|Photo Albums - Care and Preservation|
Everyone in the family knows about your strong interest in the family history and genealogy. That's why those photo albums were left in your care, to preserve and protect them for future generations. But some of those albums have the black paper that someone told you is not acid-free and is not good for the longevity of the photographs. In addition, you also have some of the more modern "magnetic pages" albums which you also heard were not good for photographic storage. Since you have been asked to be the family depository, you need to make some important storage decisions yet can't afford to spend a lot of money doing so. There are several ways to properly store your photographs and documents and this can be done without spending lots of money (unless you want to do so).
The oldest type albums (about 1860) were usually made of cloth or embossed leather, with numerous adornments (painted insets, porcelain knobs, brass and sometimes gold latches) and housed either tintypes or albumen photographs. Each page was a very heavy card stock with a thin paper backing. There was usually a slot that allowed the photographer to slip the print or tintype into this pocket. The front was cut out just to the image area allowing the viewing of the photograph. This style of album would remain popular into the next century.
In the 19th century, most of the photographs that were printed on paper, were printed on a very thin paper stock. They were usually mounted on a thicker board to prevent curling or cracking of the photograph. With the turn of the century, photographs were being printed on a much heavier stock. Because the print itself was more stable, the prints were able to be presented in a scrapbook type of album. These albums frequently had black pages and the collector or photographer identified these images using a quill type pen with white, opaque ink. For many years photographers were gluing the photographs to the black pages until the usage of corner mounts made it very easy to insert and remove photographs from the album pages. Although this was a much preferred method for inserting into the album, the album and pages themselves were the problem in the preservation of photographs. Some of the reasons that this paper was very bad for storage was that it contained a sizing chemical which had a high acidic content, it contained lignin which breaks down into acids and peroxides, and the black paper was made black from dyes which are also destructive agents. In addition to the paper problem itself, some of the glues used had a high acidic content as well. In addition to the backs of the photographs being attacked by all this acid and other chemicals, the front of the photographs frequently came in direct contact with the black paper from the adjacent side of the album when the page was closed.
One simple solution to this problem is to remove the photographs from the album. While this will certainly preserve the photograph, it does nothing to help preserve the memories or the integrity of the album. After all, there is usually some important information written in the albums describing the photographs and if the person that wrote in it is a relative, it is nice to have their handwriting preserved as well as the photographs. An easy yet fairly inexpensive alternative is to use a piece of acid free paper in between each page to prevent the migration of acids from the paper to the photograph. This technique is called interleaving and the paper can be purchased at any archival supply house. A similar method is to purchase sheets of Mylar and slip these in every page of the album. While this is more costly, it has the advantage of allowing you to see both sides of the page without removing the interleaving sheet. This method is very helpful to both of the previously mentioned albums.
Images © 2000 David Mishkin. All Rights Reserved.