Linen backing is a preservation method that improves the durability and display of vintage, and sometimes damaged, movie posters.
Posters are delicate and susceptible to all kinds of damage ranging from tears, fold separation, creasing, and edge wear. Like all paper products, old movie posters experience decay and degradation when exposed to light, air and moisture. Linen backing is a process that, when done properly, can restore movie posters to their former glory while also making them easier to display.
The concept of linen backing goes back, at least, to the 19th century when adhesives were used to mount large documents for handling. During the Civil War, maps were often mounted with glue. This was mainly done for maps and military battle plans. The map to the right was created in 1864 displaying Confederate battle lines in Virginia. In battle, the backing of maps helped military commanders in the field. However, unlike modern linen backing methods used to preserve movie posters, the glues and adhesives used in the 19th century were not ideal for long-term preservation. During the Civil War, long-term preservation was a priority for the nation rather than for the paper these maps were printed on.
Modern linen backing involves the double mounting of paper onto a cloth such as linen or cotton duck fabric. In the 1960s, when modern linen backing was first introduced as a process, linen was usually used for the preservation however today, cotton duck is the most common cloth used for the process. Due to the higher cost, actual linen is only used today for very special posters.
The linen backing process involves two mounting steps. Initially, the poster is mounted to acid-free rice paper. The paper backing is then mounted to the cloth. This is a process best done by trained professionals. Linen backing can be an expensive endeavor for poster preservation and restoration. It is essential that every step is done correctly.
The linen backing of old and collectible movie poster can add significant value for collectors. Wrinkles and creases are usually eliminated during the mounting process. Fold lines are less noticeable and, in the case of badly damaged posters, expert restorers can often repair posters allowing them to be properly displayed, and preserved, indefinitely.