1. Parenting
Photo Albums - Care and Preservation
By David L. Mishkin, Just Black & White  
 More of this Feature
• Part 1: Saving & Restoring Old Photo Albums
 Join the Discussion
"Have a question about your old photographs?"
Ask the Expert!
  Related Resources
• Family Photos 101
• Dating Old Photos
• Heritage Albums
Preservation Tips
 From Other Guides
• Storing Old Photos
• Scrapbooking
• Photo Album Software

About twenty five years ago many album manufacturers came out with a new product called magnetic pages.  These were made from a thick paper stock and  coated with glue strips.  There was a Mylar plastic covering both sides of this stock and it was claimed that this was a good way to preserve photographs.  After being on the market for about fifteen years, conservators recognized that the glue being used had a very high acidic content.  So much so, that after only ten to fifteen years in storage, new photographs were starting to show signs of deterioration.  The acid was eating through the backs of the photographs and the Mylar was sealing in the acidic fumes causing a deterioration on the image side as well.  In addition, some manufacturers were using PVC (Poly-Vinyl Chloride) instead of Mylar.  PVC is a plastic that has very poor storage qualities and accelerates deterioration.  Although most manufacturers have discontinued making these magnetic pages, there are still some out there that are producing them.  There are much better systems available to store your photographs today and many of them make provisions for identifying your photographs.  Below is a list of archival supply catalogs that you can order at no charge. These catalogs have several different types of photo albums from the no-frills and less expensive type to the very ornate and quite expensive. 

Now suppose that you have several of these albums and they contain some very important family photographs that you are trying to preserve.  Because they are using glue to hold down the photos, it is going to be very difficult to remove them from the album.  In fact, you should try to lift up one corner and GENTLY lift to see if you can remove it easily.  If you can't and try to force it, you will more than likely rip the photograph.  An easier method is to dissolve or melt the glue so you can once again try to lift it from the page.  One method of removal is to place a page into a microwave oven and turn it on for five seconds.  You need to wait five to ten seconds and turn it on for another five seconds.  Follow this procedure for five to six cycles.  You MUST do this intermittently because if you just try to hurry the process and turn on the microwave  for thirty+ seconds, the glue will become so hot it will probably burn the print.  Once the glue is dissolved, then you can try to lift up the corner again VERY CAREFULLY.  Do not force it or you may rip the print.  If this technique does not work, then you will be better off leaving the print in the album, rather than forcing its removal.

The most important details that you need to remember about albums are that they are used to protect and preserve your photographs.  The aesthetics of the album are only secondary to the preservation qualities of the album.  The costs of these albums may seem high, but you are not only paying for archival properties, you are also paying for research and development of these products.  Make sure the materials that are used in manufacturing are approved for longevity and always purchase your supplies from reputable sources. 

Archival Suppliers

University Products, Inc.
 517 Main Street
P.O. Box 101
Holyoke, MA 01041-0101
Conservation Resources International, Inc.
8000-H Forbes Place
Springfield, VA 22151
(703) 321-7730
Gaylord Brothers
P.O. Box 4901
Syracuse, NY 13221-4901
Light Impressions
439 Monroe Avenue
P.O. Box 940
Rochester, NY 14603-0940


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Images © 2000 David Mishkin.  All Rights Reserved.

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