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

Need Help Restoring Letter from 1860's

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  #1  
Old 09-03-2011, 11:29 PM
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UncleDannie UncleDannie is offline
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Need Help Restoring Letter from 1860's

I have about 30 hand written letters from my Great-great-grandfather from the 1861 - 1890's. I'm posting just one as they all suffer the same problems. They were written by quill/ink pen and then folded for mailing. They were stored for over 150 years still folded, so ink leakage and age has taken its toll. A major problem was it was written with ink on thin paper, both sides. Bleed through is apparent.

I'm not very good with CS5, I'm afraid, but I tried adjustments, gamma, contrast, hue and every filter I have, all with poor results. I know my task is not impossible, I just lack the knowledge and skills.

Any help would be most appreciated, especially the steps necessary so that I may use them to restore the remaining letters to legible condition. My great-great-grandfather was a teacher of penmanship and the family would like to restore as much as possible.
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File Type: jpg Coho Letters006.jpg (83.2 KB, 113 views)

Last edited by UncleDannie; 09-03-2011 at 11:51 PM.
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  #2  
Old 09-03-2011, 11:38 PM
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Doug Nelson Doug Nelson is offline
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Re: Need Help Restoring Letter from 1860's

It depends on your camera, but a Hoya R72 filter might help (infrared).
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Old 09-03-2011, 11:49 PM
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Re: Need Help Restoring Letter from 1860's

I erred in my comments. These are scans of the original letters.

A better TIFF file is located here:
http://www.pbase.com/uncledannie/uncledannie
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Old 09-04-2011, 12:53 AM
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Doug Nelson Doug Nelson is offline
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Re: Need Help Restoring Letter from 1860's

I understand, but if your camera supports it you might get more detail than a scan by using IR. Plus using a camera might mitigate the bleedthrough, even if IR isn't an option.

You can also try scanning in RGB and checking the individual color channels.
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Old 09-04-2011, 01:26 PM
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John Wheeler John Wheeler is offline
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Re: Need Help Restoring Letter from 1860's

Hi UncleDonnie

Maybe its because I have read many historical/genealogy letters yet I find that the sample you provided to be quite legible already. The bleed through did not seem to create a reading issue for me. Actually deciphering the handwriting was more difficult that the image quality.

Not sure what you want for your end product. The letters of that era on thin paper did have bleed through so taking it out it some respects makes it less authentic. Sometimes the existing aged look adds some real character as well.

Here are a couple suggestions. If you want authentic and legible:
- Get the best scan you can and optionally make some tonal/color adjustments
- Include a type written translation of the letter as an attachment.

With the above, one sees the real letter yet does not have to struggle through the reading (only one person needs to do that)

If you are just trying to get a version that is easier to read as is:
- Original as lower layer
- Copy as upper layer - adjust for high contrast - set opacity down to blend with original:

137779045.Gwz2ylAv-Blend.jpg

If you are going for just reading the letter to copy down to text, here is a high contrast version:

137779045.Gwz2ylAv-High-Contrast.jpg

A totally different approach to make it readable is
- Original lowest layer
- Copy to next layer up and make Smart Object
- Apply box blur to Smart Object
- Set blend mode to difference
- Add Curves adjustment Layer and adjust
- Go back to box blur in Smart Object and adjust Box Blur as needed

Here was what I could get:

137779045.Gwz2ylAv-Blur-and-Diff.jpg

There are also more advance techniques that work better with high resolution and 16 bit depth scans yet it would need understanding more specifically of what you are trying to achieve.

Hope these ideas are helpful.
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Old 09-04-2011, 02:28 PM
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Tony W Tony W is offline
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Re: Need Help Restoring Letter from 1860's

Hello UncleDannie

This is a difficult one to do really well as I assume that you are trying to retain the delicacy of the penmanship while ridding at least some of the background distractions so that it looks more like the original?

Is it likely (as I think) that as this was thin paper bleed through would have been seen at the time the document was penned?

I have tried a few different ways and came to the conclusion that a straight forward levels correction was the best at least I was able to get. The problem with this and most other techniques is that the tendency would be to 'harden' up the edges and loose the delicacy of the ink where it would soften into the paper, also where lighter pressure hence lighter lines this tends to get lost in the process.

I strongly suggest that you scan again at the highest quality and in 48bit colour. The colour aspect can be very helpful and may allow seperation of paper colour from pen. It just may help to make a difference
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File Type: jpg document.jpg (99.0 KB, 50 views)
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Old 09-04-2011, 05:07 PM
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Re: Need Help Restoring Letter from 1860's

Thanks both to John and Tony. When I get back home, I will rescan a couple of pages as well as use my camera to copy a couple, and see which yields the best results. Coho Smith was quite the wordsmith in his day, as well as a great cursive penmanship writer. To be able to read (clearly) his letters would mean a lot for the family. To try and read the original letters are very difficult due to bleed through and stains of the papers. The permanent creases caused by the folds are also difficult.

The family's desire was to have a clearly readable copy of each letter, so that one could easily see exactly what Coho was saying.

Thanks again for your considerable help. I have enough info to get the results we need.

Uncle Dannie
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  #8  
Old 09-05-2011, 02:07 PM
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Re: Need Help Restoring Letter from 1860's

That's a great collection of letters to have! The restorations posted here make them very easy to read, so I think you're good.
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Old 09-05-2011, 08:03 PM
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Re: Need Help Restoring Letter from 1860's

Thanks. It's a little tricky. He wrote a complete journal that was translated years ago and printed called Cohographs. The book is out of print, and copies are expensive (about 500 printed). These are new letters and I want to transcribe them and print a book about him and his life. He was quite a remarkable man.
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Old 09-05-2011, 08:05 PM
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Re: Need Help Restoring Letter from 1860's

Maybe trade a restored copy of the letters for a printed copy of the journal?
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