I am often asked for framing suggestions from clients who want to be sure to treat their vintage posters properly. With a view toward giving the best (and most complete) answer, I went to a variety of sources (including the International Vintage Poster Dealer Association website), to come up with the most comprehensive answer I could.
Framing Specifications for Vintage Posters
Our vintage posters can be 100 or more years old. While they are not inherently fragile, they are valuable and should be thought of as ‘investment artwork’. As such, they should be framed with great care, by someone who knows precisely what they are doing, as well as by someone who is familiar with vintage posters and their particular requirements. A proper, high quality custom frame will create a sealed environment, which will protect your artwork from dust (which is acidic), from sunlight (which is destructive) and from moisture. Please frame your posters to archival standard so they will last another century.
Framing a Linen Backed poster
One of the most important things to know about framing a vintage poster is how it should be mounted or properly hinged. It is important to know that dry-mounting a vintage poster can render the work of art worthless. There are many dry-mount adhesives that have become available over the last 10 years that are advertised as being “Reversible and Archival” but the reality is that the reversibility of these adhesives comes with a price. It not only can be prohibitively expensive to reverse the dry-mount process, but most solvents that reverse these adhesives will also deteriorate the inks in the work of art. There are other dry-mount adhesives that are reversible with heat but the problem is that the adhesive will typically release from the board it has been mounted to and stay bonded to the piece of art. When this occurs, your artwork has been seriously compromised and therefore diminished in value. Although these dry-mount materials may be considered archival the fact that it is so costly and destructive to reverse the dry-mount process the archival mounting process really doesn’t matter. Shorthand: tell the framer NO GLUE!!
The next thing you should know about framing a vintage poster is that once the poster is properly linen backed by an expert restorer it does not need any further mounting or stretching*. It is easy for most framers who are not familiar with linen backing to think that because a poster is backed to canvas it now needs to be stretched. This is a common misconception. The canvas is there simply to strengthen the backing and protect against tearing. During the linen backing process the canvas tightens on stretcher bars in turn producing a flat product.
Posters should be backed with acid free material. Acid Free Foam Core or 4 ply rag are the best backing materials. Artwork must be mounted using a hinge. DO NOT ALLOW YOUR FRAMER TO DRY MOUNT ANY ARTWORK. Glues are acidic and will damage your artwork.
A poster that has been linen backed can be simply hinged to a piece of acid free foam board using archival tape. The poster should be trimmed to roughly 1/8 inch smaller that the inside dimension of the frame (because the linen upon which the poster is mounted has no value in and of itself, trimming the linen does not at all diminish the value of the poster). This is all that needs to be done to a linen-backed poster in preparation for framing.
Choosing a Frame
Framing is a very subjective field – some people like to frame their pieces in appropriate styles – i.e. an Art Deco looking frame for a vintage Art Deco poster. We tend to like simple frames with an inner liner or molding which brings out one of the colors of the poster, but that is just personal preference. A good and professional frame shop should be able to offer you a variety of choices at a variety of price points – then you can make an informed decision.
Frame and Barrier Work
You can choose to frame your poster ‘to size’, with no matting, or to mat the poster. Mats must be acid free. Frames, which are wood, are by definition acidic. If the artwork is framed to size, the framer must add an acid free barrier between the frame and the artwork to avoid ‘burning’ the poster. When posters are framed to size, the framer will trim the linen backing to the edge of the poster. Your frame should show the printers information and the margins of the poster, as these are important parts of having an original piece.
Depending on the size of your poster, you can frame with glass of Plexiglass. Small pieces can be framed with glass, larger posters should be glazed with Plexiglas. UV filtering Plexiglas or OP-3 will protect your artwork from fading and is highly recommended. Again, a good framer will be able to show you samples of different glass and Plexis and will be able to give you the cost estimates for using either one.
Large posters have D-Rings on the back. Smaller posters have wire stretched between the rings. DO NOT ADD WIRE TO THE D-RINGS ON OVERSIZED FRAMES. Adding wire will put too much pressure on the corners of the frame and will cause the corners to pop out.
TREAT YOUR POSTER LIKE THE TREASURE IT IS - FRAME IT PROPERLY!
*With very few exceptions, all of our posters are linen-backed.