28 Feb 2015

Taking Care of your Valuable Photographs

Photographs are special, whether they’re recent personal family photos, pictures of ancestors, historical artefacts, or art photography prints. They can hold a tremendous amount of sentimental value as well as monetary value in some cases.

Valuable Photographs

But they’re also fragile and vulnerable to a number of forms of damage and deterioration. That is why it’s important to make sure your treasured and valuable photographs are stored with care and protected for years to come.

Photographic prints from different historical eras were often made with different technologies. As a result, your photos may require different care depending on their type.

  • Family Photos
    These are the most commonly encountered photo prints. While they might not have as much monetary value, their personal value still makes them worthy of careful preservation.

    Photo albums are a good choice, but you have to make sure that the materials are archival quality. Paper should be acid-free, and plastic should be polyester or polypropylene, not vinyl.

    Additionally, avoid using any adhesive tape, since it can degrade and harm the photos. Plastic sleeves or archival photo corners are a better way of mounting them.

  • Very old and very fragile
    Older image-making techniques like daguerreotypes, tintypes and ambrotypes pose some very difficult challenges for preservation since they are so fragile.

    For example, even the lightest touch to the surface of a daguerreotype can damage it permanently. These antiques should remain behind glass and in their original cases if possible. If the glass has cracked or become dirty, it is a good idea to consult an expert for repair.

  • Albumen Prints
    After their old mounts have worn out and been removed, albumen prints may start to curl. In order to preserve the print and keep it from curling, keep it in a clear and sturdy polyester envelope. Then, you can then either store it in an archival box, or place it with a mat and hinged overmat for framing.

These are just a few of the special concerns for specific types of photo prints. If you’re unsure of what type of photographs you have, consult an expert for advice.

But no matter what your photos are made from, there are a few key elements to protect them from:

  • Moisture and temperature fluctuations
    Keep photos in a space with regulated heat and humidity instead of attics, basements and garages.
  • Harmful light
    Direct sunlight and unfiltered fluorescent light can damage photographs, so make sure they are protected from these light sources.
  • Harmful chemicals
    Always use archival materials like acid-free paper and PVC-free plastics. Oils and acids from your skin can also damage photos, so avoid handling them directly as much as possible. Also, wood frames can sometimes leak photo-damaging chemicals, so choose metal frames wherever possible.
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