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

Preserve and protect Ambrotypes from further deterioration/damage

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  #1  
Old 01-03-2002, 08:55 AM
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thomasgeorge thomasgeorge is offline
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Ambrotype Stuff

First, unless one is experienced and skilled in the complex methods of cleaning and restoring Ambrotypes or Daguerrotypes, it is wiser to take them to a trained and recognized Conservator..these old photo types are very succeptable to damage if handled wrong. That being said there are a few things an owner can do to help preserve and protect them from further deterioration/damage.
First, proper storage in a protective case is highly advised. You might consider replacing the original glass covering the photo as old glasses have impurities in them which can leach out and damage the photo.
Second, the temperature in the storage area should be around 60 degrees and the Relative Humidity no more than 50% . At higher temp/RH levels deterioration is speeded up.
Third if the backing varnish(the black stuff on the BACK of the plate is peeling, carefully "tease" the larger curled fragments off and recover the back with a PH neutral black material.
Forth, resealing the photo packet can be done with PH archival rated paper tape to keep air/moisture out of the packet before placing it back in the case.
In most cases it is best to have this done by a Conservator. If you notice "discolorations" on the surface of the photos, look closely with a magnifying glass or stereo low power microscope. If the blemishes have a dendratic appearance it is probably not mold but crystalization of the balsam cement frequently used to glue a darkened backing glass plate to the image support. Fading of the image from the sides in is a very common form of deterioration and means that the photo package containing the Ambrotype needs to be resealed.
I would suggest aquiring the book " Conservation of Photographs" put out by the Eastman Kodak company...you can find it at Amazon by going thru the Amazon link on this site. Because of the number of these most wonderful old photos you have and their extreme value as historical artifacts, some sort of safe might be a good idea as well....but, Get the book! It really is a small price to pay in order to preserve your collection in the proper way. One other thing, Limit display of the originals severely and when displaying, do so only under tungstun illumination, lux levels no more than 60-80 and never display them under Flou. light or in sunlight. Store in a dark location (NOT a basement because of humidity problems unless you have a means of controlling the RH). Make hi-res/ Hi bit (16 bit or 48) scans of the originals and make display copies from them. Hope this helps a little.....I didnt cover everything or else Doug would have to get a quad- google- tetra-terra byte size storage device to store it all! Good luck and keep those wonderful old photos safe! Tom
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Old 01-03-2002, 09:39 AM
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DJ Dubovsky DJ Dubovsky is offline
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Good point about what lighting to use in displaying them. I wouldn't have considered flourescent that bad. Also, why isn't scanning them a damaging process or is that just because it's not sustained over a long period of time? I think I would still be afraid to scan them after all you said about their delicate condition. Thanks again for the valuable info. I will have to check into that book.
DJ
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Old 01-03-2002, 10:18 AM
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Flourescent lighting, unless properly shielded, has a remarkably high UV content, which is death to photos-colored or BW. The amount of time and the spectral character of the type of lighting used in scanning devices does no harm..at least thats what the Experts from Kodak, Image Premanance Institute and others say. I dont think it would be a good idea to leave a photo lying on the palette of the scanner with the light blazing away for hours on end, but the short amount of time needed to capture a scan does not seem to cause any ill effects. While the old photos do demand care in handling and displaying, they are fairly tough...else none would be left. I think, and this is simply my opinion only, that the originals should be scanned at a hi-res and hi-bit mode, the resulting scans kept as a sort of "digital negative", (on a media which will permit easy transfer as better ways of digital storage are developed, and prints made from these for display), while the originals are safely stored away under controlled conditions of temp. and humidity with access strictly limited to a "need to see" basis. By their very nature, the old original photos are impermanent. Nothing is going to preserve them for ever, unless some way is found to strictly control all the factors which cause deterioration and basically arrest certain laws and natural processes of physics and chemistry, but proper storage and display plus copying and preserving the original data in as concentrated a form as possible, will insure that the information (images) captured by early photographic processes will remain avaliable for generations to come. Just my rambling thoughts.... Tom

Last edited by thomasgeorge; 01-03-2002 at 02:56 PM.
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Old 01-03-2002, 02:29 PM
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DJ Dubovsky DJ Dubovsky is offline
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I guess you're right and nothing lasts forever but it sure is a loss when they are gone. It feels like a part of our past has been taken away.
DJ
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Old 01-03-2002, 02:57 PM
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Jump on over to the work/job forum under Archiving....
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Old 01-04-2002, 02:30 AM
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Wow! Tom, what an expansive reply, and so quick. Thanks for all the wonderful information. I will definitely try and get the book.

I have already scanned all of the Ambrotypes I have. Both the inside and the outside of the case then a high bit - High res of just the portrait. My idea was to (as you suggested) minimize future handeling and light exposure. There are a couple where I was tempted to dissasemble the photo pack to try and repair the backing, but fear of doing something irreversible kept me from it. After your warnings I may try to find a local conservator.

I am rather surprised at how well these have survived, since before I got them from my parents, they were stored in a cardboard box in the attic and later the basement. The only good thing to be said is at least those places were dark...

Just for fun, and to see if I can do it, I've attached an unretouched scan of one of the Ambrotypes. This is a portrait of John J Cowles. What makes this one special is that I have a diary he kept while a soldier during the Civil War (also scanned, burned to CD and distributed to other relatives). He died of typhoid fever while in the army. His father is my g-g-grandfather.
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Old 01-04-2002, 06:04 AM
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Marvelous photo, and in excellent condition as well. Many times, simply having the original glass either cleaned or replaced will get rid of a lot of the "spots" as they will reside on the glass cover rather than on the photo itself. The Case is interesting also, especially the latch mechanism. Many of the cases one sees used a simple external hook/eye latch type closure, the more upscale used the type your case has. The fact that the color tint on the cheeks survives in excellent condition shows this one has been well cared for...the fact that it was cased and stored in the dark explains its remarkable state of preservation. I dont know how you are protecting the diary, but it might be worth a trip or a call to a large museum to find out any preservation suggestions they may have regarding it. Usually old bound documents/books, depending on overall condition have sheets of pH neutral material placed between them, interleaving as it is called, which helps to prevent abraiding and chemical decomp. of the pages.. Good luck, and thank you for sharing that wonderful old photo. Along with the accompaning diary, that is a priceless piece of history! For Archival storage materials
, including boxes etc., you might want to jump over to the links area and visit the Light Impressions web site...if its Archival related, they've probably got it. Tom

Last edited by thomasgeorge; 01-04-2002 at 06:19 AM.
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  #8  
Old 01-04-2002, 09:03 AM
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Ed_L Ed_L is offline
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Tim,

That is a great looking speciman. Consider yourself very lucky to have it along with the diary. I can also vouch for the book Tom mentioned, as he told me about it, and I got a copy from the library. Liked it so much I renewed it, and had it for a month.

Ed
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Old 01-04-2002, 10:07 AM
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DJ Dubovsky DJ Dubovsky is offline
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Tim
Wow is right. What a collection if you have more like that.

You should get them appraised by someone who knows the collectors market for these items. I have seen items like this that are accompanied by a diary on Antiques Road show and that just shoots the value up sky high not to mention the excellent quality of the original photo. It might not be a bad idea to have them insured. You are looking at an awful lot of money considering the collectability of Civil War items. Not to mention a fantastic legacy to leave your decendants.
DJ
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  #10  
Old 01-04-2002, 02:37 PM
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Tom, thanks for the tips about the diary. I store everything in boxes from Light Impressions, but I hadn't thought about interleaving the pages of the diary with a buffered paper. All the more reason to find a professional conservator ...

Ed, I will definetely order "Conservation of Photographs", but if you are interested I can recommend "Care and Identification of 19th-Century Photographic Prints" (Kodak books) It has little to say about Ambrotypes but has a great section on identifying print types, how the different materials deteriorate and how to store them. They have a couple pages on "silver mirroring" a subject I have seen an extensive thread on here...

Thank you for the suggestion DJ, I never really considered the value of the collection, since their worth as family heirlooms far exceeds any cash amount. Still, having them properly insured might be a good idea.

--tks
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