Macdonald has become a master of aging. “Water is my first go-to technique for aging documents. I also have lots of different stains that I use,” he says. “Shoe polish is one, others are water-based. Heat is good too. Typically to age a single page, I’ll get it damp, spray or blot on a couple of stains, wrinkle it and fold it, and then press it against an industrial hotplate. Some stains are activated by the heat. The intense heat flashes the water into steam, which seems to loosen up the fibers of the paper a bit. Then I might wrinkle it, and rub some graphite powder on the corners and sand them. Some guys use an airbrush to spray on faux stains. I prefer man-handling stuff and staining it in ways that quickly replicate the real process by which documents get aged. When I’m aging a book, I bash it lightly with a sculpter’s mallet, rub lots of different stains into it, and wrinkle and smooth out every single page.”

 

But the single most important trick, he asserts, is to “really think about the particular document: How old is it? Where has it been? Was it handled a lot or stored in a file? How was it handled and how was it used?” All of that has to be taken into account when you age something or it won’t look real. “If you look carefully at old books and documents, you can read a lot of their history from the stains and wear marks,” he explains. “A book cover may have rounded corners from being carried in a book bag. Wrinkled corners indicate that it was likely dropped. Often the bottom edges of the cover are worn a lot from the book being slid on and off a bookshelf a lot. Tears and wear on the top of the spine show that people pulled there to slide it out slightly from a tight bookcase, and you can often see stains on the front and back cover near the spine where hands have grabbed it to continue pulling it out. Book pages are more often stained and worn near the bottom because that’s where people turn pages.”