In this work, we present a wide-range spectrochemical analysis of the degradation products from naturally aged paper. The samples obtained from wash waters used during the de-acidification treatment of leaves from a 16th-century-printed book were analysed through NMR, IR, Raman UV/Vis, EPR and X-ray fluorescence (XRF) spectroscopy and HPLC-MS and inductively coupled plasma (ICP) analysis. By these methods we also studied some of the previous samples treated by acidification (sample AP) and catalytic hydrogenation (sample HP). Crossing all the data, we obtained precise indications about the main functional groups occurring on the degraded, water-soluble cellulose oligomers. These results point out that the chromophores responsible for browning are conjugated carbonyl and carboxyl compounds. As a whole, we show that the analysis of wash waters, used in the usual conservation treatments of paper de-acidification, gives much valuable information about both the conservation state of the book and the degradation reactions occurring on the leaves, due to the huge amount of cellulose by-products contained in the samples. We propose therefore this procedure as a new very convenient general method to obtain precious and normally unavailable information on the cellulose degradation by-products from naturally aged paper.
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