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Autograph Framing Done Right - How to Frame Your Autographs Properly November 26 2020

With the time, patience, and resources put into acquiring that treasured

Emmy Destinn frame with signed photo in Un Ballo in Maschera

autograph, the last thing you want to do is have all that effort go to waste.

Whether it’s an autographed photo, a marked-up historical document, or a signed movie poster, you’ll want to keep the autograph in as pristine a condition as you received it. For the autograph collector, the framing process is integral to preserving the collectibles in their collection. When done properly, you will have a collection that not only looks great but also stands the test of time.

Shown here is a frame with one opening, a red mat board (top mat) and a second mat in golden color (bottom mat, underneath the top red mat, a small portion of it is visible only on the borders of the opening), and a signed photograph of opera singer Emmy Destinn.

Whilst ensuring your autograph photos are framed appropriately can sometimes take as much patience and resources from collectors as securing the collectibles in the first place, this will be time and money well-spent. Improper framing can not only poorly display your items, but (and even worse) it could permanently damage them too. With this in mind, it’s important to know how to frame valuable autographs and the various framing choices you have to choose from. 

What framing technique is right for you takes into account several factors: the picture in question, the conditions in which it will be displayed, lighting, humidity, temperature, and of course cost. Add into further elements such as the different types of glass, mat boards, the frame itself, and your own desired aesthetic, and it’s clear there might be a bit more to this than you perhaps originally envisaged…!

If all the things just mentioned suddenly make the picture framing process seem a bit more daunting, don’t worry: in this article, we give you answers to what you need to know about autograph framing, detailing the most important elements of the process, and highlighting best practices so that you can find the ideal picture frame for your needs. By the end of this article, framing will be as clear as museum grade framing (you’ll understand what that means too!).

At the end, we also guide you on selecting where to frame your autographs.

Let’s get to the best tips! 

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Can my autograph be damaged by bad framer work or cheap framing?

Great question! The simple answer is yes. Now of course “cheap” is a relative term - essentially what you’re looking to avoid is any generic, off-the-shelf product. The frame you choose for your autograph has to be thought of in the context of investment, rather than “additional cost”.

This is because, without the proper framing, your autographed photo or document can be damaged by a number of factors:

• discoloration from light sources and UV rays

• “mat burn” (e.g. browning on certain areas that the picture or object has been in contact with)

• dampness (and subsequently growing of mold) as a result of humidity

• cracking and peeling due to extreme temperature changes

This damage won’t be immediately obvious, but by the time you do notice it will be irreversible, permanently diminishing any market value your autograph might have previously held. Don’t forget either that your collectibles are at risk of damage from both outdoor and indoor UV light rays: even incandescent and fluorescent life can deteriorate your valuables. So, just because an autograph might be kept in your man-cave or basement out of the sunlight doesn’t mean you should disregard the risk of discoloration. 

This is why it’s so important to find the right framing technique; whilst many people look to prioritize a frame’s aesthetics most, if you’re looking to place an autograph in one, how well it protects and preserves it should be top of your list. We certainly want our collectibles to be well-displayed too so that whatever’s held in the frame can be clearly seen - this is another factor to take into account when choosing which frame to purchase, and, as we’ll go into further detail below, you can definitely have both.

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What are the different types of framing?

There might be hundreds of brand names of frames available in frame shops, but these can broadly be separated into three distinct categories:

1. Regular framing 

2. Conservation grade framing 

3. Museum quality framing

Whilst these mention “framing” in their titles (which will be a term you’ll regularly see), the main distinguisher between these classifiers is the glass they use, which ultimately provides the primary protective barrier for your autographed photo against potentially damaging elements. So what is the difference between regular framing, conservation-grade framing, and museum-quality framing?

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What is Regular Framing?

Regular framing uses standard glass and will be the cheapest of your framing options.

The advantages of regular frame/standard glass: 

• this type of frame will protect your pieces from things such as dust and fingerprints

• Probably the most “competitively” priced. 

The disadvantages of regular frame/standard glass: 

• regular framing blocks the least amount of UV light and so can lead to major discoloration

• risk of damage from heat and humidity

• If non-reflective glass is used, the glass is subject to a significant amount of glare

• In the case of non-reflective, whilst a non-glare matte finish will reduce glare, that matted quality will also decrease the subject’s clarity from a distance

If your desire is to have a collectible that looks the same in a few years as it did when you framed it, the honest answer is there isn’t any point putting it under this type of regular window glass. 

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What is Conservation Grade Framing?

Acid-Free matting - UV-protective glass sticker used by Tamino Autographs

Conservation grade framing is an ideal choice for most items that are stored at home, in temperate climates, and the higher quality market value banding.

Tamino Autographs provides framed autographs to the Metropolitan Opera Shop, frames are conservation grade, with a sticker indicating that on the back (shown here).

The advantages of conservation grade framing:

• Conservation grade framing comes with a UV coating that protects against permanent light damage, and thus fading and discoloration 

• Combining new advances in glass manufacturing that are reducing the cost-price of this material, as well as the protection it offers in keeping an autograph in an unspoiled condition are increasingly making this the most cost-effective option available.

The disadvantages of conservation grade framing:

• doesn’t necessarily provide the best reflection-free viewing

This type of framing is ideally suited for autographs that have an especially personal and sentimental value attached to them, and where a consistently crisp, clear, all-angle display is not the biggest concern.

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What is Museum Quality Framing?

This framing will be the most expensive, but where you get a lot of bang for your buck.

Museum-quality framing achieves both protection for your autograph and a clearer, brighter display. 

The advantages of museum quality framing:

• UV glass blocks 99% of UV light

• Provides the lowest possible level of reflection (<1%) available with this level of UV protection

• Optimal clarity for true color transmission, providing the highest level of brightness and contrast

• Ensures detailed clarity where you can pick out even the smallest features

The disadvantages of museum quality framing:

• The upfront cost; we say upfront cost since this involves looking at this kind of “expense” as an investment. By safeguarding the condition of the framed-piece, this high-grade framing can well pay for itself in the end.

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What is matting, and why is matting important to the preservation of your framed piece?

The glass of your frame is an important part of the framing puzzle, but it is by no means the only piece. When you frame your autograph, it’s imperative to ensure your photo will not stick to the glass. If a photograph is touching the frame’s glass, two things can happen as a result of condensation from heat passing through the front of your display. With the moisture that’s accumulated, the photo or item can either suffer from water damage or stick to the glass’ coating surface, making it impossible to remove without peeling or tearing. 

This is where matting comes in. A mat board forms a barrier between the glass of the frame and the piece itself, ensuring your item does not touch the glass. Moreover, using a board also has the purpose of enhancing the display of the item, by adding additional depth and shades to your photos and complementing their aesthetic. However, matting presents its potential for damaging your pieces. 

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How can matting damage my picture?

Depending on the material the mat board is made of, it can cause irreversible damage to your photo, namely acid burn.

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What is acid burn?

Substances degrade over time, and as some mat boards go through this process, they will gradually leak acid onto your item. This is a very slow process, largely dependent on the mat board’s material itself as well as the humidity and temperature changes it’s subject to. You won’t necessarily see it on the face of the item not covered by the matting, but on the edges that are. Mat burn comes in the form of obvious browning where your item has come into contact with the board. 

How to avoid mat burn

The best way to avoid mat burn is to find acid-free matting. There are three categories of matting that offer varying degrees of protection against the risk of mat burn:

1. Acid-free

2. Lignin-free

3. Museum grade matting

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What is the difference between acid-free/lignin-free and museum-grade matting?

Acid-free matting

The majority of mat boards available today are treated to a neutral ph, and so, to begin with at least, are acid-free. However, this first category, which tends to be the most inexpensive, are not necessarily lignin-free. Lignin is a fibre from plants that can also be found in paper-made products. 

Lignin is what causes the paper to deteriorate or change color, and still degrade ultimately resulting in mat burn, even if it takes longer than a non-treated mat board.

If your mat board is not lignin-free, you will have to replace this every few years to avoid mat-burn.

Lignin-free matting

Also known as conservation matting, these boards are made from alpha-cellulose, a material that has been treated to be completely lignin-free. This matting will last longer than your acid-free (but not lignin-free) alternative. Equally however it will eventually degrade and will have to be replaced at some point, although we’re talking decades here.

Museum-grade matting

Acid-free and lignin-free matting is made of paper which can ultimately degrade over time. Museum-grade boards, however, are made out of cotton which will preserve your photos for hundreds of years, lasting generation after generation. It is fade and bleed-resistant, and naturally acid-free and lignin-free. This would be highly recommended for historical and highly prized autograph photos or documents that you are looking to keep in immaculate condition for as long as possible.

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Mounting of your Autographs

Always remember to ask about how your pictures will be mounted inside the display. Not asking these questions could result in framers many times mounting your valuable collectibles with glue or tape, and not with reversible materials such as photo corners or tape that is safe for your document or photo. Images can be deteriorated or be impossible to remove later, without causing irreversible damage. Search for the right framer store, that can deliver the type of work and the way you need.

 

5 Simple tricks that will greatly enhance the look of your framed autographs / collectibles:

Double Matting

You can ask your frame shop to do double (and even triple) matting, with mats in different colors, one on top of the other, but the bottom one is only visible at the border of the opening, and by a 1/4 of an inch or so.

Example below shows a double matted photograph signed by several singers, it has a top darker green mat and a bottom mat in golden color, that is only visible around the edges of the opening, providing a small area of gold between the green mat and the actual photograph. That golden bottom mat provides a nice combination and consistency with the fine golden frame.

Carmen at the Met 1910s - Reiss Bada - Farrar - Tamino Autographs

Multiple Openings

When you frame more than one piece, each in a separate opening or window in your top mat. Combining photographs with clips, programs, letters, tickets, and more, will create a much richer visual experience and a significantly better looking result!

Here below is a frame with 4 openings, and double matting.

Marcella Sembrich signed photo - ad - ticket stub and program clip - Tamino Autographs

Above: Polish opera singer Marcella Sembrich (1858-1935) signed photo postcard (center, top opening), framed with a record advertisement from a magazine, featuring her, a clip from a concert program (left opening) and a ticket stub for that concert (center, bottom opening).

Shadow Boxes

For thicker items, framers can also create shadow boxes or cases for you, which will be able to display autographed objects such as books, sport balls, a larger quantity of items, a sign, and other objects. A professional framer should be able to give you this option and explain how they will be mounted inside his display work, be it with tape, photo corners, plastic (fishing) line, or else.

Metropolitan Opera - Old House memorabilia - Shadow Box - Tamino Autographs

A shadow box displaying objects from the old building of the Metropolitan Opera in New York (inaugurated in 1883, demolished in 1966). Box includes a piece of the stucco (top left), a piece of the curtain (bottom left), a plaque from the entrance to one of the box seats (top, right), and a photo postcard showing the building exterior (bottom, right).

A small metal plaque below, with the legend indicates what building this is, such a plaque can be ordered with a custom text in any many frame shops.

Fillets

These are small pieces of thin frame that are sometimes attached to the inner border a mat opening, creating a decorated edge. The above photograph, with the shadow box, shows golden fillet attached (glued) to the inner edge of the opening of the top (red) mat.

Floating

Your framed piece is "floated" when at least 2 mats are used, and your collectible piece is (reversibly) mounted on a bottom mat, with one or more mats on top of it that have no contact with your autograph. This way, the photograph or framed item is shown surrounded by an area of the bottom mat (giving the impression that is "floats" on it. In a float mounting, the top mat does not overlap the framed item in any way.

Example below shows an LP record signed by Italian opera singer Claudia Muzio (1889-1936), that is mounted "floating" over a red mat that is at the bottom. This is framed next to another opening displaying a signed photo of her as Tosca (not floating).

Claudia Muzio signed LP and signed photo as Tosca - Tamino Autographs

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Where to Frame your Autographs

We showed you how to do it / what to look for. Now, where can you do that?

Tamino Autographs does not offer custom framing services but it is super easy: find a frame shop business in your area that do custom framing, and ask if they do conservation framing or archival quality framing.

A shop that seems to be mainly focused on framing of weddings, family and baptism photos does not look like a good candidate for you. They should offer acid-free mats and special glasses as options, they should look at your collectible and give you choices that are oriented not only towards the how it looks, but to also better preserve your item in the long term.

No glue mounting, no permanent stuff on your stuff, only mounting that can be easily removed when you wish to open the frame, and won´t leave any mark, won´t rust. Ask all the questions about this before you leave your items in their hands.

Make sure they understand collectibles very well and that they are always worth a lot to you, no matter their financial value. Make sure they have worked in the past with antique paper that can be brittle and with valuable collectibles, and they are not learning anything with you and your autographs. Not having acid-free mats and conservation materials in stock, and having to order them specially for you is a bad sign, we recommend you don´t ignore that. 

If they don´t fit the bill, or there is something you don´t like, remember that if anything can go wrong with your framing, it will and can seriously hurt your material. Move on and visit another shop that does what you need.

In other words, match the investment of time and money you put in your collectible, into your framing of it.

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REMARKS and CONCLUSION

As you can see, many considerations go into framing photographs such as autographed photos or posters. Whilst many people want their items to have top quality frames for autographed pictures, sometimes the highest cost sets the alarm bells off. What goes into that cost? The cheaper choices available will most likely be mass-produced products, designed for generic use, with the quality of glass almost certainly being an issue.

Most of the time if you buy a “ready-made frame” right off the shelf, chances are it's not going to be conservation grade glass. Chances are the other materials in there aren't going to be of a high-quality standard either (such as being that lower grade of acid-free matting) - these things bought off the shelf aren't going to do enough when looking for long-term preservation that collections need.

Quality framing is more like buying a piece of furniture or a good heavy winter coat that's going to last you year after year after year. When a collector buys from display work from a specialist store, he is getting something that's intended to be good for the life of the piece, extending it beyond what would be possible otherwise. So, when you think about the cost of framing, you do really get what you pay for. Make sure you order acid-free foam core backing as well, to match your conservation-grade display. Backing should also match the rest of the display in quality.

Ultimately, custom frames for autographs are constructed much more differently than a ready-made frame, straight off the shelf:

• It’s not going to come apart if you drop it

• It's joined by hand

• It’s customized for each piece

People can get a bit of sticker shock from time to time, but any thoughtfully purchased frame is made intended to last and to help preserve your photos forever, making it look great at the same time.

Where to 

(Article by Jonathan Ward, edited by Nestor Masckauchan)

Read also:

The Ultimate Guide on How to Store your Autographed Photos

Autograph Frame Glass Options for your Paper Collectibles

 

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