Conservation of school poster from spanish civil war period


It’s now some years since I restored this map, but I feel like sharing it anyway.
This map represents the typical school posters: with its wooden slats to roll and hang, lined on the back. It was very common to varnish them with shellac to waterproof and protect them from abrasion. This one was made of two pieces of printed paper, sticked together along the central horizontal stripe. It is from 1936, spanish civil war was barely breaking.

It has been restored on the initiative of Sabadell Municipal Museums, with the exhibition Made in Sabadell. Map of Catalonia before (left) and after (right) restoration

Shellac varnish before (left) and after (right) restorationThe main degradation was the varnish layer (shellac) which causes cracks and dries paper fibres. At the end this oxidizes and turns yellow the object. Its relatively large scale (121 x 117 cm) does not help on its conservation either.
Removing the old varnish has allowed to repare other minor damages: tears, gaps and wrinkles. But most important is that the new varnish is not oxidizing nor yellowing. As it is very flexible it will not crack in the future.
Raking lightt: Poster before (above) and after the restoration.Countless microfissures eroded the formerly smooth surface of the printed paper. The image above, raking lighted, shows how the removing of the original varnish allowed to hydrate the paper again, restoring its elasticity.

Damp stains were also a minor damage (in terms of physical and chemical stability of the object), though at first glance they were very annoying. Once they were cleaned, tha map can be best enjoyed. Micro cracking of the varnish affected the clarity of the work, dampening colours and blurring lines. After the old varnished has been removed, colours recover intensity and definition.Tide-line stains and cracks in the surface. Before (left) and after restoration (right)
The restoration has eliminated harmful aspects and healed the main damages, respecting the map’s original characteristics and appearance: gloss, presentation with the wooden slats, cloth on the back and ribbons. The products applied are reversible and long term preservation.

How we did it:

  1. Removing the canvas from the back.
  2. Separation of the two printed paper pieces.
  3. Water cleaning and deacidification. Yes, the papers are washed in water!
  4. The two separate parts of the map, clean and without varnish, that has been removed by immersion too.
  5. Sizing, consolidation of tears and gaps.
  6. Adding tissue reinforcement on the reverse (japanese paper lining).
  7. Retouching gaps on the front.
  8. Varnishing.
  9. Mounted on canvas, slats and ribbons.

1. Removing the canvas from the back. 2. Separation of the two papers. 3. Water cleaning and deacidification. 4. The two separate parts of the map, clean and without varnish. 5. Sizing, consolidation of tears and gaps. 6. Adding tissue reinforcement on the reverse (japanese paper lining). 7. Retouching gaps on the front.8. Varnishing 9. Mounted on canvas, slats and ribbons.

Subjete a llicència Creative Commons. Compartir IGUAL citant AUTORA i ENLLAÇConservators: Marina Carbonell and Rita Udina.


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14 thoughts on “Conservation of school poster from spanish civil war period

    • Efectivamente, parece mentira que en plena guerra civil se editaran estos documentos tan valiosos e útiles. Lo curioso, además, es que a pesar de la represión cultural el cartel fue escrito en catalán.

      Absolutely, it’s amazing that this valuable and useful documents were edited during civil war. Curious that besides cultural repression the poster was written in catalan.

      • Rita, segons diuen el cartell s’edita l’any 36, en aquests moments a Catalunya encara no havia caigut la república.

        Rita, according to what’s said the poster was edited in 1936, and at that time the catalan republic hadn’t still fallen down.

  1. Wonderful! impressed that these conservators willing to share their experience. This is definitely a help to others for future treatments.

  2. I too wondered whether the water wash removed the varnish. It could be so, if the varnish was animal based and old, probably cross linked -deteriorated enough to ‘dissolve’ in water? I have found distilled or di-ionized water a strengthening agent for old papers, by removing acid

    • Hi Beverly,
      The varnish was removed in ethanol bath after the one with water, it dissolved really well on this solvent that is why I’m pretty sure it was shellac, not any animal glue.
      I agree with you on the beneffits of water, I water-clean whenever I can, and so I did on this map.
      Thanks for your comment!

  3. Hi Rita
    You mention that you used the Ethanol bath after one with water. Did you apply the ethanol while the paper was still damp? Just thinking that the paper being moist would prevent penetration of the dissolved varnish into the paper structure. I’ve removed varnish before using cotton swabs and denatured alcohol (basically 95% Ethanol, 5% Methanol), the varnish was removed but it also penetrated into the paper to some extent and I wasn’t entirely satisfied with the result.

    • Hi Jeff,
      It does, indeed, penetrate at some extent.
      The ethanol bath was short after the water one, and the paper was not completely dry, a little damp.
      Anyhow, to remove as much as possible shellac and avoid paper fibres to get soked in it, I did a couple of baths. The seconnd one, I hope, removed quite a lot the remnants, which I imagine is unavoisable to remove completely.
      My thought while doing this was:
      why when these varnishes are dry they look so superficial when in fact, when they are being applied, the solvents used penetreate so easily among fibres? I mean, that when first varnished it might have been quite impregnated, not only superficially…

      Thanks for your comment! 😀

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