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Paperdoll Review

The Preservation, Storage and Display
of Precious Paper Dolls

Copyright 1995 Judy M. Johnson

Publishing and distribution of this article requires approval from the author. Contact Judy at


It would seem obvious that the best way not to have damaged paper dolls is to prevent them from becoming damaged in the first place. Yet the ways in which they may become damaged are not always so obvious. These things can cause damage to paper:


  • Dings or dents from improperly holding a book or sheet
  • Bending or folding in envelopes or boxes
  • Folding, rolling or crushing prints
  • Corner dings from dropping or mailing without enough protection
  • Tearing from enthusiastic play
  • Ball point pen ink bleeding through backs

Poor Storage

  • Scraping surface inks by sliding two pages/ books/ sheets together
  • Pressure from stacking/packing too tightly, causing inks to compact or press onto another surface
  • Putting in brown paper or cardboard or with other acidic materials
  • Putting in areas of high humidity resulting in mold or mildew
  • Exposing to too much dryness
  • Exposing to too much heat or cold
  • Putting in drawers against raw wood
  • Putting in places infested with vermin: mice, chipmunks, moths and other insects
  • Exposing to dirt, dust, smoke, oils, sprays and other pollutants
  • Holding together with paper clips

Poor Display

  • Placing in florescent light or in direct--or even indirect--sunlight
  • Placing in non-archival plastics or acetate
  • Using improper adhesives such as cellophane tape or rubber cement which turn yellow-brown
  • Putting PDs in those photo albums with the sticky pages & PVC covers ... eeek!

Tip -- If your clear sleeves or coverings have a strong plastic smell to them, they are not archival. Do not use them for any papers you really value.

Archival Materials
Throughout this article I am speaking of "Archival" and "Acid Free" materials to use with your PDs. I have gotten most of my storage and display materials from Light Impressions catalog which is an education in itself, whether you buy anything or not. But once you study one, you will find several things you will need for your collection. Archival means that it has no acid or chemicals which can damage your valuable paper goods. Acid from other materials (paper, wood) and from the air itself (various pollutants) is what kills paper and causes it to become brittle and break. They even carry a spray to stop the acidification process. It's very expensive but worth it to use on very old and fragile paper dolls. It's wise to encapsulate fragile pieces after using the spray. You place the prints or the cut-out pieces on archival paper or board, then seal them under a sheet of clear mylar polyester film, stuck all around the edges with ATG tape, which is double sticky adhesive applied by a special roller. I have encapsulated many of my hand-painted antique fashion plates this way. Light Impressions has some tape on a roll for hand application. Order your LIGHT IMPRESSIONS free catalog by calling 1-800-828-5539.


As with your bodies, you want to slow the aging process. The previous list of damage methods age paper dolls more rapidly than necessary. So what to do if damage has already occurred? If there a way to reverse the damage? Yes, in some instances, and to some degree.

Unroll the Rolls
A large PD print has been rolled and does not want to flatten easily. Paper has a memory and knows its original form ... flat. By adding a bit of humidity a tightly rolled print can unroll gradually on its own., Do not attempt to force open. Surface inks may crack or pop. Use two new or very clean plastic trash cans, one large, one smaller. Put about an inch or less of water in the big can. Place the rolled print in the smaller, dry can. Put the small can inside the larger can and put a lid on it. The moisture will help the print gradually relax as it rehydrates. When some uncurling occurs, in a day or so, remove from the can and place on a sheet of white paper laid over newsprint, Lay clean sheets on top of print and put evenly distributed heavy books on top. Let sit for a day or two, then remove nice flat print.

Ding It Not
Those nasty little U or V shaped marks on books and prints are some of the most irritating insults to paper dolls and the most preventable. Try this with your telephone book: Hold it in the palm of your left hand and thumb through it. See those fingers underneath and the thumb pushing against them? Look at the back of the book where the U or V has formed. There will be a crinch in the inks and breakdown of the smoothness of the paper at the small of the dent. Not what you want to see on your PDs.

When you thumb through a PD book, hold it in the flat of your hand. Turn the pages one by one. When you lift a print, use two hands, or at least several fingers under the back before lifting. If its a large print, use your whole arm to lift. Bad habits and lack of knowledge can be corrected. But change is hard. I have seen historians flipping carelessly through my hundred-plus year-old fashion plates! Its hard to change others, but you can be aware of and change your own handling habits.

Repairing Dings
You can disguise dings in dark areas by dabbing matching watercolor into the cracks with the tip of a fine brush. If you are not an artist or good at mixing and matching colors, ask an expert to help you. Mix a shade lighter than you think you need, as paint often dries darker. You can always darken by adding another layer of color.

Boxing for Beauty
When storing in boxes or in drawers, use acid-free materials Place acid-free tissue between each PD when stacking. If using a wooden drawer, seal with white acrylic paint, then line with acid free paper. If you must use cardboard boxes, line them first with mylar, then stack with acid-free papers.

Filing for the Future
If you store PDs in a file cabinet, use hanging files lined with archival paper, or use file folders made of archival paper. Do not pack too tightly to cause intense pressure on inks, or too loosely so PDs bend.

Framing Fundamentals
When framing PD prints, always use a mat to keep art from touching the glass. A mat leaves an air pocket so paper can breath. It takes in and lets out humidity with the seasons. If against glass, paper will buckle and mildew can grow in the gaps.

Always use archival materials -- acid free mats, backing papers and boards. You can even buy UV filtered acrylic in place of glass.

Keep art from direct or reflected sunlight and out of florescent light. Use full spectrum lights with no ultra violet waves, to show your really valuable collection. You can buy UV shields for your florescent lights. Its good for your art and good for you.

Scrap Books and Binders
Clear Polypropylene sheet protectors are inexpensive to display prints and sets in binders. It is best to use acid-free paper backing before slipping PDs into sleeve. Use large soft brush to be sure PD is free of dust which can scratch and become embedded in the paper.

In acid-free paged scrap books, use clear mounting corners or plastic mounting strips by 3M Corp. Do not use corners on fragile old papers as they have a tendency to crack and break with pressure. If you must glue anything down, use a non-acidic glue stick such as UHU, Scotch or Dennison.

Ephemera storage bags of polypropylene come in all sizes, and are a nice way to store and show PDs. Mounting pages of 100% cotton with polypropylene sheets fitted over them are a safe and beautiful way to show your PDs in ring binders of several sizes.

Some well-played-with PDs are marked with pencil or crayon. Much of this can be safely removed without lifting the inks and ruining the color. White kneadable rubber erasers do a good job.

If tiny critters and molds have infested your PDs or books, you can kill them in the microwave. (Check for tiny pinholes in the paper -- a sign of insect infestation which could spread.) Lay book or cut sets on the clean bottom of microwave. Put an open small dish of water in with it to add some humidity to the air if the paper is extremely dry. Set on high for 30 seconds. Stop and feel the surface of paper. You want it hot, but not too hot to touch. Beware of scorching -- this is not good.

Before microwaving mildewed papers, first brush off as much as you can. Then with a clean, wrung out, damp cloth gently brush away the remainder on outside surfaces and inner covers. Microwave as above, but without the dish of water. Set out in well-ventilated area to dry, turning pages from time to time. Make sure paper is thoroughly dry before storing again.

Judy Johnson is a founding member of the Original Paper Doll Artists Guild, writes for several national magazines and is a paper doll artist whose books have been published by Dover and B. Shackman. She is also the primary artist for Magicloth Paper Dolls. For a catalog of her paper dolls and paper goodies, send $3 to: Judy's Place, P.O. Box 216, Skandia, MI 49885, or visit her papergoodies website.

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