Sticky tape was first invented in the mid-19th century, and it’s been making conservators’ lives hell ever since.
“Tape is the bane of the conservator’s existence,” says Margaret Holben Ellis, a professor of paper conservation at New York University. The problem is simply that tape works too well. Removing it can easily take off a layer of paper, and adhesives from old tape can sink into paper, staining it an unsightly yellow or brown.
You can’t really blame people for using tape, says Elissa O’Loughlin, a former conservator at the Walters Art Museum, who co-teaches a five-day course on paper conservation. “It’s just human nature,” she says. “It was seen as a miracle product.” Pressure-sensitive tape, to use the official term, is much more convenient and easy to use compared to older adhesives that required heat or water. Of course, people would use it to repair rips in drawings and documents, without thinking of conservators in the future.