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History, Conservation, and Repair The history of photographic prints, and how best to care for and repair them.

saving crumbling albums

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Old 11-21-2001, 03:09 PM
bravura bravura is offline
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Location: San Francisco
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saving crumbling albums

Old albums I've inherited from my grandfather are falling apart. The photos are glued to the crumbling black pages. Is there a way to safely remove them so I can put then in a new album? There may be identifying writing on the backs of some of the pictures, and I want to preserve that as well.
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Old 11-22-2001, 09:35 PM
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thomasgeorge thomasgeorge is offline
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Removing old photos from album pages may do more harm than good, unless done with the skill of a surgeon. I would offer the following suggestions, bearing in mind that these are general type--I dont suggest jumping right in and pulling them out. Depending on the age and type of photo, it may be a job for a trained conservator--you could find one by contacting a local museum. First, dont use any solvents or liquids to loosen the adhesive. That could very easily destroy the backing paper that the image layer rests on. You could try gently sliding a very thin stiff object under the edges of the photos and, using a lateral motion only, Never an up and down one, trying to tease the corners loose. if the photo was glued to the page by coating its back with adhesive, stop and consult a conservator. Wish I could be of more help, but it really sounds like this would be a job best done in a very controlled lab type setting to avoid damaging or destroying the images. Tom
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Old 12-01-2001, 06:13 AM
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NJPatRN NJPatRN is offline
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interim solution

I am NOT an expert about this at all, but this is what I did to try and save what I have now thinking that sometime in the future I may have access to the resources to properly have the photos preserved.
Your grandfather and my grandfather were of the same era.
Grandpa's album, crumbling black pages tied together dates from the late 1890s thru about 1918.
There was a second, I'm guessing very similar, that covered the 1920s-1940s; my father attempted to salvage the more recent decades by cutting each photo from its page--complete with the black backing paper--and mounting the layered result on new (white) pages.
Whether Dad used acid free paper is questionable. His results possibly saved some photos, and I believe he transcribed at least some of Grandpa's notations.
The resulting "sandwiches" are quite stiff and prone to cracking--the mounting corners Dad used are tight which in some instances have melded to the photos and in even more cases make the individual photos impossible to scan out of their mounts(the photos could crack..some have)(and the corners detract from the content.
The older album came to me crumbling. Not sure what to do to save it, but not wanting to lose the images or info(white ink notations by my grandfather on the pages), I scanned each page and then at a higher resolution, each individual image. I then placed each page in a sheet protector(photo safe). This way I have easy access to the images and not the need to further disturb the originals.
Some of the pages had crumbled to the point where there was more photo than page. On one page where the black page was so far gone as to literally crumble when touched, I did--using a scapel Ed (a surgeon's tool though not her skill ) remove the photo from the black. The thick (to me anyway) yellow-brown paste is probably the part of the album which will last forever!
The photos that have separated from the pages (thru time or with my help) offer a mixed bag of info.
Some have notations on the back, many either do not or have not yielded any info because of the glue.
While many of the photos and their subjects remain a mystery--whole families and groups of quite good images but without names, in some cases, I have been able to use dates and events(particularly funerals, weddings and anniversaries) to cull some information.
It's a vivid reminder to all of us.
Label your photos!!. You might not be around in a hundred years to explain to your descendants just who the distinguished looking person in your album is!
I too need more guidance in this area.
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Old 12-01-2001, 12:38 PM
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Ed_L Ed_L is offline
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Location: northwest Indiana, about 45 minutes from Chicago, IL
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Good idea Pat! At least if worse comes to worse, you'll still have the images. When I saw how you did your research, I said to myself - "sounds like someone into genealogy". Not remembering for sure, naturally I had to check out your profile.

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Old 12-14-2001, 11:39 PM
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kaulike kaulike is offline
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Location: the redwood forest
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saving crumbling albums---scan them!

It's one heck of a lot of work, but I am trying currently to salvage one of my wife's grandfather's albums. His sister was an amateur photographer in the "ought's", and in 1908 and 1909 created an entire album's worth of wonderful photos of the cowboy days of west Texas, which grandpa mounted (in corners, thankfully not glued!) on black paper tied together with a leather cover.

I am working on scanning and retouching each one in turn, along with his handwritten captions and markings on the back, with the intent of re-creating the pages on high-quality paper someday, as in a coffee-table book. Quite an undertaking, but the photos have weathered wonderfully and the contrast comes back pretty well for most of them, particularly the less well-fingered.

In any case, what I did to start with was to simply plop each page down onto the scanner and take a snapshot so I could tell which goes where, then singled out each individual photo. I only had to have the page down once, and only had to remove photos afterward to see if anything was on the back. My advice is to get them scanned before pulling out the scalpel.

I'm only through about 12 pages, and it's slow going, but it's truly incredible to see these black-and-white photos coming back. I'm worried that by the time I get to the end my skills will have improved to the point where I want to do the whole book over again.

(Not to mention that my wife just inherited an entire box of similar artifacts, looks like I'll be busy through the millenium)

updated note:
Got a new scanner (Epson 2450), scanned two full albums of more recent vintage, and, yes, now my skills and equipment have increased in quality to the point where I am going back and re-doing the 19 pages (out of 60 or so) that I had already scanned. Yeesh! At least the new scanner can digest a 2x3-inch photo at 1440dpi in about half the time the old scanner would do it at 1200, and with much finer results.

Last edited by kaulike; 01-23-2002 at 05:45 PM.
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