Masonic Library & Museum Association

Caring for Your Masonic Treasures

We at the National Heritage Museum often receive calls from Masonic lodges asking how to preserve their historic documents—diaries, manuscripts, charters, minute books, and certificates—as well as their photographs and books. We have produced this booklet to help fill this need. It will help you preserve your lodge's history by extending your collection's life as long as possible. This booklet outlines various preservation techniques and explains:

■ how they relate to what the items are made of.

■ how they counteract environmental influences that can age the items in your collection.

■ how to store your documents and books appropriately, and

■ how to contact and hire a professional conservator to repair damaged documents and books.

With these suggestions in hand, you can start preserving your Masonic lodge collections right away.


When you are planning to preserve your historic collections, the first thing to consider is what the items are made of. Some materials simply last longer than others. Organic materials - ones that come from plant or animal sources - are more likely to deteriorate than inorganic materials. For example, paper and leather are more fragile than ceramics or stone. Other materials break down more quickly because of "inherent vice" which is inevitable deterioration, often caused by the materials the item is made of. One example is common wood-pulp papers that produce acid as they degrade. The following is a description of materials that make up paper, inks, photographs, and books and what makes them deteriorate naturally.


Most Masonic lodge documents are made of paper. Paper is made of plant fibers such as cotton, wood, flax, straw, and mulberry that have been reduced to pulp, suspended in water and then matted into sheets. However, some lodge documents from the late 1700s, such as certificates and charters, were made from animal skin, called parchment or vellum. This material is more stable and durable than paper.

Some types of paper are more chemically stable than others - that is, some types do not deteriorate as quickly as others do. Paper from the 1700s and early 1800s is generally quite strong and flexible because of its cotton and rag content (see Figure 1). In the late 1800s, as papermaking became more mechanized, new processes and materials resulted in much less expensive but shorter-lasting paper. Manufacturers began to use ground wood pulp because it was plentiful and cheap. However, it does not produce stable paper because it produces acid as it ages.


Figure 1. These manuscripts were written in the 1820s on high-quality rag paper. Photograph courtesy of David Bohl.


How durable ink is depends on what it is made of. There are many types of inks including carbon ink, iron gall ink, and copying inks. Iron gall ink, commonly used in pens in the 1700s and 1800s, fades when exposed to light. Because this ink is made of iron mixed with several types of acid, it can burn into paper. Other inks bleed through the pages onto adjoining ones over time, producing smudges or shadows.


Collections of historical documents often include photographs. A photograph consists of a support or base, usually paper, upon which an image-bearing chemical layer, or emulsion, is applied. The photographic images arc formed when the emulsion is exposed to light. The most common emulsion is gelatin, and the image in most black-and-white prints is made of a fine metallic silver dust. Although photographs can be made of different support or base materials, such as metal, glass, or plastic film, we will only consider paper prints here because they are the most common in historic Masonic lodge collections.


Although books have been made since medieval times, the ones in your lodge's collection are probably less than 200 years old, so we will consider only these types of books here (see Figure 2). Each book includes many different materials. The pages are made of paper, which are sewn together with thread. The cover is made of cloth or leather stiffened with boards and the pages are glued into the cover using a piece of heavy gauze.

As with documents, the quality of paper used in books varies greatly. Paper high in wood pulp content, introduced in the late 1800s, is very acidic. Pages made of this paper will turn yellow, dry out, and begin to crumble into dust within just a few years. However, a book printed on acid-free paper can last a long time.


Figure 2. You might have a ledger book like this one from the 1860s in your collection. Photograph courtesy of David Bohl.

All of the following preservation techniques will help slow down the natural processes of deterioration in paper, ink, photographs, and books.


Where and how you store your Masonic lodge documents, photographs, and books can greatly affect how long they will survive. This section will help you understand how light, temperature, and humidity can affect these collections and what you can do to keep the environment stable and moderate.


Exposure to light, even for a short time, is damaging. This deterioration is cumulative and irreversible— that is, once a document has faded, it cannot be restored, and further exposure to light will fade it more. For this reason, items in your collection should not be exhibited for more than three to four months. Light also weakens paper, making it brittle, or it can cause the paper to bleach, yellow, or darken. Light also causes inks to fade or change color, making the documents and books difficult to read. It can also fade bookbindings. Exposure to light can discolor photographs, especially color prints.

Although all types of light are damaging, invisible ultraviolet (UV) radiation is especially harmful to documents, photographs, and books. Sunlight and artificial fluorescent light emit high levels of UV energy, so they are the most destructive. Ideally historic documents, photographs, and books should be exposed to light only while they are being used. When not in use. they should be stored in a windowless room that is lighted with incandescent bulbs. If your storage area has windows, you should cover them with drapes, shades, blinds, or shutters that completely block the sun. These simple changes to your storage area can keep the items in it from fading.

Temperature and Relative Humidity

Extreme temperatures and high humidity contribute significantly to the breakdown of paper and other materials, so keeping a constant environment in your building is crucial for preserving historic documents, books, and photographs. Heat greatly speeds up deterioration with each increase in temperature of 18° F approximately doubling the rate of most harmful chemical reactions. Relative humidity is the relation of moisture in the air to temperature. High relative humidity causes chemical changes to paper. In combination with high temperature, humidity encourages mold growth and insect activity on all types of materials. These high levels of humidity and temperature also soften gelatin emulsions in photographs, causing them to stick to other surfaces. Extremely low relative humidity, which can occur in centrally heated buildings during the winter months, causes certain types of paper and books to become brittle. It can also cause emulsion layers on photographs to crack or peel.

Frequent small changes in temperature and relative humidity are even more damaging than constant extremes. Because paper and books easily absorb and release moisture, they expand and contract in response to daily and seasonal changes in temperature and humidity. These changes accelerate deterioration, causing paper or parchment to wrinkle, ink to flake, emulsion to crack or separate from the base layers on photographs, and book covers to warp.

The best temperature for storing materials is between 65° F and 70° F and the best relative humidity is between 30% and 50%. A combination thermometer and hygrometer measures both temperature and relative humidity accurately, and can be purchased inexpensively at Sears or Brookstone. Climate control equipment as simple as a room air conditioner, a humidifier, or a dehumidifier can help maintain a constant temperature and relative humidity, slowing the deterioration of materials considerably. Buildings should be well maintained, and cracks that allow water leaks should be sealed as soon as they appear. Doors and windows should be weather stripped and kept closed at all times.


Proper storage can increase the life of Masonic documents and photographs. When planning storage, you should consider the size, shape, and composition of the items. Then purchase boxes, folders, and shelving made of appropriate materials.

Enclosures for Documents and Photographs

To ensure they last a long time, you should store your rare and valuable Masonic lodge charters, certificates, and photographs in protective boxes, folders, and envelopes. These storage enclosures should provide physical support for documents and photographs. Items should be stored individually or in small groups, and the size and shape of each folder or envelope should match the item in it (see Figure 3). Boxes should be able to close properly.

Some storage enclosures are made of materials that can actually damage the historic lodge documents and photographs they are intended to protect, so you must choose your boxes, folders, envelopes, and sleeves carefully. You may be surprised that specialized storage materials are only slightly more expensive than standard office supplies, and they will greatly lengthen the life of your documents and photographs.


Figure 3. Boxes are available in a variety of sizes and shapes to match the items stored in them. Photograph courtesy of University Products.

Paper and paperboard boxes and folders are recommended because they are opaque, which means they can protect documents from exposure to light. Enclosures should be acid-free as well as lignin-free. Acid-free paper and paperboard have a neutral pH. They are made with very little added acid and a large amount of alkaline chemical that neutralizes the acids that are there. Lignin is an unstable, light-sensitive component of wood pulp that breaks down into acid compounds as it ages. Suppliers of these acid-free, lignin-free boxes, folders, and other storage materials are listed on page 17 of this booklet.

See-through plastic sleeves are helpful for storing documents or photographs because there is less need to handle documents that are visible. Before buying these sleeves, read the labels on the packages carefully. Some types of plastic, such as those containing plasticizers or vinyls, can damage documents. Mylar D, a nearly inert polyester, is recommended. These clear enclosures are available at stores like Staples (see page 17 for other suppliers). Polyethylene and polypropylene that do not contain plasticizers can also be used for storing paper items. Avoid using plastic sleeves that contain polyvinyl chloride (PVC). which reacts readily with many other materials and can damage historic documents and photographs.

Mylar D is best for storing photographs. Sleeves should be slightly larger than the photographs, should not exert pressure on them during insertion or storage, and should not distort their shape. The sleeves should be stored flat, but with no pressure from piling other photographs on top. Many mounted prints become curved over time, and flattening them can crack both the emulsion and the mount. Consult with a conservator or archivist before attempting to flatten photographs. Unmounted prints should be stored in rigid, supportive folders or sleeves made of either acid-free paper or inert plastic. You can insert a piece of acid-free paperboard into the plastic sleeve, under the photo, to provide this support.

Remove all lodge charters, certificates, and photographs from their frames before storing them in individual enclosures as described above. Also remove matting, which is often made of acidic paper and can accelerate the deterioration of the items it is attached to. If matting cannot be removed easily, then consult a conservator.

Enclosures for Books

Rare, valuable Masonic books should be stored in custom-made boxes designed to give them structural support and to protect them from dust. dirt, and light. Again, these boxes should be made of acid-free, lignin-free paperboard, which will protect the books from the acidity and oils in leather bindings that migrate into paper and cloth bindings of nearby books and speed up their deterioration.

All damaged books should be boxed. Two types of boxes are recommended for preserving books: clamshell boxes and phase boxes. Clamshell boxes give the most support, so you should use them for storing extremely valuable books. They consist of a case and two trays that fit into one another. You will need a conservator to make this type of box. Phase boxes give less support than clamshell boxes, so you can use them for books of lesser value. They arc made of two pieces of acid-free paperboard wrapped around the book and sealed with Velcro (see Figure 4). You can make these boxes yourself at your lodge. Instructions can be found in a University Products catalog (see supplier list on page 17).


Figure 4. You can make phase boxes yourself using acid-free paperboaid. Photograph courtesy of University Products.

Each box should fit well around the book inside it. If the box is too loose, it will not give the needed support and the book will have room to shift. If the box is too tight, it can damage the edges of the book cover. Thinner books or pamphlets can be stored in acid-free envelopes, although these envelopes provide less support.


Storage Methods for Documents and Photographs

Once you have all your documents in folders, you need to put the folders into appropriate boxes. Only similar items should be stored together. For example, do not store single sheets of paper or photographs in the same box as books or pamphlets. Heavy or bulky objects should be stored separately from lighter, smaller ones. The difference in bulk and weight causes uneven pressure in the boxes, and can damage the items inside.

Because acid from cheap paper affects any other paper it comes in direct contact with, you should separate more acidic from less acidic items. Newspaper clippings, for example, are extremely acidic and can stain or discolor historical manuscripts and books. Always remove newspaper clippings from Masonic manuscripts or books and place them in acid-free envelopes. Use an Abbey pH pen on a small, unseen corner to tell if paper is acidic or alkaline. A mark made on acidic paper will turn yellow, while a mark on alkaline paper will turn purple. You can purchase Abbey pH pens from University Products (see page 17 for telephone number).

Do not unfold documents and manuscripts for storage unless you can do so without splitting, breaking, or damaging them. If the paper is flexible and will lie flat in a folder, you can unfold it. Otherwise, leave the document folded until you can consult with a conservator. Before storing historic documents, remove all fasteners, including staples, paper clips, rubber bands, and pins. Place about ten to fifteen sheets of paper in each folder, unless the documents are especially valuable or fragile. Then fewer sheets should be stored in each folder.

Keep the folders in acid-free, lignin-free storage boxes. All folders should conform to the size of the box. Do not stuff or overcrowd boxes. Boxes can be stored either flat or upright. Flat storage supports the documents, prevents their edges from crumbling, and keeps the paper from becoming curved. However, flat storage causes documents in the bottom of the box to bear the weight of those above. For example, a delicate parchment Masonic charter might be crushed if it is stored in the bottom of a box full of certificates. Documents and folders can be stored upright if they are supported by spacer boards, which are pieces of corrugated acid-free paperboard you insert into a box to take up unused space and support the documents. These spacer boards prevent documents from curving and protect their edges from damage (available from most suppliers of storage materials; see page 17). Make sure that no folders and boxes are too large or heavy for you to handle safely.

Once you have inserted individual photographs into plastic sleeves, they should be stored flat, to provide overall support and avoid bending. As with documents, similar-sized items should be stored together in flat files or flat boxes. Storing items of different sizes together can cause scratching and breaking.

Storage Methods for Books

Books should be stored upright on shelves with other books of the same size, with bookends at both ends of each shelf. Shelves should be full, but not too tight. When books lean to one side or the other, their bindings can become strained. If books are shelved too tightly, the bindings can be damaged when you remove them from the shelf. When removing a book from the shelf, grasp it by the middle of its spine, not the top or bottom. Oversize books should be stored flat on separate shelves, giving them the support they need. Before putting books on the shelves, remove all bookmarks, newspaper clippings, and pressed flowers from between the pages. These items are acidic, and can damage or discolor the paper. Do not use Scotch tape to mend detached bindings. Instead use neutral pH glue such as Lineco, which you can purchase from University Products (see supplier list at the end) or consult with a book conservator.

Storage Furniture and Buildings

Once you have your collection safely in folders and boxes, you can put everything into storage rooms. The best flat files and shelving for documents and books are made of anodized aluminum or steel with various powder coatings. They should have a smooth, nonabrasive finish. Baked enamel and wood give off harmful acids and gases such as formaldehyde, so you should avoid them. Drawers in flat files should be no more than two inches deep, because stacking items in deep drawers puts extra weight on the ones on the bottom. This weight causes stress on them when they are removed. Careful storage of items will protect them and make it easier to handle them safely when you need them.

Shelves should not be placed directly against exterior or basement walls because excessive moisture or condensation can build up or actual leaks can develop. Never store materials below water pipes, steam pipes, lavatories, air conditioning equipment, or any other potential sources of leakage. Leaky pipes can cause serious harm to collections (see Figure 5).

Store historic material at least four inches above the floor, and avoid keeping them in basements or attics. For good ventilation, there should be at least twelve inches between any storage unit and the wall or ceiling. Avoid structural elements such as pipes or light fixtures. To help prevent leaks, have your roof inspected regularly and repaired as needed. Also clean your gutters and drains frequently.

With these suggestions in hand, you can start preserving your Masonic lodge collections right away. Start piece by piece, then group the items, and then store everything in a special room.


Figure 5. Never store boxes of documents under pipes that may leak. Courtesy of Gaylord Bros.


Some items in a collection of historic documents, photographs, or books are so significant and fragile that they need conservation—that is, they require more care than basic preservation techniques allow. Conservation treatment chemically stabilizes and physically strengthens items to lengthen their lives, often using non-original material. An example would include repairing a torn historic letter using a new piece of Japanese paper. Although conservation can be expensive and time-consuming, it is sometimes necessary to protect your rare and valuable documents and books (see Figure 6).

Some specialists work with paper, and others work with photographs or books. You can call a local museum, library, or the American Institute for Conservation (AIC) for referrals to professional conservators who practice in your area. They can also provide an outline of what to expect from a conservator. (Sec page 17 for AIC's telephone number.) Be prepared to provide the conservator with information about:

■ the type of problem you want solved (for example, torn paper, brittleness. fading image, or detached binding).

■ how you expect to use the piece (for example, for an exhibit in Masonic lodge).

■ environmental conditions such as light, temperature, and humidity in your storage area

■ what type of folders, boxes, and shelving you are using, and

■ what outcome you desire from treatment of your item (for example, repair a torn certificate, reattach the binding to a book, flatten a rolled photograph).

Once you contact a conservator, he or she will come to your facility to briefly examine the document or book and propose treatment. If you decide to proceed, the conservator will then take the historic document, photograph, or book back to his or her laboratory to prepare an in-depth report describing the materials and structure of the item, how it was made, and the location and extent of damage to be repaired. Along with this report, he or she will provide a written treatment proposal with different options for correcting the problem, including what each option would accomplish, how long it would take, and what it would cost. Once you choose an option, the conservator can begin work.



Figure 6. It is best to have a conservator unroll photographs like these to prevent cracking the emulsion. Photograph courtesy of Northeast Document Conservation Center.

After the conservator finishes treatment of the document, photograph, or book, he or she should provide you with a final report listing the techniques and materials used. It should also include photographs or slides showing the condition of the piece both before and after treatment. You should keep this report in your lodge records in case the piece needs additional treatment later.


This brochure has recommended techniques you can use to preserve your Masonic lodge's documents and books yourself. It has also provided information on hiring an outside professional to conserve especially fragile or rare pieces. Prioritize your projects, keeping your budget in mind. If you have to choose, it is better to create a stable environment for most of the collection than to have a few items conserved.

If you have any questions, feel free to call the Library and Archives of the National Heritage Museum at (781) 861-6559, ext. 116.


Most of these books and journals can be found at your local library, bookstore, or on the Internet at or

American Institute for Conservation. Guidelines for Selecting a Conservator. Washington, D.C.: AIC, 1991.

Applebaum, Barbara. Guide to Environmental Protection of Collections. Madison, Conn.: Sound View Press. 1991.

Baldwin. Gordon. Looking at Photographs. Malibu. Calif.: J. Paul Getty Museum. 1991.

Clapp. Anne F. Curatorial Care of Works of Art on Paper. New York: Nick Lyons Books. 1987.

Cunha, George M. "Conserving Local Archival Materials on a Limited Budget." AASLH Technical Leaflet #86. History News, Vol. 30, November 1975.

DeWitt, Donald I.. "Leather Bookbindings: Preservation Techniques." AASLH Technical Leaflet #98. History News, Vol. 32. August 1977.

Eaton, George. Conservation of Photographs (Kodak Publication No. F-4). Rochester. N.Y: Eastman Kodak Company, 1985.

Gaylord Preservation Pathfinder. Syracuse, N.Y.: Gaylord Bros., 1998.

Glaser, Mary Todd. "Storage Solutions for Oversized Paper Artifacts." AASLH Technical Leaflet #188, History News, Vol. 49. July/August 1994.

Greenfield. Jane. Books: Their Care and Repair. New York: H. W. Wilson, 1983.

Greenfield, Jane, the Care of Fine Rooks. New York: Nick Lyons Books [Distributed by Lyons and Burford], 1988.

Handle with Care: Preserving Your Heirlooms. Rochester, N.Y.: Rochester Museum & Science Center. 1991.

Long. Richard W. Caring for Your Family Treasures: Heritage Preservation. New York: Harry N. Abrams. 2000.

Macleish, Bruce, and Greg Harris. "Bringing Up Boomer: Archival Care of Mid-Twentieth Century Media." AASLH Technical Leaflet #195. History News, Vol. 51, Autumn 1996.

Martin, Elizabeth. Collecting and Preserving Old Photographs. London: William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd., 1988.

Mibach. Lisa. "Collections Care: What to Do When You Can't Afford to Do Anything." AASLH Technical Leaflet #198. History News, Vol. 52. Summer 1997.

Ogden, Sherelyn, ed.  Preservation of Library and Archival Materials: A Manual. Andover. Mass.: Northeast Document Conservation Center, 1992 & 1999

Perkinson, Roy L. and Francis W. Dolloff. How to Care for Works of Art on Paper. 4th ed. Boston: Museum of Fine Arts. 1985

Ritzenthaler, Mary Lynn. Preserving Archives and Manuscripts. Chicago: Society of American Archivists, 1993.

Ritzenthaler, Mary. Gerald Munoff, and Margery Long. Administration of Photographic Collections. Chicago:

Society of American Archivists. 1984. Tribolet, Harold W. "Rare Book and Paper Repair Techniques." AASLH Technical Leaflet #13. History News. Vol. 25. March 1970.

Vanderbilt. Paul. "Filing Your Photographs: Some Basic Procedures." AASLH Technical Leaflet #36. History News. Vol. 21, June 1966.

Wilson. William K. Environmental Guidelines for the Storage of Paper Records. NISO Technical Report: I. Bethesda. Md.: National Information Standards Organization, 1995.


Resources for Conservation Help

American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works (AIC) 1400 16th Street NW, Suite 340 Washington, D.C. 20036 Telephone: (202) 232-6636 Fax: (202) 452-9328 E-mail:

Conservation Center for Art and Historic Artifacts 264 South 23rd Street Philadelphia. PA 19103 Telephone: (215) 545-0613 Fax: (215) 735-9313 E-mail: books, paper documents

Intermuseum Conservation Association Allen Art Building 83 North Main Street Oberlin, OH 44074 Telephone: (440) 775-7331 Fax: (216) 774-3431 paintings, paper

Northeast Document Conservation Center 100 Brickstone Square Andover, MA 01810-1494 Telephone: (978) 470-1010 Fax: (978) 475-6021 E-mail: books, paper, photographs

Upper Midwest Conservation Association c/o The Minneapolis Institute of Arts 2400 Third Avenue South Minneapolis, MN 55404 Telephone: (612 ) 870-3120 Fax: (612) 870-3118 paper, paintings, sculpture

Storage Material Suppliers

Gaylord Bros. PO. Box 4901 Syracuse, NY 13221-4901 Toll-Free: (800) 448-6169 Toll-Free Fax: (800) 272-3412 Toll-Free Help-Line: (800)428-3631

Light Impressions PO. Box 22708 Rochester. NY 14692-2708 Toll-Free: (800)828-6216 Telephone: (716) 271-8960 Toll-Free Fax: (800) 828-5539

Metal Edge. Inc. 6340 Bandini Blvd. Commerce CA 90040-3116 Toll-Free: (800) 862-2228

Staples, the Office Superstore

University Products, Inc. 517 Main Street PO. Box 101 Holyoke. MA 01041-0101 Toll-Free: (800) 628-1912 Telephone: (413 ) 532-3372 Toll-Free Fax: (800) 532-9281 Fax: (413) 432-9281 E-mail: info@

Other Preservation Questions

Catherine Swanson, Archivist
National Heritage Museum
33 Marrett Road Lexington. MA 02421
Telephone: (781) 861-6559 ext. 116
Fax: (781) 861-9846