Over the next few months, we'll be presenting a series on the blog that will teach you how to preserve your historic photos, documents and items in your own archives collection, using as examples items from our Coca-Cola Archives. This first example - fitting for of Black History month - features a poster from an early series of ads in the 1950s featuring African Americans. A colleague of mine brought this poster to me that hung in her grandmother's store in Alabama years ago. There was a lot of wear and tear on the 50 year-old poster, so I asked preservationist Bob Inge of Inge Preservations to see what he could do to restore the piece. While we will have some do-it-yourself tips in future posts, this is certainly a "don't try this at home" restoration project. Bob shared some details of the treatment process he used in restoring this poster with us, and this is the story of that process:

BEFORE

1950s African American Coke Ad - BEFORE

  1. Cleaned it with a Magic Rub 1954 eraser and then with a damp cotton ball to remove surface grime from the front.
  2. Immersed the whole piece is cold water to float off the surface print to separate it from its acidic backing. This is done because the paper the print is on is often of better quality than the backing boards and can last much longer if the rotten board is replaced. (On this piece, the print did not float off because it was put on with a non reversible adhesive so I had to slowly and carefully pull off the board layers a bit at a time while it was under water. This took all day!)
  3. I let it dry thoroughly, then I light bleached the whole print for two hours on the front and 4 hours on the back and then let it dry again.
  4. Spot bleached the stained areas and then rinsed it.
  5. While wet I lined it with Japanese tissue using wheat starch paste that I prepared myself by cooking it.
  6. Let dry thoroughly.
  7. Humidified the print by sandwiching it between teflon sheets and placing it on top of a wet blotter and put a piece of glass on top to let it flatten out, and placed it under a lot of weight.
  8. I attached the lined print to a new archival board and trimmed the edges of the board to the print edges.
  9. My wife, Linda, inpainted the damaged areas that had pigment loss with reversible acrylics. 

AFTER

1950s African American Coke Ad - AFTER

This finished piece should last a very long time as long as it is stored well now that it is off its rotten backing and the water staining has been reduced. I sometimes wonder if these treated pieces will be the only examples left after 100 years. These posters were originally mounted onto very poor quality board that through acid degradation will eventually destroy the surface print. I have heard some people say that keeping the piece all original keeps it's value, but if the original boards are destroying the artwork chemically, structurally, and visually then what is the point of paying big dollars for something that is almost dead or dying quickly? I write this thinking that this issue will probably come up on a blog at some point and is worth a good discussion. 

- Bob Inge, Preservationist

Utilizing professional preservationist is of the ways we save our Coca-Cola history, and one route you can take as well for the most fragile of your items. As Bob also noted, a piece like this should not be displayed where it is exposed to direct sunlight or florescent light.