Marking Fossils

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    • #132619

      Hi All-

      When marking a fossil with identification number once accessioned do you use rice paper and B-72 or write directly onto the fossil? If you write onto the fossil, so you use a permanent pen or pencil, and do you coat it with an acrylic medium? I have seen some people use the white fluid acrylics when the fossil is dark, but I think it just looks messy. Opinions?


    • #132623
      James C. Sagebiel

      My preference has been to write directly on the bone with an archival India ink. In my opinion, the catalog number should be irreversible. However, I have been told that I am a dinosaur for this preference, the technique should be reversible. I still write directly on the non-showcase specimens.

      In my experience, the acrylic base coating method is undesirable, and I much prefer the Japanese paper technique. At some point all or part of the acrylic chips or peels off and one is left with a partial number. It can also be difficult to write clearly and not smudge on the acrylic base, or run when the clear overcoat is applied. Japanese paper will not chip, and should not peel off under normal handling, and it conforms wonderfully  to the surface of the bone in a way other paper will not. So, unless I have an absolutely black bone, I do not use a white acrylic base coat – even then, I prefer to use acrylic white for numbering followed by a top-coat. And the more I think about it, the more I abhor the acrylic method – it peels and chips!

      My personal preference in pens is the Faber-Castell Pitt artist pen. These pens have demonstrated superior light-fastness and they tend to out-perform the Microns and others in just about every way. [Amy Davidson and Marilyn Fox have a paper on this subject in a March 2011 SPNHC newsletter.] I also prefer a top coat with any of the techniques to keep the smudge-factor low.

      Amy Davidson and Marilyn Fox also have a run-down of various techniques in a poster – which is up on Amy’s page.

    • #132622
      Rachael Arenstein

      I worked on a website on fossil preparation for the American Museum of Natural History and we have a full section on labeling and marking (see the Studying tab).

      There is always some variation in opinion but some of the leaders in the fossil prep field were involved in the creation of the site.


    • #132621
      Tracy Miller

      Hi Brittany,

      Institutions like B-72 as a base and top coat to sandwich the catalog # because it does not damage the specimen, protects the catalog #, and is reversible with acetone (meaning the label can be removed and ideally does not damage the specimen during that removal IF it ever becomes necessary to remove the label).

      I have been managing labs and labeling items for years.  Here’s what I’ve learned and my opinions. I prefer to write the catalog # rather than use the paper. B-72 can be written on easily with an archival quality ink quill or pen, but it has to be applied properly.

      If the B-72 is too thick when applied, your base coat will bubble and become very “gummy” and not dry properly. B-72  thickens with use because the acetone that is dissolved in it evaporates into the air every time you remove the lid. You have to periodically correct for that by re-adding acetone to the B-72 (how much acetone depends on the size of your B-72 container, and how often depends on how much labeling you are doing with that container – e.g., an 8-hour day of opening and closing that container or just an hour every day).

      Make sure your base coat is completely dry before writing the catalog # on the base coat. Drying time varies by geographic location and internal climate control (generally, more humid = longer drying time).  After your base coat is completely dry (meaning it is hardened), then write the catalog #.  Make sure the ink is completely dry before applying the top coat.  I prefer the Sakura Pigma Micron artists pens over the Faber-Castell Pitt pens for labeling catalog #s on B-72.

      Some of the reasons why hand-written ink will smear, run, or “disappear” are:  (1) the base coat and ink were not completely dry when the top coat of B-72 was applied, or (2) the item being labeled is slightly more porous and requires a second base coat of B-72 (applying one base coat, letting it dry completely, then applying a second base coat on top of that to dry completely, then label, then a top coat).

      As for labeling catalog #s on dark items, if you opt for using a separate white acrylic (water-based) as a background color, be sure to put down a base coat of B-72 before the coat of acrylic. However, you can also purchase B-72 with a white acrylic already mixed into it from University Supplies. If you don’t like the appearance of that, you can purchase white ink to write the catalog # on dark items. We use Koh-I-Noor Drawing Ink in white (and a quill pen).

    • #132620

      Thank you for your advice!

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