolor paintings, that I produce. Prints and original watercolor paintings can be seen at - . I prefer to package my Audubon prints individually, because they can also be viewed individually. If you are not going to be viewing your prints often, you can obviously put more than one print in each storage package. However, I would recommend inserting an archival slip-sheet between each print. Any of the archival papers mentioned above can be used as a slip-sheet.


There is a vast selection of different types and sizes of archival storage boxes that will provide additional protection and organization for your packaged prints. These boxes are often called museum or library storage boxes. Some types of archival storage boxes will be labeled photo storage, but can be used for prints if the size is right. They are quite sturdy and most are made from what is known as archival boxboard. Several manufacturers will have matching sized plastic sleeves or envelopes to fit their storage boxes. Newer archival storage boxes are made from rigid poly, and are very strong. These poly boxes are also dustproof, smoke proof and waterproof.

Simple boxes will merely have a lift off lid (like a gift box). Others will have drop down sides, clamshell construction or flip open corners along one edge. A few clamshell boxes will open to reveal a 2 or 3 ring binder apparatus to hold specific clear plastic sleeves or pockets. I suggest you browse the online catalogues of the SOURCES listed below, or call them for their printed catalogue. If you need a lot of storage for large prints, you can buy large deep metal or wood cabinets or files with many shallow drawers. They will cost in the range of several hundred dollars and up, but will hold large prints very securely.


SOURCES – (in no particular order) (800) 233-2630

Light Impressions (800) 828-6216

My Labs  (212) 929 3036

Adorama Camera  (800) 223-2500

Gaylord’s  (800) 448-6160

University Products  (800) 628- 1912


Archival Methods  (866) 877-7050