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Pins, clips and staples: damaging fasteners in archive collections

Pins, clips and staples: damaging fasteners in archive collectionsDocument fasteners have an important and often overlooked role in archives; they secure loose sheets and documents into groups to maintain order, structure and relationship in a collection. Yet many fastenings can corrode, stain, distort and tear the material, and therefore should be removed and replaced with a suitable, alternative system. This will also reduce the risk of further damage when items are accessed for research and reprography. Our conservation team offers valuable advice on removing fasteners to minimise damage, and recommends alternative ways of securing your valuable documents.

Removing straight pins

If the pin has not rusted and the paper is strong, the pin can be simply removed by pulling it through the paper. With fragile paper and rusted pins, insert strips of thin card between the pin and paper at the front and back. Hold the document steady on a flat work surface and gently pull the pin through the paper.

Removing paper clips

The safest method of removing a paper clip is to start with the short side of the clip facing up. Hold the long side of the clip through the paper with one finger on a flat work surface and pull up on the short side of the clip. With fragile paper and rusted clips, gently insert a small piece of thin card between the clip and the paper on both sides and remove the clip as above.

Removing staples

It is important not to use a staple remover as this can further damage the document. If the staple has not rusted and the paper is strong, place the paper on a flat work surface with the staple prongs facing up. Gently pry open one prong at a time using a flat metal tool (such as a microspatula which is available from most art shops). Turn the stapled papers over and insert the microspatula between the paper and the staple then ease the prongs through the puncture holes. With fragile paper and rusted staples, slip a piece of thin card between the staple and paper and remove the staple as above.

It may be necessary to scrape away heavy deposits of rust with a metal tool before attempting to remove any of these fasteners.

Alternative methods of fastening

Archival quality foldersArchival quality folders, available from specialist suppliers, are designed to provide protective storage to groups of loose files and papers. Here are some suppliers' details.

Brass paper clips are a good substitute for the standard metal clip, as they do not rust. If using a paper clip it is often advisable to use a folded slip of acid free paper placed between the document and the clip.

Removing old fastenings requires great care so as not to further damage the document. If you are unsure, please contact one of the conservators at the Surrey History Centre for professional advice.

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