Sunday, January 29, 2012

How to erase pencil markings ?

A nightmare scenario
You probably recognize the following dramatic experience that used to happen to me in the past more often than desired. The scenario is as follows :
In a good mood I visit a collectors fair. After strolling a while from one dealer table to another, I spot a certificate that looks quite interesting, for example this bond of the Valencia y Aragon railway company. Very soon the seller and me agree on the price.

Compañia de los Ferro Carriles de Valencia y Aragón
Compagnie des Chemins de Fer de Valence et Aragon
This Spanish railway company constructed a line between Valencia and Liria.
Incorporated in 1888 with a capital of 3 million Pesetas
Became part of RENFE in 1941, the Spanish state-owned railway company. 

This bond in particular interested me because of the unusual and large revenue stamp at the top border of the paper. My good mood became even better and happy with the result I went back home still unaware of the nightmare yet to come. At home I inspected the condition of the paper again. There was a little pencil marking in the upper right corner indicating the selling price. I took my eraser and started removing the marking. Fate hit me hard. Upon the first eraser move the corner was gone. I was startled, I couldn't believe that I simply rubbed the corner from the paper in one single stroke. I just killed an antique bond. I became angry with myself and cursed my clumsiness. 
A missing corner, a damaged certificate is the result.

Use the right tool for the job
You need a soft artists eraser (rubber), preferably a white or pale eraser.  Some stationery shops sell soft erasers fitted in pencil shaped holders. As you can see in the videos below, this is very handy to work with. This type of eraser feels very tight in the grip: the eraser has no chance to slip out of your fingers during this delicate operation. Furthermore, this type leaves a few centimeters between the rubbing point and your hand which gives you more overview on the operation. The eraser that I am using is made by Staedtler and bears the name Mars plastic (Art.Nr.528 50) .

The wrong way to erase pencil markings
On many occassions in the past, I had no trouble at all to detach the corner of an old share certificate. Here are some tips that will definitely help you to achieve the same (my nightmare scenario) :
  • use a hard eraser
  • do this in a hurry
  • rub from the certificate towards the border and back again, repeat this very quickly
  • don't lift the eraser from the paper, not even a single time
  • rub in all possible directions, do this randomly
It was not easy, but I managed to demonstrate this in a short video. For the sake of sensitive viewers I used a plain sheet of A4 printer paper which is much stronger than old scripophily material.
Wrong way to erase pencil markings

The correct way to erase pencil markings
All joking aside now. Try the following approach instead:
  1. Make sure you a have a soft eraser.
  2. Slow down and take your time to gently position the certificate in place. You can align your index finger and your middle finger in a V-shape around the markings. This will help you maintain your rubbing direction and will also prevent the certificate's border from curling up in the act.
  3. Start rubbing slowly and as gently as possible : rub always in one direction from the pencil markings towards the edge of the paper. Use only as much pressure as needed. Be careful around any text as an eraser can "bleach" it. When reaching the edge lift the eraser and reposition it before starting the next rubbing move. This will help you to avoid extra creasing and folding. 
  4. Repeat the previous two steps but use alternate directions, again always rub from the pencil markings towards the edge.
  5. When finished brush off the eraser residue gently, don't blow.
Are there indentations made by the writing ? Then, you might want to read the tip provided by Adam Tripp at the bottom of the article.

Correct way to erase pencil markings

1. dirt and grease
Some stock certificates have become dirty and greasy over time. When erasing pencil markings on such certificates the eraser will easily take away the dirt and grease from the paper's surface : often the result will be a spot that is brighter than the surrounding paper.  
You can avoid this by erasing extremely gently or by simply deciding not to erase the markings at all. In the situation where you ended up with a brighter spot, then you can start rubbing dirt and grease from the surrounding area using less pressure than used for the actual markings.
2. old expensive documents
Rubbing out pencil markings on very old documents should be done with gloves. Brush away the eraser residue with a brush.
3. flimsy paper
Some early American railway certificates from the 19th century, and some British certificates as well, for instance the 1860s shares of the The Ottoman Company, are printed on extremely flimsy paper.  Well, extreme situations call for extreme measures. Erase slow and extremely gently. Brush away any eraser residue only with a brush.

Is it necessary to remove all pencil markings ?
I've never seen a painting for sale in an art gallery with the price being marked actually on the canvas. Still, many dealers mark their prices in pencil on their scripophily merchandise : a shame. These are the markings that can be removed.
Yet old pencil markings, like the ones we see on printer proofs and specimens, should not be erased. Indeed these markings belong to the natural history of the document.

The certificate shown in the videos above. 
on the left : pencil markings indicating the sales price
on the right : certificate after the eraser operation
Trust Franco-Belge des Petroles S.A.
a French-Belgian oil company in Russia
Share of 500 Francs, 1920 Antwerp
Printed by Lith. Jules de Winter

Try before you die
If you want to do this yourself, then get some exercise. Buy some cigarette rolling paper. Write something silly on it with a pencil, e.g. the sales price of your mother-in-law. Now try to erase your writing without making a fold and without tearing the paper. Now that is what I call a challenge.
Do you have any eraser tips? I will be happy to find out about them in the comments section below. Also, those who have experienced a similar trauma in the past, now have the chance to come up with it.

Update 1 June 2016 :
Here is an additional tip from Adam Tripp, a collector friend from the UK.
Rubbing the reverse side helps to flatten the indentations made by the mark/writing, therefore improving removal.
Regards, Adam Tripp


  1. Excellent overview by Franky about how to improve my collection without risking the certificates. Many dealers use plastic sleeves and apply price stickers to that instead of the the face of old documents. Hopefully more will follow that example.

  2. I like to see the company "Valencia y Aragon" here! I've been researching for 5 years and I learn its history now. As it was a small company, no one had studied it in depth except me. They continued the construction after the company "Valencia a Liria" could not complete it since 1881. Trains arrived to Liria in 1890!!!!