Vintage oil painting’s old labels can provide valuable information for art collectors! 3 tips to save them

By Chelsea Padgett, Guest Blogger

Last week a beautiful painting of a lady came into the lab. The back of the painting had fragments of an old ripped apart label. Labels are apart of the painting’s history and can increase the value by providing an interesting insight to the past. This particular label told the story of an exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum in the 1930’s. However, not every story is as obvious.

Below is a label that was brought to us with what looked like just an old hopelessly blank piece of paper. No writing on it… or was there? With infrared technology you can sometimes read old obscured writing… and we at Fine Art Conservation Laboratories happen to have two types of infrared reflectometers. Under the lights and with the aid of the infrared we were able to see that it was an exhibition label from the World’s Fair of 1861. It clearly read, “Richmond, Yorkshire England, James Peale, 1858″

Amazing what technology can see that the eye can not! This old label had given up its secret information that has meant everything to the history and value of this wonderful painting. Because of this label, the value went up considerably. And therein lies the lesson to be learned, especially on old paintings: Protect old labels and the historical information they contain.

Here’s an example of what we do to protect old labels: Deacidify the paper and protect them with Mylar. Protect important info from the past! It can increase the value of the artwork. Flaking of labels when moving the painting can happen when you do not even realize it. Preventing the loss of valuable information can be simple and easily avoided.

Here are some tips to help save your significant piece of history! 1. De-acidify the paper to neutralize the acids, this will stop any further deterioration. 2. Encapsulate all pieces (even ones you think do not have any information on them!) This step can be done with something as simple as a sandwich bag (it is a stable archival plastic). 3. Staple the bag to a part of the stretcher bar (as shown above). Remember to NEVER staple, tape or glue directly any part of the label or historic info written on the artwork.

NOTICE on the back of the painting and frame new mounting hardware (nails are never hammered into a painting) new wire (coated with plastic to retard rust) and Foamcor to keep out dust and provide protection against poor handing and storage.

These are just a few tips to help save historical information or even your personal memorabilia! There are many other tips and info available in the book, How To Save Your Stuff that you can find at Download a copy of the e-book now at 50% discount!

Art conservation questions? Call Scott M. Haskins, Art Conservator at 805 564 3438

Art appraisal questions? Call Richard Holgate, Art Appraiser, at 805 895 5121

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Keywords: Old labels on paintings, authentication of artwork, provenance of paintings, Fine Art Conservation Laboratories

About Scott M. Haskins

Scott Haskins has been in professional art conservation since 1975, specializing in the conservation/restoration of easel paintings, murals and art on paper. FACL, Inc. is known nationally for doing A+ work no matter the size or difficulty of the project. We are happy to do a quick cleaning on a family heirloom. Our client list and resume is also full of very satisfied clients of large, difficult/complicated projects at remote locations. Excellent services are also available as an Expert Witness/Legal Testimony in art related matters. Consultation on art related projects occur regularly including extensive insurance evaluations for insured or insurer. Services are offered worldwide. Scott M. Haskins is also author of the "Save Your Stuff" series, educational information, materials and supplies to help people protect and save their treasured family heirlooms and collectibles at home and office. He can be reached at 805 564 3438. Video and written testimonials at
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13 Responses to Vintage oil painting’s old labels can provide valuable information for art collectors! 3 tips to save them

  1. Eric Rodriguez says:

    I have a old still life painting has vintage label on back says openheim & stern 325 do Berlin 68

    • Scott M. Haskins says:

      Thanks for leaving a comment Eric. Yours may be the label of an art gallery that sold the painting at one time or it could be an auction house. My guess it’s the name of an art gallery.

  2. Jeffry Meade says:

    Great post! This info is so important for collectors! Well said!

  3. Giorgiana Blaxland says:

    I love your blog. Such interesting info… who else teaches this?!?!?! No one!.

  4. Kristal Mehler says:

    After I read this article I took a look at some art that I inherited, but had just stuck on a wall and… there were some labels with interesting info!! I was sure surprised. I would have never noticed or thought they were important.

  5. Shannon says:

    Hi Scott – I have some oil paintings I’ve wanted to have someone look at and tell me if they are worth restoring and what the cost would be. They were my Grandmothers paintings and my mother inherited them.
    I have a Cooper Henderson oil on canvas which appears to be in the original frame and luckily it’s behind glass as the paint has been chipping off for a few years now so it is not hung on the wall which is sad but all the chips are intact.
    I have an oil by R. Rimar, oil by A.W. Morell and large oil by Gordon Kreighoff.
    The one in the worst is the Cooper Henderson, the others just need cleaning basically as my step-father was a heavy smoker.
    Might you be able to assist with these or might you know where I should take them?
    I live in the city of Tustin here in Orange County.
    Thank you for your help.

    • Scott M. Haskins says:

      Hi Shannon,
      Thank you for reaching out to me and I know we can help you. First of all, I’m going to put you in contact with Richard Holgate, a business partner of mine who is a certified appraiser (I’m copying him on this email). He will answer all of your questions regarding the value of your artwork.

      Also, I’m putting you in contact with my office manager, Francesca, who helps me with connecting with clients. We connect almost weekly with clients in your area and do pick up and delivery. She will coordinate with Mr. Holgate, and discuss with you the preservation/restoration questions. We also have two painting conservators in the lab who know their profession well who will weight in.

      As for whether (after you get the values of the artwork and the estimates of the costs for their conservation) it will be “worth it” to save your family heirlooms, you can also discuss that with “our folks.” Perhaps you might like to read an article I wrote on this very matter:

      I am traveling right now so they will treat you like royalty.
      All my best
      Scott M. Haskins

  6. jaco says:

    Good day ,I have a old oil painting with a label on the back and would realy like to find out more about it. If someone could send me a mail I will be very happy and reply with photo’s of the painting and label which is signed by a well known american artist. My email adress :

    • Scott M. Haskins says:

      Thanks for writing Jaco. Sorry we don’t do free research for people. Call a local auction house? Thanks for leaving your question, though.

  7. Keith Harris says:

    Hey, thanks for sharing this information about old labels on vintage oil painting. I never thought of this and hope I haven’t thrown away in the past valuable info.

  8. Really good information you’ve written here. Thank you for posting this very useful article on saving old labels. This is super valuable coaching for art collectors!

  9. Olive Nelson says:

    very good info

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