The Archive Lady: Buffered vs. Unbuffered Archival Tissue Paper, What’s the Difference?

Cotton Christening Gown, ca. 1900, Houston County, Tennessee ArchivesCotton Christening Gown, ca. 1900, Houston County, Tennessee Archives

The Archive Lady: Buffered vs. Unbuffered Archival Tissue Paper, What’s the Difference?

This week I have received the same question from two separate genealogists and home archivists. Lisa in California and Debbie in Michigan both asked: “Can you please explain the difference between buffered and unbuffered archival tissue paper?”

Archival tissue paper is a staple item used in all archives to help preserve and protect historical items. I know that I use a lot of it in the Houston County, Tennessee Archives for all kinds of archival tasks.

The Home Archivist should always have a supply of archival tissue paper on hand to use when working with family heirlooms and artifacts. However, knowing which kind of tissue paper to purchase can sometimes be confusing.

Archival Tissue Paper Example, Houston County, Tennessee Archives

Archival Tissue Paper Example, Houston County, Tennessee Archives

Many of our family heirlooms and artifacts contain acids that can migrate to other items in our collection. It is important that we take the steps necessary to prevent that from happening. Protecting our family artifacts should be a high priority because they have been entrusted to us to protect and to hand them down to the next generation when the time comes.

First, let’s break down the difference between buffered and unbuffered archival tissue paper by definition:

  • Buffered Archival Tissue Paper: This tissue paper is “buffered” because it contains an alkaline substance, usually calcium carbonate, added as an alkaline reserve or “buffer” to counteract acids that may form in the material.
  • Unbuffered Archival Tissue Paper: This tissue paper is free of any alkaline substance.

Most genealogy records, photographs and artifacts would benefit from being archived in buffered materials like boxes, tissue paper, folders, etc. There are some important exceptions:

  • Dye Transfer Prints or Cyanotypes Photographs:These items should only come in contact with unbuffered archival materials. These particular types of photographs and/or blueprints should never be archived in buffered materials due to the reaction of the calcium carbonate that could take place.
  • Protein Based Materials: Fabrics or artifacts that are protein based should be stored in unbuffered archival materials or at least should not come in contact with buffered materials. These items could include silk, wool, leather, feathers, animal specimens, horsehair, pearls etc.
  • Vegetable Based Materials: When storing vegetable bases materials or artifacts such as cotton it is safe to use either buffered or unbuffered archival tissue paper.

Now, let’s talk about some specific examples of what should be preserved with unbuffered and buffered archival tissue paper.

If you have a leather-bound diary in your family records, it is recommended that unbuffered tissue paper and an unbuffered box be used to preserve and store this item due to the protein based leather material. In an archive setting, we usually use a piece of unbuffered tissue paper to wrap the leather-bound diary and then place it in an unbuffered archival box.

Leather Covered Diary, ca. 1930’s, Houston County, Tennessee Archives

Leather Covered Diary, ca. 1930’s, Houston County, Tennessee Archives

Archival Tissue Paper Covered Diary, Houston County, Tennessee Archives

Archival Tissue Paper Covered Diary, Houston County, Tennessee Archives

Maybe you have the christening gown that has been handed down in your family for generations and it’s made of cotton. This item would be perfectly fine stored in buffered or unbuffered archival tissue paper and a buffered or unbuffered archival box. In the archive, we would place a piece of tissue paper in an archival box, lay the christening gown on the tissue paper and then fold over the tissue paper to cover the gown and place the lid on the box.

Cotton Christening Gown, ca. 1900, Houston County, Tennessee Archives

Cotton Christening Gown, ca. 1900, Houston County, Tennessee Archives

When purchasing archival materials, it is important to know the terminology, how the materials work and can help you preserve your family heirlooms. One of the best places to look up archival terms is at the Society of American Archivists Glossary of Terms (https://www2.archivists.org/glossary/terms)

Archival Material Websites

Here is a listing of online archival materials stores. Archival tissue paper and boxes can be purchased at any of the following online archival stores. They all have online catalogs and paper catalogs that can be sent to your home. Also, be sure to sign up for email notifications because they periodically have sales and will send out email notifications.

Metal Paper Clips, Rubber Bands and Tape, OH MY! Legacy QuickGuide

Metal Paper Clips, Rubber Bands and Tape, OH MY! Legacy QuickGuide

 

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If you have a question about researching in archives or records preservation for The Archive Lady, send an email with your question to: melissabarker20@hotmail.com

Melissa Barker - The Archive Lady

Melissa Barker lives in Tennessee Ridge, Tennessee. She is the Houston County (TN) Archivist and a Professional Genealogist. She writes the blog, A Genealogist in the Archives, and has been researching her own family for over 26 years. She lectures, teaches and writes about researching in archives and records preservation. 

©2017, copyright Melissa Barker. All rights Reserved.

About the Author

Melissa Barker
Melissa Barker lives in Tennessee Ridge, Tennessee. She is the Houston County (TN) Archivist and a Professional Genealogist. She writes the blog, A Genealogist in the Archives, and has been researching her own family for over 26 years. She lectures, teaches and writes about researching in archives and records preservation.