What Is Linen Backing?
Many of the posters on our website are described as being 'Linen backed'. It isn't a term you hear frequently and we are often asked what it means. So, for this special article, we have teamed up with Frederick Stubbs of paper conservators Stubbs Conservation.
Here, Fred talks us through the rationale and process of conserving a movie poster through Linen Backing.
Movie posters fall into the category of ephemera; that is, they were not produced to last beyond their intended purpose - short term advertising of a film at its point of release. For the first eighty years of the movies few studios ever anticipated that their promotional posters would become so highly sought after and in a lot of cases, so valuable.
Posters were often issued folded and then poorly stored. Their size and fragility means many have been damaged while being handled. The paper they are produced upon becomes inherently acidic as it ages. All of these factors explain why vintage posters can often be found in poor condition, with ruptures along fold lines, disrupted design layers, tears and losses and identifying handwriting on the back.
Linen backing is a long established process used by paper conservators to help arrest many of the above mentioned issues whilst also flattening and improving the aesthetics of a work on paper. The nature of the process, the application of water and / or alkalisation agents, results in a reduction of soluble acids and discolouration within the paper, whilst lining the poster onto fabric provides a flexible support that reduces risk of damage from handling and allows for rolling and unrolling.
At Stubbs Conservation we use the highest quality materials in all our processes. These are both fully compatible with paper supports and are fully reversible. We use a suitably weighted cotton that has been scoured and de-sized and produced without the use of bleach, with a Japanese facing paper applied. We use water based conservation grade adhesive with excellent strength and known aging characteristic with to additives.
Having worked with Art of the Movies for some time, we thought that customers may find an overview of the linen-backing process interesting.
To prepare the lining surface we begin by stretching cotton across a frame which then has adhesive applied and worked into its weave. A sheet of humidified, pre-stretched Japanese paper is then applied to this surface and allowed to dry. Once dry, the surface is inspected for imperfections and irregularities with any found being removed so the lining surface is smooth and ready to receive a poster.
Stretching cotton across a frame
With each poster, we begin by inspecting the front (recto) and back (verso), looking for stamps, handwriting and old conservation treatments using various methods such as ultra-violet, transmitted and raking light, to plan the course of treatment. Surface cleaning is carried out to remove surface particulates and any identified additional cleaning or removal of writing is carried out prior to washing.
A UK Quad movie poster for Raiders of the Lost Ark, in original condition
Once surface cleaned and free from writing, etc. the poster is humidified and washed using an appropriate technique to reduce the soluble acidic components within the paper (application of water only being carried out after appropriate testing of the design layer to confirm its stability in water).
Washing the poster prior to linen backing
Once washed it is allowed to dry in order to assess the impact of the washing treatment, if adequate then the poster is humidified and applied to the pre-prepared lining screen with water based adhesive and allowed to dry.
Applying the poster to the pre-prepared frame
If more staining needs to be reduced, then further rounds of washing are completed before considering stronger more aggressive treatments. Once complete, the poster will have dried under tension and will now be rendered flat.
Once flat any losses can be filled using similar repair papers and any missing parts of the design layer can be retouched to reintegrate the image.
The result is a poster that looks dramatically finer than its former self, is far easier to handle and that is better protected for the future.
The final, linen backed poster
We hope that has given you confidence to look at older posters, safe in the knowledge that in a professional's hands, they can be conserved and restored for the long-term.
Below are a few more 'before and after' images.
Adam and the Art of the Movies team