|History, Conservation, and Repair The history of photographic prints, and how best to care for and repair them.|
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Marking or identifying old photos
Thanks for all your help.
How to label photographs safely
Vintage Paper Prints
A nice soft No. 1 pencil is the safest way to label a photograph. Extra soft is important because you don't want to press too hard and emboss the front of your picture. Ticonderoga still makes No. 1 pencils, which I purchase from a local art supply store. Marking envelopes or other enclosures will keep the prints safe, but there is the chance of information and object becoming separated at some future point.
Resin-coated (RC) Prints
More recent prints are coated with plastic and they will not accept pencil as-is. This is one of my current challenges, and I haven't found the perfect solution yet. So far I am only ID'ing these prints on the enclosures. Here's a list of options that I've considered:
1. Gently abrade a tiny section of the back using emery paper. The idea is to remove the thin top layer of plastic and add information in pencil. I haven’t tried this yet, but in theory at least it's my preferred method.
2. Archival marking pens. Archival supply catalogs (Light Impressions, Gaylord, University Products) sell archival ink pens. The "archival" refers to the ink and means it won’t fade or change color over time. It does NOT mean it's a good idea to use it on the back of a photograph. If you choose to use ink (of any kind) make sure you pick a spot that is dark or unimportant -- because that ink is going to come through the other side eventually. Maybe not until long after anyone cares, but some day.
I know for a fact that the Library of Congress marks photos with ink. Not information about the photo, but ownership information and collection name. They use a special red archival ink that has to be poured out onto a wooden block and spread with a toothpick before going on a stamp. Ooof. (Can you tell that this was my job?)
Sorry, I digress.
3. A photo archivist in Georgia recommended using a Berol Prismacolor Non-photo blue 919, which can be removed with an eraser. I tried it myself and couldn't get a readable mark.
4. That same archivist also recommended a Berol China Marker brite blue 167T, which can be rubbed clean with a cotton cloth. I haven't tried this yet, but I've read elsewhere that these tend to smear, so it means you can't stack photos together.
Best of luck, hope this helps!
- Sally J.
Re: How to label photographs safely
It's possible to find labels that do not use acidic glue, but the real problem with labels is what I call "the dirty little secret about glue."
All glue dries out eventually, and when it does the label will fall off. If you only need a label for the short term, then you're OK. If not, you need to find a different solution.
By the way, since my last post in this topic I've come up with my own solution for platic-coated prints. I use an archival permanent marker. The main risk of using ink to mark photos is that eventually the ink will bleed through all the layers to the front.
Here's my work-around: Mark an outside edge that is unimportant. That way, even in the worst case scenario with the ink bleeding through -- the marks will show up in a part of the photo that you're willing to lose.
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