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I’ve an old trunk which is covered on the outside with paper or maybe thin printed canvas. Parts of paper are flaking off. I am seeking preservation rather that replacing the paper. I want to keep the old paper, but what can I used to stick paper back on wood trunk? Plus seal it? I am in a small Alaska town with few resources.

I am reluctant to put on a heavy varnish, as it would then be much harder if I ever decide to strip the old paper for some other future refinishing.

Determining if this in any actual OLD Piece is something I know nothing about. This was found, so no provenance. The plate attaching lock hasp to top is stamped Pat. Nov. 30 (nail)69. In some places there appears to be canvas or cloth attached under the flaking paper.

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    Welcome to Arts & Crafts. It will be easier for people to give you a good answer if they can get a clear impression of what the surface currently looks like. Any chance you can add a snapshot?
    – fixer1234
    May 31 at 19:00
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    If you think that the trunk in its current state has any historical value and want to preserve it in its original state (like museums do), then you should not try any preservation on your own. Paper is a very fragile material and permanently damaged by any acid. Many household paper glues do contain acid, so you would create a temporary solution that causes more damage in the long run. Please edit your question to add more information about whether this is more of a decorative object you want to preserve the looks of or an object with historical value you want to keep in its original state.
    – Elmy
    Jun 1 at 5:44
  • Determining if this in any actual OLD Piece is something I know nothing about. This was found, so no provenance. The plate attaching lock hasp to top is stamped Pat. Nov. 30 (nail)69. Could be fake? But I think it’s real.
    – KevinB
    Jun 1 at 19:47
  • In some places there appears to be canvas or cloth attached under the flaking paper.
    – KevinB
    Jun 1 at 19:55

2 Answers 2

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In general, the best way to preserve a paper coating is with an archival PH neutral glue. Using a clean, quality brush you could gently work the glue behind the flaking bits of paper. Of course, not knowing the contents behind the paper, this glue could still pull acidity from the trunk and into the paper, degrading it further. Similarly, the water content of the glue could damage the paper depending on what exactly the paper is, and how it was originally applied.

Furthermore, as was mentioned in comments - the patina/wear of this piece could be significant to its value as a historical item. If you have any reason to believe that it has historical or antique significance, I'd recommend either letting it age as it has thus far - or engaging a professional antique restoration professional.

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  • Thank you all! I appreciate the help. I am in a small Alaska town with few resources
    – KevinB
    Jun 1 at 19:51
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The first option is to go to a local art ot craft store and specifically ask for "archival" or "acid free" paper glue.

If that option fails, a starch paste can act as a mild paper glue and its properties can be imnproved by mixing PVA glue (common white glue, preferably acid free) into it.

The Preservation Self-Assessment Program writes:

Starch adhesives (1st century A.D.–present)
Starch adhesives are activated by soaking and/or cooking powdered starch in hot water to form a paste. The most common starches used to make these adhesives are rice and wheat. Starch pastes are widely used in papermaking and paper conservation applications, as they are both water-soluble and reversible. These pastes are pH neutral and remain stable over time under appropriate conditions. This type of paste is susceptible however to biological attack.

You get the best glue-y paste from either wheat or rice starch (look for it in asian supermarkets). Other types like corn, potato or tapioka starch are less suitable. If that is the only starch you have available, test it on some scrap paper before attempting to repair your chest.

Here's an instruction to double archival white glue with a homemade starch paste:

  • Put 4 tbsp starch in a small sauce pan and mix it with 8 tbsp of water.
  • Cook it over medium heat and never stop whisking the whole time until it cooks.
  • It's ready when it turns from a chalky white to translucent.
  • Remove from the heat and keep whisking until the mixture is cool. If you don't whisk it while cooling, it becomes jello-y like a pudding.
  • Transfer the cooled paste into a small jar and mix it with the same amount of white PVA glue.

The advantage of this mixture is that it dries slower than pure glue, which gives you ample time to work. You can also thin it with a few drops of water.

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