Now that you've decided to start building a collection, one of the smartest things you can do is to learn how to take proper care of your keepsakes. Although that may sound like an obvious statement, the fact is that many veteran Coca-Cola® collectors have come across new collectors who have inadvertently destroyed the value of a collectible item. I can't tell you how many times people have proudly shown me their scrapbooks of Coca-Cola advertising pieces but I've felt my heart sink when I saw that they'd either glued the pieces in the book or used tape to hold them in place.

Both methods are terribly damaging to original materials. Any kind of adhesive will penetrate the paper over time. Old tape is about the toughest thing in the world to get off once it's there.

Never Laminate
An extremely common - and extremely destructive - mistake is to think that lamination is a preservation method. In fact, lamination is a heat process that seals the collectible material in an irreversible process. Once you've laminated something, you can't un-laminate it. I've seen people spend hundreds or even thousands of dollars on a collectible piece, then decide to laminate it for protection. Basically, they've destroyed it.

Another common mistake is to buy a nice calendar or poster and then put it in the sunniest room of the house. It's one of the most natural tendencies of any collector to want to show off his or her collection in a bright place where everyone can see it. They'll see it for a while, but then they won't see it at all. After a couple of months, the ultra-violet rays will have faded the original colors on the piece. If left there long enough, the piece will virtually disappear.

I knew of one collector who built elaborate display cases for his paper collectibles but, unfortunately, he illuminated them with unfiltered ultra-violet lights. By the time I saw the memorabilia, you could not read the letters on the advertising. The lights had simply destroyed the documents.

Calendars, posters and other collectibles that could be worth hundreds if not thousands of dollars can turn virtually worthless because of poor handling.  

One of the most shocking things I've seen - and I've seen it more than once - is to find out that someone has taken a valuable old serving tray with a little dirt on it and used an abrasive scouring pad to clean it. As a result, they accidentally scraped the paint off a colorful scene, ruining the piece forever.

On the other hand, a skilled conservator can salvage valuable pieces and actually bring them back to something resembling their original condition. Several years ago, we purchased a wonderful display cutout, approximately 4½-feet tall, which dated back to 1906 or 1907. It featured a woman driving a horseless carriage. When it was offered to me, it was in really bad shape. It had apparently been stored in an attic or basement. It was dirty and had several significant breaks in it.

Because of the age and the rarity of the piece, we sent it to an expert who was skilled at paper conservation. He put a backing on it, reattached it and brought the colors back to life. They were incredibly vibrant when he finished. We were able to read words that we couldn't initially see. But such expert restoration can be expensive and is best suited for rare and potentially valuable pieces.

It's far better to use wise preservation habits from the moment you acquire your collectibles. Clearly, it is vital to learn proper preservation methods before you invest large sums of money in collecting.

Preservation Basics
Here are some basic common-sense steps that every collector should take.

  • Keep materials away from light, heat, temperature variations, dirt and moisture. Keeping something in your basement may not be a good idea unless the area has a relatively constant temperature.
  • Remember that paper expands and contracts with fluctuations in temperature. If it keeps expanding and contracting over a period of time, you'll have problems with it. Paper must be kept in a dry, stable environment. It must also be protected from pests.
  • Do not apply adhesives of any kind to paper. Also avoid using paper clips and staples, which will rust over time and leave stains on your documents. The same goes for rubber bands, which can melt and adhere to paper.

Savvy collectors will take time to educate themselves. Just as stamp and coin collectors exercise care in the storage and display of their collections, Coca-Cola collectors should use proper methods of preservation. An easy and important first step is the use of acid-free paper, folders and boxes for storing valuable pieces.

Most of the paper we produce today is highly acidic. Over time, the acidity of a standard file folder will react chemically to the acidity in any document you place inside it. A constant variance in temperature will speed up the acidic reaction. With an acid-free folder or box, you create a neutral environment in which the document will be safe. You are creating a barrier to prevent the transfer of an image from the document to the folder -- and vice versa. The more barriers you set up, the better protection you will provide your keepsakes.

It's advisable for a beginner to check with a local historical or preservation society to obtain their guidelines, which may have been adopted with your climate in mind.

Preservation Resources
Many resources are available in books and on the Internet, and we've listed a few below. The list, however, is not exhaustive, nor is it a recommendation of the suppliers listed. We suggest you get information from a number of vendors so you can make comparisons of cost and assess the full range of available products.

Books:

  • Protecting Your Treasures: A Guide To The Care And Preservation Of Antiques And Collectibles (trade paper) by Miriam L. Plans. Antique Trader Books. 1997.
  • Caring For Your Collectibles. Heritage Preservation. For information: 1-888-388- 6789.
  • An Ounce of Preservation: A Guide to the Care of Papers and Photographs by Craig A. Tuttle. Rainbow Books Inc. 1995.

Catalogs:

  • The Hollinger Corp. Phone number: 1-800-634-0496.
  • Archival Quality Materials for Conservation, Restoration and Exhibition. University Products, Inc. Phone number: 1-800-628-1962.
  • Light Impressions. Phone number: 1-800-828-6216. 

Phil Mooney is the director of the Archives Department.