Monday, April 13, 2009

Fugitives from a 1959 paste gang

Every November, the Greater Boston Sports Collectors Club hosts a big show in the Shriners Auditorium outside Wilmington, MA. Packed with dealers and goods, it's the best Boston show of the year and second only to the National on my personal calendar. You can find a lot of vintage cards, promotors arrange a bunch of signature guests, and plenty of real, live Shriners work security, fezzes at the ready.

There's only one downside to living near a good show: your wantlists shrinks year after year, constantly cutting the opportunity to make a good deal. Fortunately, they don't all go away. Just last year I snagged a battery of baseball luminaries from one seller. Two 1959 Topps, #380 Hank Aaron and #392 Whitey Herzog, cost a grand total of $8. One cannot easily turn aside such quality cardboard and I snapped them up.

Some good deals come with a "catch" in the transaction and this one proved no exception. See the Gorbachev-like mottling on Herzog's face? Like chained fugitives on the run, Hank and Whitey were actually a single unit, bonded back-to-back with 50 year-old gunk. Based on the card numbers, perhaps an avid collector affixed his whole set to paper in numerical order, putting #380 and 392 on opposite sides of the same page. There's no stopping dogged persistence.

Bonded cards like these two represent a real risk, since scrapbookers of the past secured their treasures with all sorts of nasty adhesives. I bought them with the intent of separation, but it's important to draw the line somewhere when dealing with glues-that-time-forgot. It might be water-soluble paste, rancid rubber cement, or just liquid evil. You hope it's the first one, since the worst only dissolve under the toxic influence of toluene, a substance best avoided. I've used acetone (nail polish remover) on stubborn cards in the past, but always don a mask around the fumes.

For Whitey and Hank, I started optimistically with water, and so should you. Grab a shallow bowl, fill it an inch or two deep, and drop in your victims. They'll float on top, so push them underwater like a younger sibling at the pool. Hold them down for a minute (the cards, not the sibling) to soak completely. A paperweight works great here. Ultimately, you want the sticky stuff to loosen or dissolve without force, so I left these two in the water overnight. Pass the time by contemplating your navel, eating some ice cream, or blog about spilling ice cream in your navel.

The card darkens during the soak and it is possible to stain or fade if you leave it in too long. Better to go one night at a time. If the glue's not loose after two nights, water's not the answer. You'll need to try something more aggressive (and risk card damage), switch to a chemical, or write off the project as a learning experience.

In my case, an overnight bath did the trick. With most of Hank and Whitey already floating free, I coaxed the pair carefully apart and transferred them to paper towels. A viscous, yellowy old paste covered both backs. Being already wet and crumbly, gentle picking with a fingernail cleaned off the schmutz. (It took about five minutes for each.) Work slowly if trying this at home; get the glue off, but leave the card back intact.

Worst case scenario: nasty glues can bond directly with the card, making removal practically impossible. In that event, practice swearing in a foreign language.

End result: legible backs! After cleaning, I sandwiched the cards in new paper towels, pressed them between heavy books, and did some more waiting. A couple of days of drying brought them in line with the rest of my collection.

Note: Holding the cards between solid objects keeps them from warping as the water evaporates. If you don't care about that, just put them on the counter in the open air. Some people hot iron their cards back to health, but must be careful not to burn or blanch them in the process.

Free free to post feedback or success stories in the comments. Note that this article assumes you're soaking cards for the sake of separating them. Some collectors consider this alteration, especially if you're trying to mask problems with an otherwise high-grade card. See this Network54 guide for more info and use your best judgment!


Steve Gierman said...

Great information!

Spike Glidden said...

Thanks, I enjoyed going the extra mile for these two.

--David said...

Wow, that is very handy info to have and I never would have thought of soaking cards in water for anything! Great results too!