The subject of card soaking has and probably always will be a topic of heated debate. It is considered by some to be altering a card, others deem it perfectly acceptable and there are those who think it lies somewhere in between, a so-called "gray area." Whatever the decision, this will always be a questionable practice and up to the individual collector.
Soaking consists of completely immersing a card in water in an attempt to enhance the appearance. Soaking can be done for various reasons; to remove excess paper or water based glue, remove/reduce surface wrinkles, improve the look of creases, straighten a slight corner bend or just to spruce up the appearance and clean a card.
Although it is not suggested or implied that card soaking is an acceptable practice, many collectors do it regularly. The procedure has been posted on many public websites and it is not a closely guarded secret. It is for that reason that a step-by-step guideline for soaking a card is described below. Please note this is only one of many ways to soak a card and several other tested variations are known to exist. It is often done at great risk and the possibility of destroying any card is always present. The procedure listed is for training purposes only and should not be attempted without understanding the risks involved:
1) Grab a flat bowl or lid that fits your card. Make sure it's deeper than your card and again, flat.
2) Diistilled water is preferred by most and can be purchased for a few bucks at most local markets. Contrary to some beliefs, in some areas tap water works fine as well. Whatever the choice, pour it into the container.
3) Now "the leap of faith." Put your card in the water in one fail swoop, making sure it's completely covered. Don't inch it in slowly or you run a slim chance of staining it. Hold the card down with a finger or cotton swab and let the cardboard soak up the water for a minute or so. The entire card must be immersed even if a small corner is all that needs attention, if not it may stain. It's all or nothing.
4) You can leave the card in for a few minutes or up to several hours depending on the cardstock. Just make sure it's saturated. (I soaked a card for three days and damaged it beyond repair, I have also soaked on for a week with no problems).
5) Carefully remove the card from the water. Since years of handling may have caused soiling the card, it may be perfectly normal for the water to look a little discolored or yellowed.
6) With a napkin standing by, put the card in between and push gently to dry up the excess water (pat-down stage).
7) At this point some will place the card in between the pages of a large book but it may lead to the card warping if not properly attended. Not only that but the book pages may warp as well. Another method is to try the following:
Put the card in between a different napkin or double folded paper towel and place this in between two smooth sided boards big enough to hold the card in a napkin. Put a 5lb weight or more on top. Since one gallon of water weighs about 8.35 lbs, you can use a filled gallon water container as your weight. Many put the card between the pages of a heavy book, this will at times warp the card. A very smooth 1" x 4" board works the best. If you cut them 8" long you can dry two cards at once. Stacked boards can dry as many as six at one time.
8) Let it sit for about an hour, then put the card in between a new napkin. Again, some prefer a double folded paper towel. Put it back between the boards and place the weight back on top.
9) Wait for a day and check the card. If the card is still a little damp, put it in a new napkin and give it some more time. At some point the card will dry, it should then be completely flat and look brighter and cleaner with vivid colors.
10) Taking the card out prematurely may lead to warping or bending. If that happens, just re-soak.
Although it may be difficult or virtually impossible to tell if a card has been soaked in water, there are some clues that may be left behind. If the card has been soaked too long small bubbles may develop on the pictures surface, when dried these become surfce wrinkles. It may also become so clean that the natural tone may have been washed off. This may give the card an overly clean, almost bleached look. This will, of course have an affect on the edges as well. Under a halogen light look at the edges for a loss of natural tone and a brighter than normal appearance. Since the card was more than likely immersed in water, the natural tone and clean look with be throughout the entire card.
Card doctors will often take advantage of the acceptable limits of soaking granted by some and use it to make alterations. Look for creases that may have been pressed down by some type of utensil or devise. This can be on any part of the card or on one or more of the corners. A card that has had a wrinkle or crease pressed out will often have a shinny spot located on the cardboard surface. This is because the fibers have also been pressed smooth by the weight of the devise. Many collectors have concerns about these blemishes being removed because there are instances where the surface wrinkle or crease has, for some reason returned, at a later time. A card with just a small wrinkle only visible under a light can have its value dramatically reduced. Creases can reduce the value even further.
Soaking can also minimize the amount of any pencil lead and/or indentations of a card that has been written on. Under the light, angle the card surface at various positions and inspect the card for very light dents, pressure points, faint writing or marks. Some types of glue and paper that may be stuck to the surface can also be washed from a card. Examine the card for dull or glossy spots left by glue residue. Check very closely for any small scraps of paper that may still be adhered to the card or actual loss off paper from the card itself where glue or tape may have been removed or pulled off.
A sure sign to tell if a card has been soaked is to very closely inspect.....ah, I can't give away all my secrets