"Relatively inexpensive archival quality storage products are available."
Feature Article #2
Storage and Preservation
of Antique Fishing Tackle, Paper, and Boxes
Several years ago, I experienced a problem with several pieces in my tackle collection. I noticed several lures getting rapid varnish flakes and age cracks in a matter of days. I immediately began to delve into the area of antique preservation and learned that my problem was created by the introduction of an “unstable environment” to my collection. I had exposed my lures too long to extremely dry air, which caused the wood to shrink and ultimately resulted in rapid varnish flaking and age cracking. After stabilizing the lures in a more humid environment, the problem was contained. However, the damage that was done is now irreversible.
Despite losing several lures, the experience helped me to learn and study about the storage, handling, and preservation of historical artifacts, commonly referred to as “cultural property.” We don’t often think of our lures, or paper items like tackle catalogs, as artifacts, but they are. Many of these wonderful pieces of history date back to the late 1800’s or early 1900’s and were being used long before most of us were born.
Lures, catalogs, boxes and other tackle collectibles will naturally age over time. However, how we store, handle, and display our collections can mean the difference between preserving them for future generations or enjoying them for only a brief moment in time.
This article is intended to share the information I have discovered with other collectors. Please bear in mind that I am not a professional conservator nor do I purport to be an expert in this subject area. Numerous factors, including what we collect and the environments we store our collection in vary widely across the country. What works for one collector, may not work for another. The author assumes no responsibility for damage to collections resulting from the information contained in this article. I encourage everyone to consult with a professional conservator for individual advice. The American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works (AIC) has a Guide to Conservation Services that can help identify conservators in your area, or conservators with a particular specialty.
The AIC has published the following definitions of conservation terminology that are important to understand when addressing preservation issues. Cultural Property is objects, collections, specimens, structures, or sites identified as having artistic, historic, scientific, religious, or social significance. Stabilization is treatment intended to maintain the integrity of cultural property and to minimize deterioration. Restoration is treatment intended to return cultural property to a known or assumed state, often through the addition of nonoriginal material. Preservation is the protection of cultural property through activities that minimize chemical and physical deterioration and damage and that prevent loss of informational content. The primary goal of preservation is to prolong the existence of cultural property.
In order to understand how to preserve our collections, we need to understand what types of materials were used to create them. Lures are made from both organic and inorganic materials. Inorganic materials, such as metals, are generally more durable and stable, but they, too, can sustain damage. Propellers, hooks, line ties, and cup riggings are all susceptible to rust, pitting, and tarnish if left exposed to moisture, fingerprints, etc. Organic materials, such as wood and paper, are more susceptible to the effects of the environment such as exposure to direct sunlight, drastic temperature or humidity fluctuations, and mold. Synthetic materials, such as plastics, are also typically organic.
Understanding the environment is an important part of understanding how to store and preserve collections.
Light can be very damaging to organic materials, especially paper. Damage created by exposure to light is cumulative and irreversible. Common examples of light damage include darkening of paper or paper-based boxes, fading, and embrittlement. All light to some extent is damaging, but ultraviolet (UV) light is the most harmful. Natural light (daylight) is high in ultraviolet (UV) content. Fluorescent lamps also vary greatly in the amount of UV they give off.
Relative humidity (RH) refers to the amount of moisture in the air. Temperature is important because it affects RH and can accelerate the aging of organic materials. Organic materials absorb or give off moisture in order to achieve a balance with the surrounding environment. Organic materials tend to be more stable in moderate relative humidity (45% to 55%). Inorganic materials, such as metal lures, are not as affected by RH levels unless they contain salts or are otherwise unstable. Metals are best preserved at low RH levels. Significant damage can occur to tackle collectibles when lures are subjected to dramatic, sudden changes in RH or temperature over a short period of time. Since lures are primarily made from wood, dramatic short-term changes in RH can cause shrinking and swelling which, in turn, can create damage to paint finishes such as age cracks, varnish flakes, or paint chips. Prolonged exposure of paper materials, such as catalogs or lure boxes, to high levels of RH can encourage the growth of molds or can create “wrinkling.”
Both organic and inorganic materials can be damaged by exposure to air pollutants. Collections are placed at the highest risk by exposure to indoor pollutants such as smoke, dust, and off-gases from wood products or construction materials. Effects of pollutants are intensified when they are allowed to build up inside display cabinets or cases.
People are also an environmental factor that can affect long-term preservation of collections. We have all seen the direct effects of fingerprints left on props or finishes or the covers and pages of tackle catalogs. Every time we let someone handle our collections, the risk of damage increases.
Storage of lures and boxes presents an interesting dilemma, since the materials used to create them are varied—metal, wood, and paper. As a result, compromises in storage conditions need to be considered. Metal objects are best stored in very low relative humidity (RH) to prevent corrosion, but paper and wooden objects suffer in the same low RH conditions. There is no single “best solution” for storing objects of varied materials. However, collectors understanding the facts, choices, and options can tailor solutions to effectively preserve antique tackle collectibles.
There are many common sense things we can do and also some relatively inexpensive archival quality storage products to help us preserve our collections. For those that have significant amounts invested in antique tackle or collectibles, it may be worth contacting a professional conservator and investing in higher quality archival storage methods. For many of us, the guidelines provided below will help greatly in preserving our collections without significant investment.
It is best if lures, boxes, catalogs, and other collectibles are stored in a stable environment, with moderate RH and a consistent ambient temperature. Ideal conditions are generally an RH of 50% and a temperature around 68 degrees. To stabilize the environment, provide cooling in the summer months and use a dehumidifier in high humidity areas. Conversely, if you live in a dry climate or if certain areas of your house become dry in the winter months, you can use a portable humidifier.
Silica gel can help stabilize the RH in a sealed case. Archival storage quality silica, such as Art Sorb is available. This type of silica must be conditioned to the desired RH level and the exact usage amount must be calculated. Once conditioned, the gel will both absorb and release moisture in order to maintain a pre-set RH.
To monitor the environment, I strongly recommend the purchase of a digital thermo-hygrometer or a hygrothermograph to monitor both temperature and RH. Inexpensive (under $50.00), low profile thermo-hygrometers are available that can be used to monitor the environment inside storage cases. It should be noted that these instruments only provide “general” readings. More sophisticated hygrothermographs are available that print out hard copy readings, which assist with tracking changes throughout the day or week. Both of these devices will help to detect sudden changes in temperature or RH that could damage collections.
If both temperature and RH can be controlled, storage boxes do not have to be sealed. However, if there are great fluctuations in temperature and RH, sealed containers or cases are recommended. As noted earlier, silica gel can be conditioned and used to control the desired level of RH. If using sealed containers, openings should be sealed with gaskets or other material. The downside to this method of storage is limited access to the materials inside the sealed cases. To compensate, cases can be used which have transparent material that allow for both viewing and checking on the contents. Humidity indicator cards can also be placed in the viewing area to monitor RH.
This is an area of antique tackle collecting where opinions can range across the board. Some collectors store lures in cases others do not. If cases are used, they are commonly made from wood or wood products. Some collectors have reported problems with the use of wood cases, primarily due to build-up of harmful off-gases from the materials used to construct the case. If wood cases are used, precautions should be taken. Wood, wood composites, and some sealants and adhesives can emit harmful acids and other substances. Levels of emissions are highest initially, but can also be present for the life of the materials. There are many coatings and sealants today that can help provide barriers against harmful off-gases. The best advice is to find out as much information you can about the materials used in the construction of cases or storage furniture. Articles on conservation storage provide information on how to test wood and wood composites to determine their safety for use. Collectors can also talk with others who have used a similar brand or maker of the cases or furniture to learn from their experiences.
Collectors also use metal cases. Cases made from anodized aluminum are a good choice, but can be expensive. Anodized aluminum is an uncoated metal. Since it has no protective coating, potential problems with off-gassing are eliminated.
Materials used inside the case (padding, etc.) can be just as important as the construction of the case itself. Direct contact with foam padding can cause yellowing to the finish of lures or other collectibles. Archival quality foam, such as polyethylene foam, and storage box inserts are available.
I use acid-free Solander cases to store my lures and boxes. Solander cases can be protected by archival quality polyethylene foam for lures not stored in boxes.
Most people store lures and boxes together. The professional conservator I consulted with noted that lures could be wrapped in acid-free, unbuffered tissue. Boxes should be stored in archival quality boxes. If displaying boxes as a “collage,” keep ample space between the boxes and don’t try to force fit them into the display area. If boxes rub up against one another, outer coverings can get ripped or torn and dirt or oils can transfer from one box to another.
The use of hook tubing is really a matter of personal preference and is essentially a trade off between “appearance” and “protection.” Hook tubing can protect painted surfaces, especially if lures are stored without padding or if they are transported frequently. Hook tubing should not be used if there are problems with high humidity, since the tubing will hold moisture and could corrode metal hooks. If hook tubing is used, ensure that it does not come into direct contact with the body of the lure for any length of time. Tubing should not be made with PVC.
Catalogs or other paper, such as old fishing and hunting periodicals, can be stored flat in boxes or can be stored in a file cabinet equipped with hanging file folders. If stored flat, do not mix single sheets with heavier materials, such as magazines, to avoid possible damage.
The professional conservator I consulted with noted that buffered tissue is a good choice for acidic, brittle paper, but is not necessary on papers in good condition. Buffered tissue should not be used with photographs or with some dyes or pigments that are sensitive to high alkalinity. If buffered tissue is used, it should be acid free with buffering additives (e.g., 3% calcium carbonate). Archival quality storage boxes and wrapping tissues meeting these specifications are available (see sources at the end of this article). I store my catalogs individually wrapped in unbuffered tissue in archival quality hanging file folders. I keep my catalogs, magazines, and paper items separated, since acid can migrate from paper of inferior quality to any other paper it comes into direct contact with. Plastic bags or enclosures can also be used to store paper items provided they are made from polypropylene, polyester, or polyethylene. Only polyesters that are free of plasticizers, ultraviolet inhibitors, dyes, and surface coatings should be used. Polyester film has an electrostatic charge that can lift loosely bound media from the surface of paper so it should be used with caution.
If storing catalogs or pamphlets in commercially available hanging file folders, be sure to use file folder inserts made of archival quality materials. Always store catalogs, pamphlets, etc. spine down. We have all seen catalogs and magazines with torn or worn spines, rusty staples, loose inside pages, etc. Photocopying of these materials should be avoided. If copying is done, don’t press down on the spine just to get a clean copy since this can cause damage to the spine of the catalog or magazine.
As the old saying goes, “an ounce of prevention (or in this case preservation) is worth a pound of cure.” Controlling temperature and RH are critical in preventing paint loss, cracking, flaking as well as containing metal corrosion. As a general rule, I never clean lures if I don’t have to. There are many collectors that do, however, and stories of both positive and negative experiences abound. Consulting with a professional conservator is highly recommended, particularly for rare or museum-quality pieces.
I engaged the services of a professional conservator regarding cleaning techniques for a few of the pieces in my collection. The conservator noted that minor cleaning can be done, but extreme care should be exercised. Any cleaning technique attempted should first be preceded by a test of a small area in an inconspicuous location. The conservator noted that painted surfaces could be cleaned with a small cotton swab on a bamboo stick, barely dampened with water (you should barely be able to tell that it is damp). While seemingly obvious, care should be taken not to lift or snag paint flakes or to introduce water into any crevices or on any metal surfaces. Do not soak lures in water. If the lure has age cracks, the water can penetrate the finish causing the wood underneath to swell that can lead to paint chips.
The conservator used a cotton swab dampened with petroleum benzine (or mineral spirits) to illustrate how to remove rust and grime from metal surfaces (such as hooks). The conservator was demonstrated how pitted areas of metal could be coated lightly with a good paste wax (such as Renaissance micro-crystalline wax polish), but noted that the wax should be allowed to sit until the solvent has evaporated before wrapping or storing.
There are several other considerations to keep in mind when cleaning metal surfaces. After cleaning, the metal area may appear “too glossy” or “newer” than the surrounding material. Remember, it sometimes better to have rusty hardware if the patina or age of the lure demands it. This concept is similar to best practices on replacing hardware, such as hooks. You don’t want to put bright and shiny hooks on a very good lure that shows its age. As such, the goal with treating metal surfaces is sometimes not to clean, but to preserve the existing condition, and prevent additional rust or corrosion from occurring.
Abrasive materials such as bristle brushes, steel wool, or metal polishes should not be used on plated surfaces. Plastic or other polishes are also not recommended for painted surfaces because they do remove small amounts of surface material and the polish is nearly impossible to remove from crevices or cracks in the paint. (Have you ever seen a lure and noticed “paste” remaining around cups or embedded in the age cracks?)
There are several products on the market today that reportedly clean surface dirt, grease, pencil marks, etc. from paper. I have used document cleaning pads with some success on both cardboard lure boxes and tackle catalogs. They do a good job removing surface dirt and dust, but don’t expect a miracle. All document cleaning products should be used with extreme caution to prevent tearing, wear spots, or other damage.
The best advice is to minimize the exposure of collections to light as much as possible. Always avoid displaying lures, boxes, or catalog materials in direct sunlight. If lures are displayed, minimize the effect of UV light. Use drapes, blinds, etc to cover windows. For indirect lighting, incandescent (tungsten) lights are best. Ordinary household light bulbs contain negligible UV and are safe to use. If fluorescent lights are used, ensure that they have low UV output (not more than 2% UV) or use UV-filtering coverings. Because lights can generate heat, keep all collectible material away from light sources. Because light damage is cumulative, collectors should be discouraged from permanently displaying any catalogs, boxes, etc.
Air quality is an important consideration. I’m often amazed at the number of rooms I visit during in-room trading prior to shows that are literally filled with blue smoke. Cigarette smoke can leave harmful films on collections and odors can permeate porous surfaces such as wood boxes, tackle catalogs, etc. It is best to keep smoke or other air pollutants away from collectibles.
Air purifiers are a good way to keep the air clean from harmful pollutants. If you don’t use an air purifier, then remembering to change your furnace filter once a month helps keep dust and debris to a minimum. Although this probably goes without saying, tackle collectibles should be kept clear of cooking areas, fireplaces (gas and wood), heating ducts, etc.
Handling of lures, boxes, catalogs, and other collectibles should be kept to an absolute minimum. The old adage, “look but don’t touch” is a good rule of thumb. When handling lures, boxes, or catalogs, make sure that your hands are clean and dry and free from dirt, lotion, etc. The acids, oils, and salts in our skin can tarnish and corrode metal baits, props, hooks, etc. and may damage paint finishes and paper-based materials such as boxes and catalogs. Preferably, collectables should be handled with curator or inspection gloves. If you are dealing in “high dollar” tackle and collectibles, keep an extra pair of gloves with you for potential purchasers to use. I know that the thought of antique tackle collectors in white gloves probably has some of you rolling your eyes, but if it prevents lasting damage to a $2,000 lure or box, isn’t it worth it? It is also a good idea to remove jewelry, watches, etc. before handling collectibles, especially lures. Keep food, drinks, and other objects such as pens away from collectibles.
Antique tackle collectibles are truly a window to our past. As caretakers of the past, it is important for all of us to take the necessary steps to preserve these valuable pieces of cultural property for future generations to enjoy. Hopefully this information will help all of us in this endeavor.
Professional conservator services were obtained from the Upper Midwest Conservation Association, 2400 Third Avenue South, Minneapolis, MN 55404. Contact: (612) 870-3120.
 WAAC Newsletter, Volume 18, Number 2, May 1996.
 Davis, Nancy, Hatchfield, Pamela, and Hutchins, Jane. “Basic Guidelines for the Care of Special Collections,” The American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works.
 “Storage Furniture: A Brief Review of Current Options”, Sherelyn Ogden, Northeast Document Conservation Center, Technical Leaflet, Section 4, Leaflet 2.
 “Storage Methods and Handling Practices”, Sherelyn Ogden, Northeast Document Conservation Center, Technical Leaflet, Section 4, Leaflet 1.
 “Selection of Suitable-Quality Storage Enclosures for Books and Artifacts on Paper”, Sherelyn Ogden, Northeast Document Conservation Center, Technical Leaflet, Section 4, Leaflet 4.
 “Protecting Paper and Book Collections During Exhibition”, Mary Todd Glaser. Northeast Document Conservation Center, Technical Leaflet, Section 2, Leaflet 5.
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