We had a painting come into the lab from a CA client that use to be part of an old family estate in NY. The painting was very high quality, but very dirty and it had 16 holes in it. On the back was an old crusty brown label with no writing on it…. or so it seemed!
With infrared technology you can sometimes read old obscured writing… and we happen to have two types of infrared reflectometers. Under the lights and with the aid of the infrared we were able to see that it was an exhibition label from the World’s Fair of 1861. It clearly read, “Richmond, Yorkshire England, James Peale, 1858”
Very cool! An old crusty label had given up its secret obscured information that has meant everything to the history and value of this wonderful painting. Because of this label, the value went up considerably.
And therein lies the lesson to be learned, especially on old paintings: Protect old labels and the historical information they contain. Here’s an example of what we do to protect old labels:
This label has been deacidified to neutralize the acids and stop deterioration and encapsulated to protect it against handling. You can provide protection to your labels by covering them over with a sandwich baggie (stable, archival plastic) but remember, never staple, tape or glue anything directly on the original label or on any historical info written on the artwork. In addition, you’ll notice on the back of the painting/frame, new mounting hardware (no nails hammered through paintings!), new wire (coated with plastic to retard rust) and Foamcor to keep out dust and provide protection against poor handing and storage.
There are some lessons to be learned in this post… some of which will really be of benefit.
There are many other tips and info available in the book, How To Save Your Stuff so go to the Products tab on the top of the page and download a copy now.
I thought I would be the only one with interest in this blog post. But we did the same thing as Pau! Well written blog. I’m glad that I could find more info on this. Thanks
Another great article. We almost threw out an old label on a stretcher that was extremely important, turns out, to the background and value of the artwork. Duh! Good article and thanks for saving our bacon. If we hadn’t been signed up for the tips, we’d have missed this one! You guys rock.
Old paintings always carry secrets of the past (we deal in Australian Aboriginal Art). They are really a treasure. I just wonder what infrared light did you use?
Thanks for leaving a comment. The infrared technology is called “infrared reflectography.” Unfortunately, its not as easy a unit to buy as a UV lamp (ultraviolet visible fluorescence). You should be able to do a search and get lots of info on its use.
After I read your article, I looked on the back of some of my old paintings and found some “old crusty labels.” Cool! Thanks for the head’s up. I’ll be sure to take care not to damage them.
I have subscribed for your posts. Thank you.
We never know the value of a painting unless we know something about it. In my childhood I used to not care at all about the paintings in my home as I never knew the value they had. My wrong! Also its true that a lay person may not know enough to determine how much a painting is worth. So it is always important to find an expert. Otherwise there is a good chance you could make a big mistake. Thank you.
There’a short and funny story on video about how important it is to know the value of artwork. Go to and click on “Appraisal video” link in the left column.
There are a few really good tips on preserving old paintings in this article. I think this applies to any sort of antiques. I haven’t heard of ‘infrared reflectography’ before. I’ll do some research on this. Informative article BTW.
Great post….great advice on how to save old antique painting labels. Never thought of this… sounds important to know.
Protecting old labels and the historical information they contain is something I’ve never thought about. I can see how it could be essential to protecting my investment too. Thanks for the wise heads up!
I’m kicking myself cause I remember a month or so ago we were cleaning out a storage unit from parents and found art stuff we thought was worthless but had labels on them from the 20’s. We threw everything out.
There are things that people see as trash or needs to be junk. But for the artistic people, they see it as art.
It’s so amazing when something like this happens. This info should go in museum exhibits info.
Thanks for this info. This site is great with these types of tips. I’ve been looking at collectibles I want to buy differently since I started reading your articles. I feel better informed and better protected. Thanks.
That’s really cool stuff
Haapy I reached at your blog
Is that true, I think that was only editing the picture.