Alley in Pisa, Italy

by Lars Kotthoff

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I have 5 days to complete a photo shoot consisting of the following historical documents:

  • The Diamond Sutra
  • Luther's 95 Theses
  • The Declaration of Independence
  • Newton's Principia Mathematica
  • The Spring and Autumn Annals (style seen here)
  • and the Tablets given to Moses.

I live in Washington DC so I believe I can obtain a replica of the Declaration for 10-20 dollars. I found a tutorial on how to make rock props on indymogul, which I'll most likely use for the Tablets.

I feel a little overwhelmed by the fact that I don't know where to begin.

Luther's seems to just be printed on larger paper, but I have to get the look right. The Annals were on wooden sticks tied together. The Diamond Sutra was wrapped as a scroll. The documents will be stacked on each other so it's more the side view with some of the top of them I'm interested in. Some will flow off the side like the Theses, the Declaration, or the Sutra.

I've never done a project like this; so I am asking for techniques/directions/ideas to make the paper look correct.

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1 Answer 1

There are many ways of making papers look old... from bathing it in tea to "serious" ones that would require a lab with proper air ventilation, protection masks and chemicals that you might or might not be able to get.

But, none of those would give you a good result if your starting material is simple paper got from the office supplies shop.

As far as I know, Declaration of Independence was made on a paper produced from weed and that is a completely different cookie than what most of the paper of today is. I'd suggest going to somebody who is making hand-made paper, there is probably a group of people doing that in every larger city. My first bet would be around the university. hand made paper does look different (which, with a proper lighting, could do the trick on its own) and then you can do the tea treatment, some beating and torturing (you'll be surprised how strong it can be) to make it older and bit damaged.

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The Declaration of Independence may have been written on hemp paper (as that was definitely the most common paper type at the time), but was probably written on animal-skin-based parchment. Hemp paper is easily available today as well — for example, this from amazon. This may or may not work better than the idea of going with hand-made paper as a starting point (which I agree is a good one). –  mattdm Sep 22 '12 at 16:25

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