Wednesday, February 29, 2012

THEM (you know, the movie about the giant ants)

This week we are chronicling what might be a standard conservation project, except that the client had an unusual request. He wanted the poster cleaned, but didn't want to linen or paper back it, instead after the poster was washed he wanted us to refold it. The poster is a 1954 "Them" one sheet.


The poster came in with tape stains in the corners and a pretty visible stain right in the middle. The first step was relatively straight forward. John used an organic solution called Orvus to remove as much of the build up as possible from the poster. He sprayed front and back with the solution, then rinsed both sides. The water that John squeegeed out was pretty grimy. Since this poster was not being mounted, and would not go through prep, John had to make doubly sure that there were no creases and that the fold lines were laying flat while the poster was wet.

Pictured: John spraying the poster with Orvus.

Pictured: Because we were not doing any restoration on this poster John had to get any wrinkles or creases out on the wet table using his hands.

Pictured: John flattening the fold lines.

Pictured: Ewwwww! This poster was printed in 1954, so its more than 50 years old and had a lot of dirt that came out with the water.

Pictured: There was a small piece of tape in the top right corner that fortunately came off easily after the poster was wet.

Once the poster had been rinsed, John used chloramine-t to remove the giant stain in the middle of the poster as well as any other stains and discoloration. I am using the pictures of the back because the improvement in paper color is pretty dramatic. After the chloramine-t had been washed out and the excess water squeegeed out, John removed the Mylar sheet from the back and placed a piece of hollytex on the poster.

Pictured: John started from right to left (moving as if you were standing where John is) and you can see the difference in the paper color on the right side as opposed to the left.

Pictured: The entire poster has lightened up considerably in just a few minutes.

Pictured: This poster was sandwiched between several layers of different types of paper, the first of which was hollytex.

With the hollytex on the back, John moved the poster from the mounting table over to a blotter. After removing the Mylar from the front of the poster, John sandwiched it between another piece of hollytex. He also added two sheets of blotter paper on top and bottom.

Pictured: John just double checking that there are no creases or wrinkles in the paper before it goes into the heat press.

Pictured: The second layer of hollytex has been added and John is smoothing it down.

Pictured: The poster is now swathed in two layers on top and bottom of hollytex and blotter paper.

The point of all of these layers was to protect the poster and keep it as flat as possible in the press. Speaking of which, the next step was to put the poster into the heat press. This press is a vacuum seal heat press and as it was explained to me there is a large bladder inside that sucks out all the air once it has been closed. We can set the temperature to heat to a certain point and between that heat and the lack of air, the poster goes through a speedy dry cycle.

Pictured: John checking that the heat press was ready. Turns out it was and the piece that he was touching was warmer than he expected.

Pictured: Checking the poster before sealing the heat press.

Pictured: John closing the heat press. The wall in the background is Robin's sticker wall. Any interesting stickers that clients don't want to keep go on that wall.

When John opened the press a little while later something had gone horribly horribly wrong. Well, not horribly horribly, but when we opened up the press there were two dents on either end of the poster. Most likely the blotters had a little extra moisture in them or they weren't flat enough and when the vacuum sucked all the air out it caused these two dents.

Pictured: Before we peeled the blotters back you can already see at either end there was some warping.

Pictured: With the blotters removed the dent is obvious.

Pictured: The poster was already starting to curl even after being out of the heat press for less than 3 minutes.

Mistakes happen, so while this put a hitch in our giddy-up, it is definitely something that could be remedied. So, we washed the piece again and using brand new, completely flat blotter paper the poster came out perfect from its second go round in the heat press. After that John placed it under even weight so that it could cool slowly. If we had left it to cool on its own it is likely that the paper would have curled or warped like it was starting to do when we took it out of the press the first time. And as you can see the poster had cooled slowly enough that it was still flat once it was removed from the humidity chamber.

Pictured: Paper, like women's hair, is very temperamental depending on what the environmental conditions are. This poster needed time to cool slowly under light pressure so that it would remain flat.

Pictured: And once the weight was removed it remains flat.

With the poster finally cool, John, as per the client's wishes, refolded the poster.

Pictured: John carefully refolding the poster along the old fold lines.

Pictured: John is gently pressing the poster between two pieces of paper to evenly apply pressure and re-crease the fold lines.
Since we didn't do any restoration and very minimal conservation work on this piece the most noticeable difference is the change in the paper color.

This project was atypical because the client did not want this piece linen backed. The reason for this is because some posters are worth more if they are not backed due to questions of authenticity. A few years ago there was a poster restorer who was faking 1930's and 40's horror movie posters by taking newly printed images and applying them to old paper using accepted restoration techniques. This included linen backing the item, which can hide or disguise some of the signs that a poster is a reproduction.  (He actually did nothing illegal until he passed the reproductions off as authentic. The man who was behind these fakes has been prosecuted and is now serving time.) This shook the movie poster collection industry and has had  affected it long term by lowering the value of some linen backed posters. So, for the sake of tracing this poster's authenticity our client had us just do the minimal amount of conservation work to get the poster back to a stable condition.

Authenticity is an issue with any type of collectable. At some point in the next few weeks we'll be putting up a detailed explanation of an authenticity report and how we go about authenticating posters.

It should be noted that several crucial steps in our process have been omitted. If you have any questions please feel free to contact us via email at or by phone at 818.882.1214. Also check out our websites: and Please feel free to leave comments or questions on the blog!

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