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Storage System for Deteriorating Fluid Specimen Labels


The disintegration of paper labels attached to alcohol-preserved specimens is a common curatorial problem. A method of removing, replacing, repairing, and storing deteriorated labels, before the data become irretrievable, has been devised.


Carla H. Kishinami
Department of Zoology
Bishop Museum
P.O. Box 19000-A
Honolulu, HI 96817 USA
Tel (808) 848-4198
Fax (808) 841-8968

Photograph: Charles Myers

Publication: 1992


A storage system developed for 35mm film negatives has been adapted for this purpose. It consists of polyester film sleeves fabricated to hold 35mm film negative strips, alkaline reserve folders designed to hold several of the sleeves, and an alkaline reserve box to hold the folders (Fig. 1).

Figure 1. Several polyester film sleeves, each containing two to three original labels, are stored in 
                one alkaline reserve file folder.

This filing system provides a stable storage environment that prolongs the life of the labels and allows for convenient retrieval.

Handling protocols ensure that both replacement labels and catalog cards clearly state that the original label was removed, when it was removed and by whom, as well as where it is to be found.

Materials Tools Supplies

  • 35mm negative storage sleeves (polyethylene terephthalate)*
  • Alkaline reserve file box*
  • Alkaline reserve file folders*
  • Burnishing tool
  • Calcium hydroxide solution
  • Carbon ink pen or pencil
  • Distilled water
  • Glass beakers, 100ml
  • Glass plates
  • Non-woven polyester fabric
  • Nylon window screen
  • pH meter or pH test strips
  • pH neutral blotter paper
  • pH neutral paper tape with acrylic adhesive

*These items can be bought as a set to store 35mm negatives.


  1. Before the original label is removed from a specimen, write a replacement label with all the data. (See Williams and Hawks, 1986, for ink and paper specifications, and, Gisbert, et al., “Durable Specimen Labels”, this volume, for an alternative to paper labels.)
  2. In addition, write on the new label: Original label disintegrating, removed to old label file, the date of removal and the name of the person performing the task.
  3. Remove the original label from the fluid-preserved specimen and place it in a distilled water rinse.
  4. Attach the replacement label to the specimen and replace it in the fluid.
  5. Change the distilled rinse water, in which the deteriorating label was placed, until the water remains clear. Support very fragile labels with a piece of nylon window screen during the rinsing process. The final rinse should be done with distilled water to which a saturated solution of calcium hydroxide has been added to bring the pH between 7 and 8. This solution must be prepared just prior to use and the pH of the solution should be verified with a pH meter or pH strips (refer to Clapp, 1987:85-86, 146 for a discussion of the use of and recipe for mixing calcium hydroxide solution).
  6. After soaking in the final rinse for approximately 10 minutes, place the label on a pH neutral blotter and gently dry it with a second blotter placed on top. Change blotters if needed until label is no longer wet, but merely damp.
  7. When damp, sandwich it between two layers of a thin, non-woven polyester fabric to prevent sticking to the blotter paper.
  8. Sandwich these three layers between two layers of blotter paper.
  9. Place the whole stack on a smooth flat surface, such as a formica desk top, and place a piece of glass plate on top to exert slight pressure during drying.
  10. Change the blotters two or three times until the label is dry.
  11. When the label fragments are dry, write the catalog number on each piece that does not already bear the full number. Only carbon ink or lead pencil should be used.
  12. Completely or partially torn labels are common and may need to be repaired before storage to prevent loss of individual pieces. Apply a thin strip of pH neutral paper tape with acrylic adhesive on only one side of the label.

    Avoid applying it over writing if possible and only over the actual juncture of the pieces being joined. Burnish firmly.

    Other repair methods can be used. (see Hawks and Williams, 1986; Clapp, 1987; Ritzenthaler, 1983; and Roberts and Etherington, 1982. However, first consult with a paper conservator.)

  13. Place the repaired label or label pieces in a clear polyester sleeve that allows a user to read both sides without handling the label. Depending on size, two or three labels can usually be inserted in a row in one sleeve (Fig. 1). Do not overlap the labels.
  14. Group several polyester sleeves according to organizational system preferred into each alkaline reserve folder.
  15. Using a pencil, lightly write the catalog numbers on the outside of the folders so that adjustments are easily made when new labels are added.
  16. Store the folders in an alkaline reserve box.
  17. Annotate the catalog record with the same removal statement that was written on the replacement label. This serves as backup and may facilitate researchers who wish to see the original label.


Rinsing the old label is especially important when the alcohol in which the specimen and label have been stored has become discolored with body fluids and suspended pigments and oils, and there are bits of feathers, fur, or scales which may cling to the label.

To ensure that the label removal statement is not forgotten, a sample catalog card and label showing the preferred placement and wording is attached to the inside of the old label storage file box lid. 

Adapted From

Kishinami, C.H. 1989. Archival storage of disintegrating labels for fluid preserved specimens. Collection Forum, 5(1):1-4.

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