So what, if anything, is wrong with paper products that are "acid-free" and "pH neutral?" The good news is that paper philatelic products made with pH and acid free qualities in mind will fade, discolor, and eventually disintegrate less rapidly than their acid based cousins. On the other hand, the literature of many manufacturers and philatelic distributors of "acid-free" and "pH neutral" paper products implies that such qualities will also in some way be transferred to the inherently acidic stamp and philatelic items they are meant to be used with. However, all that these adjectives should be read to mean is that (on their own) "acid free" and "pH neutral" philatelic products will cause no immediate damage.
In fact, over time, acid free and pH neutral paper will turn acidic, either from their own internal decomposition (albeit via a slower process than that which occurs in acidic papers), or from external influences (such as transfer of acidity from the stamps mounted to the paper the stamps are mounted on, from interactions and decomposition of plastics, and/or interactions with the environment).
Still not convinced ... these 2 stamp images will illustrate why acid free pH neutral paper is not your best choice.
The discolored stamp to the left was framed and mounted onto acid free pH neutral paper. The undamaged stamp on the right was mounted on archive grade alkaline buffered paper. The two stamps are shown after they were subjected to a pollutant (a component of smog) in an accelerated aging test.
It is for this reason that museums do not use acid free and pH neutral paper products with their treasured items; instead, for display and storage of inherently acidic philatelic items, museums use archival grade "alkaline buffered" paper. The reason being is that when inherently acidic paper items such as stamps are mounted on archival grade alkaline buffered paper, the acidic reactions within the stamps become neutralized by the alkaline buffered paper (not convinced - look at the rightmost duck stamp above). During the period of time that the acidic reactions are neutralized, the life of an acidic item is extended (a benefit that "acid free" and "pH neutral" paper cannot provide), but it should not be forgotten, given enough time, the alkaline reserve within alkaline buffered paper products will become depleted.
Thus, unless alkaline buffered paper products are monitored for their efficacy and replaced when needed, the harmful reactions within any acidic items (i.e. the paper items that philatelists typically collect and enjoy) they are being relied upon to protect will eventually begin anew. See brief background info on acidic and alkaline paper manufacture and ISO 9706 standards for archival grade paper products.
1. Archival grade alkaline buffered philatelic paper products will protect your philatelic collection by extending the time before damage occurs in the paper products themselves, or from the acidic items they are intended to protect (the right stamp above).
2. By corollary, acidic items mounted on "acid-free" and "pH neutral" products will degrade more quickly than if mounted on archive grade alkaline paper products (the left stamp above).
(Warning: the alkaline reserve within buffered paper can harm textile based and photographic based collections; DO NOT use alkaline buffered paper with textile based and photographic based collections).
Still sitting on the philatelic fence? ... then try to imagine a day in the future, a day that you may decide to revisit your stamp collection, only to open your stamp album or philatelic storage box, and instead find a damaged version of a formerly pristine treasure. The only two 1868 Z-grill stamps known to exist are shown to the left; the stamps illustrate that the type of stamp care you lavish on your philatelic collection can be repaid not just in value, but in aesthetics as well.
The leftmost stamp has been in the care of museums for a large portion of its life, while the rightmost stamp has been held mostly by private collectors. We do not presume to know the actual reason(s) for the difference in appearance between the two stamps. Nor do we presume to make a conclusion as to which of the two are the more attractive. But, despite our lack of commitment, there "is" a reason for the difference in their appearance. Perhaps the reason stems from photographs that do not accurately reflect true colors or condition of the two stamps. Or perhaps the difference in appearance resulted from exposure of the stamp plastic, pollution, improper humidity and temperature; or excessive exposure to VISIBLE light or ultra violet UV light. On the other hand, perhaps the difference in appearance was caused by storage of one of the stamps in on "pH neutral" or "acid free" stamp album pages?
Given a choice between archive grade alkaline buffered stamp papers and the currently sold and commonly used "acid free" and "pH neutral" paper products, use of alkaline buffered paper is a protective choice that should be implemented sooner than later. By doing so, you will not only extend the life of your philatelic and stamp items, but as well, increase their value. Note 1: verification of the current state of the acidic or alkaline nature of your stamp pages, philatelic storage container, matting material, etc., can be made via a PH pen, whose applied ink will change color based on the acidic or alkaline content of the paper product it is applied onto. Note 2: - PH pens will leave residues and marks and should not be used directly on your philatelic items.
Are you now willing to implement use of alkaline buffered paper with your collection? Your philatelic items, stamps, and art await your answer.
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