Center for Archival Collections
March 2011: Volume 30, Number 1
Caring For Photograph Albums
Photo albums are a treasure trove of interesting historic detail recording the private and public aspects of past lives. Researchers value the historic documentation recorded in photographs as well as the unique decorative nature of the album itself, often an artifact representative of a taste or style from an earlier time.
Over the years, most albums reveal the seeds of their own destruction whether in the form of embrittled, acidic paper/cardboard pages or more modern "magnetic" plastic page covers that discolor and permanently weld photos in place. If these were not enough, tape and glue applications from generations of well intentioned care takers bestow another layer of damage.
Steps to consider for preservation of photo albums:
- Minimize the amount of dismantling of photo albums especially if an original order or arrangement is evident.
- Examine “magnetic” or sticky album pages closely for signs of discoloration and welding of plastic to photos. If the album contains an original order, pages should be scanned or photocopied to preserve this arrangement. The photographs should then be evaluated for removal to a new archival D-ring album which opens flat with removable archival plastic pages made from only polyethylene, polypropylene or polyester. Avoid any plastic with an evident odor or PVC (Polyvinylchloride) which will damage photographs. Only buy plastic pages from reputable archival suppliers such as Gaylord, University Products or Print File.
- Protect photographic images from extremes of temperature and humidity. It is preferable for optimum storage conditions not to exceed 70 degrees temperature and between 30 -50% relative humidity. Too much moisture will soften emulsions, cause images to stick to one another, and possibly lead to mold growth if warm temperatures are also present.
- Keep albums away from contact with sunlight or fluorescent indoor lighting which will fade light sensitive photographs.
- Store albums flat inside acid-free storage boxes, available from such archival suppliers as Gaylord, University Products or Hollinger.
- Look for additional preservation guidelines on the care and handling of photographs and albums at the Northeast Document Conservation Center at www.nedcc.org and conservation resources available at cool.conservation-us.org
- Do not try to clean or repair photographs. Direct questions regarding treatment of album bindings or contents to a qualified paper conservator (American Institute for Conservation www.conservation-us.org offers a referral service for reaching a conservator in your area)
--Frederick N. Honneffer
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