A reader expressed concerns about her twentieth-century black and white pictures:
â€œI have my grandmotherâ€™s photo albums and some family pictures. The albums are black construction paper sandwiched between heavy black cardboard and held together by a string.â€
Some of you may be nodding your head in agreement, murmuring, â€œIâ€™ve got one of those.â€ In this case the images date from 1918 through the 1930s. She wonders what to do. Sheâ€™d love to move the images to another album but then sheâ€™d lose the captions.
These albums present multiple issues. First there is the construction of the albums. The pages and the covers are made with acidic paper and the creator of the album used glue to affix the images to the page. The other problem is that the black paper may not be color-fast which mean if these pages ever got wet the color would leak out of the paper.
Back in the 1920s, few were concerned about the longevity of pictures. At that time the majority of nineteenth-century images in family collections were holding up pretty well. Daguerreotypes still sparkled in their cases, paper prints hadnâ€™t yet become yellow and tintypes remained pristine. What was there to worry about? It was the color disaster of the 1960s (when color prints began to shift colors and fade away) that brought to everyoneâ€™s mind the future of their precious family pictures.
The acidic papers in these albums get brittle with time. The adhesive begins to seep through the print staining the image on the front and making it nearly impossible to remove pictures from the pages.
Removing images from albums is not advised. You want to retain the original order of the prints and not lose any information. Albums are put together by an individual in a particular order for a specific reason that often tells a family history story. Plus you donâ€™t want to lose the captions.
There are things that you can do to save these albums! The simplest solution is to wrap the whole album in a piece of unbleached muslin and store it in an acid and lignin free box. That way you wonâ€™t lose any pieces.
Another option is to interleave the pages with either thin polyester sheets (sold in specialty shop like Light ImpressionsÂ or you can use acid- and lignin-free paper available in stationery and art supply shops. The biggest problem with this method is that added volume may break the binding of the album.
Donâ€™t remove the pictures; scan them instead. If you try to take them off the page, itâ€™s highly likely that youâ€™ll tear the images when trying to remove them. Even if you use a product for dissolving adhesive, there could be unforeseen problems. Instead, invest in an inexpensive scanner and copy each of the pages. Print out the images on a photo printer using acid- and lignin-free paper and high quality inks such as Epsonâ€™s Durabrite, HPâ€™s Pixma, and Canonâ€™s Vivera. You can also print out the captions. Then, reassemble images and captions in an acid and lignin album and wrap the original as mentioned above. You can then rest easy knowing that this family history treasure isnâ€™t being subjected to any more handling.
You can even add your own comments to the new album making it a multi-generational genealogical document, and since you have scans, youâ€™ll be able to make duplicates for other interested family members.
Maureen Taylor is The Photo Detective at www.Photodetective.com. Her work on identifying family photographs was recently profiled in the Wall Street Journal. Check out the calendar of events on her blog to see when sheâ€™s visiting your area. Donâ€™t forget to bring your questions!