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June 13, 2007

Conserving The Labels And Stencils Of Old Bottles

Wine lovers and collectors of old bottles face one big problem: How do you keep your precious bottles in top condition? When it comes to Madeira wine, the bottle should be stored upright in a medium-cool place with enough humidity. Of course the bottle should be recorked every thirty years or so, and the cork should be covered with sealing wax to minimize evaporation.
But often the cellars are to humid for the old labels. They start to rott or they come off. Many Madeira wine bottles have stencils, but these too can come off, especially in a very humid environment. So the need is to protect the stencils or the labels from humidity. In the beginning of 2005 I invested three days to try some different methods of treatment for the bottles and after two years in a humid cellar I checked the bottles again. The winner is: Acrylic resin spray varnish. Not only were the labels protected by a water repellent coating, it also worked very well with the stencils. Other coatings like polyurethane or water soluble acrylic paint attacked the stencils and led to disastrous results. I used the Lukas Spray Film in silk-brilliant and the two years went by without any noticable alteration of the labels and stencils.

Here is how you do it:
You cover the rest of the bottle from the spray. Use painting tape and thick paper for that, do not use plastic foil. Any surplus of acrylic resin will run down from the plastic foil and onto the label, thick paper will resorb it. Then you apply a first very thin spray coating from a distance of about one foot/35 centimeters away. Aim one foot/35 centimeters to the left side of the bottle, then start spraying and move the spray can in an even motion to the right side of the bottle and back again, and so on. It is important not to start spraying directly onto the label, since the first part of the spray has rather thick drops. Apply a first very thin layer for fixing and let it dry completely. The label (or the stencils) must not be soaked! About four or five thin layers of spray with enough drying time of 15 minutes in between should do the job. Apply the different layers in a crosswise fashion: first left-right, then top-bottom, then left-right again, and so on. The layers have to be thin, otherwise visible drops will develop.

General scheme for using the acrylic spray resin on a paper label.

General scheme for using the acrylic spray resin on a paper label.

Of course there remains some risk of colors in the label getting washed out by the acrylic resin, also the stencils can get dissolved. To reduce the risk, it is important to keep the layers thin!
After the acrylic resin has dried completely, the cover can be removed safely. If you keep your bottles in a temperature-controlled cellar, make sure they are not too cold, otherwise the acrylic resin will take too much time to dry. Also condensed water on the bottle will interfere with the spray.

Remains of a conserved label. Note how the layer of the acrylic spray resin stretches a little over the edge of the label.

Remains of a conserved label. Note how the layer of the acrylic spray resin stretches a little over the edge of the label.

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