This should be a lesson to all genealogists, archivists, historians, and to anyone with old documents or pictures they would like to preserve: Don’t laminate them!
Back in the 1950s, many people thought that laminating something was a method of preserving it. Even some archivists recommended laminating old documents. As the years went by, these people learned the folly of their recommendations. Laminating something actually hastens its deterioration.
For 20 years, beginning in the 1950s, the state of South Carolina laminated documents to protect them from aging. However, a chemical reaction caused the documents to deteriorate faster than they would have had they been left unlaminated. The natural acids from the paper mix with the degrading laminate to create a noxious vinegar. Each passing year will further degrade the document until it’s gone.
“You’re effectively forming an envelope where you’re keeping the acids in the paper, not allowing them to migrate out,” says Molly McGath, a researcher at Johns Hopkins University.
McGath has written extensively about lamination, and she says South Carolina isn’t the only state with this problem. She says the method was performed around the U.S., and other countries, throughout the 20th century. There are as many as 6 million laminated historical documents.
You can read more about the South Carolina experience in n article by Cooper McKim in the NPR News web site at https://goo.gl/ZpUAKw.
My thanks to newsletter reader Larry Zabik for telling me about this story.