Linen Backing

When movie posters were sent to cinemas they were only ever intended for temporary display. Indeed the National Screen Service (who for most of the last century controlled the distribution of movie advertising in the US) asked for posters to be either returned or destroyed following the film's screening. As a result it will come as no surprise to hear that the paper and printing using was not always of the highest quality. As a result over the years they are subject to ageing which can manifest itself in many forms.

The main cause of this ageing is acid in the paper that is present from when the paper was first manufactured. Over time the acid gradually breaks down the structure of the material, and this process is also accelerated by such things as atmospheric pollutants and exposure to UV light (i.e. sunlight). Stopping this process is crucial in maintaining a poster's appearance. The best way of doing this is linen (or paper) backing. This process involves de-acidification and mounting of the poster on a sheet of acid-free linen.

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The Wild Bunch - UK Quad

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The Wild Bunch - UK Quad linen-backed

The actual process of linen backing involves placing the poster on top of a sheet of acid-free rice paper, which is in turn mounted onto linen (or more usually onto cotton duct due to the high cost of real linen). Linen backing in this way provides the following benefits to the poster:

An alternative to linen backing is paper backing. This is essentially the same process except the poster is mounted on a thick paper stock as opposed to the linen/cloth. This is normally used for items made of thick paper or card stock such as US half-sheets or lobby cards.

Any Disadvantages?

If linen backing is so useful then you'll no doubt be asking "Why doesn't every collector linen back all his/her posters?". Well there are several reasons that you might consider not using this method of preservation:

Work that can be done

If you've decided to get your poster linen backed then you need to decide how much work you'd like to have done to your poster. I would normally say there were three degrees of work that you can have done:

  1. Straight backing - Plain and simple linen backing. Poster is mounted on linen and that's it. No restoration of any kind.
  2. Minor restoration - Some fold lines inked-in, minor staining removed, small amounts of paper loss covered (e.g. pinholes).
  3. Major restoration - May include repair of material damage, such as water stains, mildew, significant paper loss etc..

Obviously the third option is only going to apply to posters that aren't in the best of condition. I would say that this option is the only option if you wanted to display a valuable poster that has been treated very badly over the years. Such extensive restoration would be expensive, since most restorers charge by the hour for any work (excluding the backing itself). Hence this is only used if you have something of significant value.

The main choice for most collectors is between the first and second option. This really is a matter of personal taste. In my opinion, if the poster only exhibits minor flaws such as slight fold wear with a few pinholes in the corner then I'll go for the first option every time. This is mainly because when the poster is displayed I like it to look like it's an old poster. If it looks too perfect then it just doesn't look right.

However minor restoration can certainly be used for some things, mainly on posters which have a little too much fold wear, or those with noticeable tape stains. For example this Wild Bunch 3-sheet from my personal collection had significant tape residue in the white border, and as a result I opted to have these removed, along with other minor blemishes.

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Wild Bunch - 3-sheet Wild Bunch - 3-sheet Linen backed

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