Conserving the Anne Frank Collection

The picture walls in the Secret Annex

Preserved for the future

The walls in the Secret Annex tell their own stories. Anne brightened up her room with pictures. Otto put pencil marks on the wall to record how much Anne and Margot had grown; on a map pinned to the wall, he tracked the progress of the Allied Forces. These walls have been preserved for the future.

Conservation of Anne’s picture walls

Looking inside Anne’s room

Anne’s picture collection

Anne had started collecting postcards and pictures of movie stars even before the period in hiding. Her collection came with her from the Merwedeplein to the Secret Annex. In her diary, Anne wrote:

‘Thanks to Father, who had brought my whole collection of picture postcards and movie stars here beforehand, I have been able to treat the walls with a pot of glue and a brush and so turn the entire room into one big picture.’

Anne spent a lot of time on her collection. She expanded it with new pictures from the magazines brought in by the helpers. She would take some pictures down or cover older ones with new ones. She also gave a few pictures of movie stars to Peter, who put them up in his own room.

Height marks

In the living room/bedroom of the Frank family, pencil marks were put on the wallpaper to track Anne and Margot’s heights. They clearly show that Anne had a grow spurt of 13 centimetres in two years’ time, while Margot grew only one centimetre.

Map of Normandy

Next to the height marks is a map of the Normandy coastline. On 8 June 1944, the Allied Forces landed in Normandy, France. The next day, Otto Frank cut a map from De Telegraaf, a newspaper, and pinned it to the wall. He used hat pins to keep track of the progress made by the Allies.

From saving and protecting to restoring and preserving

Saving the pictures

In the mid-1950s, it looked as though the Secret Annex would not be spared demolition. Otto decided to save at least the height marks, the map of Normandy, and Anne’s pictures. He cut out the wallpaper with everything on it and stored it in a safe place.

Eventually, the house was saved. In 1957, the Anne Frank House organisation was established, and its main purpose was to restore the dilapidated building and open it up to the public. The cut-out pieces of wallpaper with the pictures, height marks, and the map of Normandy were put back in their original places.

Protecting the pictures in the Secret Annex

In the early years, souvenir hunters sometimes took away pieces of the wallpaper and the pictures. Other pictures came down and were taped back on the wall by Anne Frank House employees. A leak caused additional damage. In photos taken in 1954 by Maria Austria and in other photos from the 1980s, some of the missing pictures are still visible, such as the three pictures up in Peter’s room. Later, glass sheets were mounted in front of the pictures to prevent further loss or damage from people touching them.

Restoration and preservation of the picture walls

In early 2000, the picture walls were restored and preserved. We decided to show the pictures not as they were when Anne put them up, but as they changed over time. With the tears, missing pieces, fading, and humidity stains that occurred after the war. The missing pieces have not been replaced.

Restoration of the pictures and the wallpaper

The restorers started by removing the surface dirt. Then, they carefully detached the pictures and repaired the tears. The snippets were treated and saved. The pictures were reinforced with a thin layer of Japanese paper and put back on the original wallpaper.
After the war, some pictures that had come off had been put back on the wall with damaging synthetic glue or adhesive tape. In order to prevent further damage to the paper, the residue was removed.
The original pieces of wallpaper were also reinforced with Japanese paper and attached to aluminium honeycomb panels. These honeycomb panels are strong and light and very suitable carriers for wallpaper. With an eye to future restoration work, the wallpaper parts were only attached to the edges of the panels and can easily be taken down again. A glass case was made to measure for the wallpaper. It is now well protected from dust and other outside harm. The museum has been fitted with a climate control system to keep the temperature and humidity up to standard.

Behind the pictures

The restoration work yielded some interesting discoveries. The experts managed to detach the postcard with the monkeys drinking tea from the wallpaper and to read the text on the back: it was a postcard that Anne’s mother had sent her from England in 1937.
Some pictures that had been pasted over others could be detached as well. The pictures behind the pictures became visible again.

Preserved for the future

Thanks to the conservation work, the authentic traces of the people hiding in the Secret Annex will be kept for future generations. To many people, the room in the Secret Annex where Anne Frank wrote her diary is the highlight of their visit.