Smell on old music scores

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    • #132756
      Tracie Hampton

      I have a box of donated music scores, some handwritten, others printed from the 1960’s-70’s.  Some are the old thermograph copies from the 1970’s.  (I think that’s the correct term, they’re the copies made from the roll of paper that fade easily.)  Others are on very thick music score paper. Although not brittle all the scores smell musty and slightly vinegary and sulfuric , or as one of my students noted, “Old man house smell.” (Apologies to any mature gentlemen out there.)  I did not notice any mold or pests.  A couple of the scores have old scotch tape, some rusty paperclips and coffee stains and one has an ancient red and white peppermint stuck to the paper.  After handling the scores and washing my hands twice, I can still detect a slight burnt gunpowder sulfuric, vinegar smell.  The scores had been reboxed in a new box (Baker & Taylor new book shipment box) to be sent over to me. I do not know if the scores were kept with other mediums such as cd’s, cassette or reel tapes.   Is the vinegar, sulfur smell from decay of cellulose acetate into acidic acid?  If so, can these be deodorized and encapsulated? I’ve heard that cellulose acetate decay must be isolated because it spreads easily to other materials.  Would digitization be a better route? Would deacidification help at all?  The scores are too large to copy on a photocopier. Any advice would be appreciated.

    • #132759
      Tracie Hampton

      Apologies for the programming gobbledegook, not sure how that happened.

    • #132758
      Tara Kennedy

      Hi Tracie-

      The materials were most likely kept in close proximity to old cellulose acetate/ triaceate films. The paper would easily absorb that odor.

      Eventually it will dissipate. You could also store the materials in Microchamber paper products – that will expedite the removal of the odor. Microchamber products are sold by Conservation Resources.

      Good luck!


    • #132757

      You might try enclosing the sheets in a plastic tote with a tight fitting lid and include an open dish or an odour absorbent material like activated charcoal, baking soda, tea tree oil, volcanic rock, or even unscented kitty litter.  And keep checking the contents e very few days until odour is gone  It may take a few days or weeks but will hasten the odour removal process.  If you’re considering deacidification you need to ensure the paper and inks can withstand which ever solution (aqueous or non-aqueous) you plan to use.  So that means rigourous spot testing first.  If there’s a paper conservator near you perhaps they could help or have other ideas.  AIC has an online directory of conservators I believe.




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