Picture Frames, Picture Framing and Picture Framers' Blog

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A word ( or two ) about picture framing testamurs

A testamur is often also called an award certificate, a university graduation certificate or diploma. It is awarded to students, on their successful completion of a higher, or tertiary education course, in Australia this is often a, a four year, undergraduate degree course.  Testamurs are often signed by a University’s Chancellor or Vice-Chancellor. These are valuable documents in so far that these prima facie evidence tertiary qualifications.  Nowadays undergraduates and graduates are given both a paper  copy and digital copy of their award.  The paper size of the testamurs can vary greatly between Australia’s  43-odd universities, not to mention other, higher education colleges and other professional institutions.  And herein lies the problem. Simply put, there 43 institutions with just about 43 different ...   Some, but too few,  universities have moved to standardize sizes.  For instance,  the University of Melbourne’s testamurs prior  2016 were 26.5 x 40.5 cms and then on that year were changed to standard  A4 size , 21 x 29.7 cms.  What this means for the majority of graduands is that they cannot buy an off-the-shelf certificate frame , or ready-made certificate frame because the testamurs are almost certainly odd-sizes that will need to be custom-framed.  While there certainly are picture framing options available on graduation day, including “on-the-spot” framing service and arranged or facilitated by the university, these are not always the cheapest option.  Most newly-graduated students aren’t typically flush with money and in many instances, they just want to inexpensively frame their hard earned studies recognition.  Many of them just want to put their newly-acquired testamur in a reasonably-priced, off-the-shelf, ready-made certificate frame.  Alas, most of them won’t be able to because, as explained above, there are no, cheap, standard size,  degree frames readily available.  Another issue often contributing to unnecessary, or unwarranted expense is the over-selling of conservation-quality or museum-quality picture framing for university degrees.  Some picture framers overstate this requirement which, in our opinion, is not strictly necessary.  Generally, testamurs are printed on cheap papers,  not even good quality, or museum rag paper, but commercial pulp paper with some acidic content.  As any acids in the paper cannot be removed, it is not very useful to frame the paper by a conservation method  or to museum standard quality.  Some frame stores overly emphasize the importance of testamurs themselves as being priceless, irreplaceable and of paramount value and importance .  But actually having a testamur, either framed or not, does not lessen or invalidate one’s qualifications and duplicates can be obtained from the issuing university if need be.  Again, it is but a piece of paper, even a fancy note of a course of study successfully completed, if you will.  And while, yes conservation picture framing will not harm the testamur, it will do little to protect it unless the paper is rag paper quality.  Ergo, what is a graduand to do with his or her testamur?  As a first choice he or she can store it somewhere dry, flat and clean. Whatever it is done, do not leave the award document rolled up inside the tube or inside the plastic holder.  Leaving it rolled up is not a good idea because paper has a “memory” .  Its layers and fibres dessicate in the rolled up shape and when someone goes and flattens them, usually with their hands, they can crack or split while doing so.   One of our older framers remembers customers doing this to their art a few  times during his career. Leaving inside the plastic cover or holder is also a bad idea because the inks used in the printing tend to dry and stick to the plastic.  When one goes to remove the testamur from its sheath, the lettering sticks to the plastic, thus ruining it.  We have actually  witnessed this happening even several times, most often with the Monash University and the University of Melbourne testamurs.  As a second choice, the graduand can get the testamur inexpensively custom framed.  Custom picture framing costs can be kept to a minimum by having the art framed without a window mat,  spacers,  conservation materials or museum glass.  Having a window mat can add up to 50% of costs because the area to be framed can be up to 50% larger with more labour and materials needed.  Spacers also increase costs since the sourcing, cutting and fitting of these are relatively expensive and time consuming.  The same goes for conservation materials, unless the testamur is made out of rag paper ( we’ve never seen one) then there’s little point in protecting non-conservation art.  And museum glass is also quite expensive, about 8 times or more the price of normal, clear float glass.  Again, it doesn’t do any harm to have the   testamur framed with all of the preceding bells and whistles, but we don’t think that the considerable extra expense is warranted.  As a last third choice, our penurious graduand could try his or her luck going from store to store looking for a near-enough ready-made frame to suit.  However the chances of finding one would be slim, to say the least, as most universities issue non-standard size testamurs.  To summarize, a simple custom picture framing job, with a small black frame, clear glass, hinged art, acid-free foamboard and clear glass is what suits most of the customers most of the time. And the cost of this?   We’d charge around $45, or about 40% the cost of conservation picture framing.


I endorse the comment on framing university degrees as soon as or soon after we receive them. I worked hard for my Phd, about 9 years, but although I was, and still am, very proud of it, I could not afford to custom frame it as I wanted when it was awarded to me. I wasn't until around 3 years later that I finally found a decently paid, full-time job that I decide to custom frame it. I took it to a city custom picture framer to order a custom picture frame but we couldn't get the degree out of the plastic cover! The inks and lettering had somehow 'sweated' and stuck good and proper to the plastic, when we finally prised it off it look terribly. had to get a replacement, the cost? $ 325! Aaargh !!!
Samuel G. - 4 Jun 2019 10:18 am

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