How to Protect your Autographs from Fading March 25 2022
Welcome to this guide on the steps you can take to take care of your autograph collection.
Over time, autographs will fade if they're not taken care of appropriately and there's nothing worse than a beloved autograph fading and becoming unrecognizable. By storing them properly, you can rest assured that you'll avoid any heartbreak later down the line. Collecting autographs is an exciting hobby and can sometimes involve large investments, meaning it's important to make smart choices in terms of how you handle your collection.
Unlike other collectibles, restoring autographs is uncommon and often avoided due to the ethical implications. The whole point of an autograph is that it comes from the person who originally signed it and any retouching, however minor, will decrease if not completely obliterate the value of your autograph in the eyes of the collecting community.
You are also unlikely to find a reputable professional willing to restore autographs. As such, protecting autographs from fading and preventing the need for restoration is one of the most important aspects of owning autographs.
It is also important to note that photo images themselves can and many times will fade, so even unsigned photos should be stored away from harsh, direct sunlight. And sometimes the photo itself is even more affected than the signature.
THE IMPORTANCE OF APPROPRIATE STORAGE
How you store your autograph collection is extremely important. There may be some autographs that you are content to have stored in an album ready to pull out to amaze your guests. However, there'll also be some autographs you wish to display pride of place in your home as a conversation starter or a homage to the person who wrote the autograph. There are many ways you can keep autographs safe from fading, regardless of how you decide to display them.
Maria Callas as Alceste - An example of an autograph with a grade of fading
Detail of the faded signature of Maria Callas as Alceste
If you store your autographs away from light, it's important to store them correctly. If you're new to the world of autograph collecting, you'll likely be unfamiliar with the best practices that can help keep your collection looking as fresh as the day they were written. Our guide on how to store autographed photos can help you get to grips with the basics.
We also have a handy guide on framing your autographs, although framing is just the first step of storing your autographs appropriately.
After you've framed them, you must store them away from a direct source of light on them otherwise you risk them fading. Read on to find out why autographs fade.
One reason autographs fade is the material they are written on. If your autograph is on porous material, it's likely that over time the ink will fade into the material and cause the signature to look fuzzy and faded. Unfortunately, this is unavoidable in certain circumstances. Your autographs could also be fading because of the type of pen used to write them. A cheap pen is never the solution for providing long-lasting autographs so it’s worth investing a few extra dollars into a good one.
As important as the fabric and pen quality are, the primary cause of autographs fading is exposure to light. The sun's natural light contains harmful ultra-violet (UV) rays that have a damaging effect on the molecules in ink. However, artificial lighting can also have a negative effect and speed up the fading process. This means it’s important to keep your autographs out of direct sunlight if you want them to last as long as possible. However, we know this may not always be possible if you want to display your autographs, so there are a couple of things you can do to mitigate the risk of fading.
The first one is to simply keep your autographs in a darker room in your house, perhaps a room which is used the least and receives little natural sunlight. The safest option is to store them away from all sources of light, such as in an album which is stored in a cupboard.
If you do want to display your autographs, it’s essential that you use a frame or case which has UV-protective glass as this will provide the best protection against the harmful effects of sunlight.
You may feel that having your autographs in a frame, behind glass, and on your wall is keeping them safe. However, unless it's UV-protective glass you could actually be causing them to deteriorate even faster because regular glass can act as a magnifying glass, increasing the damaging effect of both sunlight and artificial light. Even just a couple of hours of sunlight a day can cause significant deterioration in your autographs. While you may be tempted to illuminate your autograph collection with artificial lighting, but this can also cause them to fade, especially fluorescent lighting.
Without UV-protective glass, harmful sunlight will interact with the color molecules of the ink and cause photolysis which is when a compound is deteriorated by light or other radiation. Pen ink is rather susceptible to this phenomenon so you should do your best to protect your autographs from sunlight and artificial light.
Signature on cloth, faded - Darci Kistler signed pointe shoes
Detail of the heavily faded autograph of Darci Kistler on her pointe shoe
Using UV-protective glass does not guarantee 100% protection and it is very important to understand that no glass offers full (100%) protection.
There are also products available, including a UV-protective spray by Krylon, which can be used to further protect your pieces. This spray is available from Amazon and is recommended by professionals.
Combining UV-protective glass with a UV-protective spray is an even better way of keeping your autographs looking fresh. And combining these two products with low exposure to all kinds of light is the best approach. The small expenditure associated with sourcing these products is well worth the protection they offer your valuable investments.
As professionals with a long history in this niche area, we strongly advise all of our customers to invest in both UV-protective glass and, even more important, keep their framed autographs away from direct sunlight and high indirect light. A UV-protective spray can add an extra layer of protection, as they will save you a lot of money in the long run.
Depending on what your autograph features on, there are certain things that can be useful to know. For example, if your autographs are on something like a jersey or a football helmet there are slightly different steps that you should take. The following points cover some of the most popular kinds of autographed memorabilia and how you can best take care of them.
One of the best ways to protect an autograph on an item of clothing is to have it professionally framed. While this may seem expensive, it's best to have an expert do it so you don't run the risk of damaging it. While it can be tough to accept that you'll not be able to wear your signed clothing again, if you're serious about keeping the autograph looking fresh then it’s a price you have to pay.
Signed Photograph of Beatrice Kerr - a fading photo image
Another tip is if you're getting an autograph on any type of clothing or hat, you should choose a natural fiber, such as cotton, because synthetic fibers don't absorb the ink as well which could leave the autograph looking smudged or fuzzy. If you can, get the person signing your garment to use a permanent ink marker or a pen used to label laundry as they have been specially formulated to remain on fabric.
Sports fans often get their heroes to sign items such as baseballs or footballs. Thankfully, MLB balls are made of leather and NFL and NCAA footballs are made of cowhide, which means keeping the autographs on them looking pristine is easy. Simply keep them away from light and consider investing in a UV-protective glass case. The same goes for all kinds of memorabilia including helmets and bats. As long as they're out of light, they are much more likely to last.
Some collectors coat leather signed memorabilia (such as balls, for example) with a product called Resolene, 50/50 in water. We strongly advice to stay away from artificially coating your autographs on any materials, with any product, it will certainly affect the value in a negative manner. Good protection goes a long way and you should never and do not need to add plastics or other chemicals on top of the ink.
So, in order to keep your precious and valuable autographs in prime condition for as long as possible, here are the key things to keep in mind.
If possible, keep your autographs out of light, especially direct sunlight, but remember artificial light can damage them too. If you are displaying your collection, it’s best to display them in a room which does not receive a lot of sunlight. You should protect your collection by storing them in a UV-protective glass case or frame and investing in some UV-protective spray.
If you follow the simple steps provided in this guide, your prized autograph collection will remain in good health for many years to come.
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