Acids in Paper

Liquid Stain on Lithograph of a Woman by Henri Matisse

This work on art on paper came into the lab because it has a water stain on the lower right hand corner, which makes this valuable print look awful… and takes away from the value.

Hideous liquid stain on lower right hand conner on the lithograph.

What causes water stains?

I spoke with Scott Haskins, our conservator and he said one of the reasons this could happen is, for instance, the liquid that spilled on the paper was dirty, like a roof leak or spilling your coffee.

Another reason is because there is yellowing in the paper that is a deterioration by product. The deterioration causes acids to develop in the paper, and this is why paper yellows and becomes fragile. Even if the liquid that spills on the artwork is clean or pure it will still move the yellow acids in the paper causing it to stain, this is what happens to this artwork.

So, what should you do about your artwork on paper, certificate, diploma, or letter that has some kind of liquid stain? Here are some things you should know:

  • This is not something you (personally) can remove from the paper. This must be done by an experience paper conservator.
  • The stain will not spread over time, however, the stain will get darker with time.
  • The stain’s color can be stabilized if the acids are neutralized. Feel free to call our office and speak with Scott Haskins for more information at (805) 5643438.

Are you wondering if your art is worth restoring? Here are 5 tips to follow if you find yourself in this kind of situation:

  1. Ask an art appraiser about the artwork. (Sometimes they will not charge for a verbal opinion if you do not require a formal appraisal (Also you ask an auction house for their opinion)
  2. Speak with an art conservator to give value/estimate for repairs.
  3. Ask the curator at a local museum for an opinion.
  4. Another suggestion would be, if you can read the signature on the artwork research it, and you can find out interesting things. This artist, for example, would show up everywhere in a search. He was quite famous.
  5. DO NOT consult with art dealers right away until you get other’s opinions first. They will try to buy the artwork for as little as possible.

For $400.00 this artwork can look as good as new, and should be worth the maximum amount of money after restoration.

When you have a damaged painting, your home owner’s insurance policy may help you pay for it, and may even pay you for lost value. For more information about this, go to or call us at 805 564 3438

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Help, I Inherited A Pile Of Family Photos and Scrapbooks!

This question (and answer) is reproduced here for the benefit of all… this is a very common situation that appeals to the heart of family history.

To Scott,

Thank you for the photo archival information that you sent to me as the Preservation Tips that I signed up for on It’s been very useful.

I put the info in your book to use recently. I found a ton of photos of my parents from the 1940s on… A lot of photos of my dad’s from WW2. I quickly put them in photo albums to protect them per your recommendation. I, also, found a scrapbook of my Mother’s from the 40s that’s falling apart. She wrote names on the paper pages so I need to retain those mounting pages, but they are disintegrating. The photos are attached with those corner triangular shaped things that the photos slide into. Any ideas?

Louise Elam

Park and Rec Dept. (Care of Public Art Work)

City of Dallas, TX

Family History photos

Piles of family photos handed down from relatives


Congratulations of taking action! There are two things you can/should do: