The passe partout saga began for me back in the mid-1980s, when I was given an old religious text which had once belonged to one of my great-great grandmothers (in point of fact, my maternal grandmother's father's mother!). Although not particularly religious myself, I was heavily "into" family history at the time (still am!) and was delighted with this bequest from one of my grandmother's cousins.
The trouble was, the text was framed in an attractive pebbled black paper tape which, after years of dusting, had worn through at the top so that there was a large slit right along that surface.
"What is this paper tape stuff?" I asked Gran's cousin. I had seen it before - there had been some old maps at school framed in it, but I'd never used it for framing myself. By the mid-1980s, we were well and truly into the era of cheap but attractive ready made picture frames of tremendous variety.
"Oh, it's a silly name," said Gran's cousin. "Passe partout!"
"Didn't he go around the world in eighty days?" I queried.
"No, not that Passepartout!" laughed Gran's cousin. "You can get the tape at stationers."
This was 1986. I was born in 1965 and had never seen passe partout on sale at our local stationer's, but along I went.
"Got any passe partout?" I asked an assistant, expecting a blank look in reply.
"Not in stock," she replied calmly. "But we can get you some in. It'll take about four days."
And, in four days, I got a telephone call informing me that the passe partout was ready to collect.
It was sticky stuff. Very sticky. I dabbed water on it and applied it to the worn edge of great-great grandma's text, slid it around to get it straight, sealed it front, top, and back, snipped off a couple of rough mitred corners and proudly surveyed my handiwork. The text looked good. Trouble is, the newness of the repaired edge passe partout looked decidedly better than the other three edges with the old passe partout.
"What the heck!" I exclaimed, "I'll do those as well!" About an hour later, with bits of passe partout stuck to my fingers and (unknown to me) in my hair, and a great crumpled up mass of wasted passe partout stuck to the table, I was happy with the text.
But I was not particularly keen on the art of passe partout.
It was too darned sticky. Slid about so it was difficult to get straight lines. And was a bit of a pain in the neck basically. Or so I then decided.
But great-great grandma's text was restored. And looked great. There was no doubt that the tape made a very attractive frame. I loved the sheeny pebbled effect of it. It was rather like leather.
I treasured the text for many years.
Then, one day in the late 1990s, I took it down to give the glass a polish. The doorbell rang. Uttering a naughty word, I stood up and... stepped straight on the text.
Crrrack!!! went the glass.
I said another very naughty word, and moaned at the person who had come to call on me. "It took me ages to restore that! And now I've got to get fresh glass and do it all again!"
But, although still not particularly religious myself, I was very fond of the text by then - it being a link to a previous generation of my family - and so I went back to the stationer's.
"Can I order some passe partout?" I asked.
The assistant looked at me blankly. "Woss that?" she asked.
"Picture framing tape!" I said, feeling a bit impatient.
"Never 'eard of it! said the girl. She called a nearby bloke over. "Gary, do we do..." she trailed off. "Wot woz it again?"
"Passe partout!" I supplied, somewhat impatient.
"Sorry, mate, never heard of it," said the bloke...
I tried other stationer's.
It seemed, that at some point between 1986 and the late 1990s, passe partout had become obsolete.
"Why not buy a frame for the text?" suggested my wife.
I accepted that might be the only thing to do.
But surely, I thought, as it was so easy to obtain as recently as 1986, there must be some unused passe partout somewhere?