Tips for Taking Care of Old Photos
My favorite type of organizing project is to help a client organize their old photos and documents. I was introduced to the world of archiving and preservation years ago and it's become a bit of a specialty of mine.
The photo's subject matter is just as fascinating to me as caring for them; I love to hear the stories that go along with them. It's a glimpse into the past and a reminder that every person and every family contributes something to our world. If we want to preserve these precious pieces of history, it's very important to know the proper ways to handle and store them. So here are some basic rules for handling and storing your photos:
Rule #1: Always store printed photos in a climate controlled environment.
The most popular places to store old photos are the attic, the basement or the garage. Unfortunately, these are also the worst places to store them because they are usually not climate controlled areas. Extreme temperatures and humidity are a photo's worst enemy. Photos should always be stored in the house in a dry area away from light and hot or cold temperatures.
Rule #2: Don't handle photos with your bare hands.
Always wear gloves when handling photos, preferably clean cotton gloves made for the purpose. Even if you wash your hands before handling photos, the oils from your fingers will replenish themselves and stick to the photos. Then, the acids in the oils will eat into the photo. You may not see it now, but it will show up later. I actually have a few photos from around 1940 with someone's fingerprint permanently branded onto the face of the photo.
Rule #3: If it doesn't say "Acid Free" or "Archival", it isn't.
Always get a container that says "Acid Free". There are a lot of pretty boxes in the stores that say they are made for photo storage, and they may be tempting, but turn one over and look at the bottom. An archival quality product will always say so. If there is no mention of "Acid Free" or "Archival" then this product is just as safe for your photos as a regular cardboard box...which isn't very safe. Acids from cardboard, newspaper or regular plastic will migrate to the photos and cause yellowing and deterioration. Not to mention regular cardboard boxes attract bugs that will eat holes through your photos.
A Special Note:
Do not put photos into the freezer!
The other day I ran across a site with suggestions for getting old dried glue off the back of a photo. Someone suggested putting the photo into the freezer so that the bits of glue would could brittle and be chipped off easily. This is not a good idea. Moving paper products, especially photos, in and out of extreme temperatures creates thermal shock, causing internal stress and potential fractures. It also invites condensation. If you do have photos stored in an extreme temperature, let them change temperature very slowly until they are at their new "room temperature" environment.
Using these basic rules will get you started in storing your photos in the safest environment possible. And remember, if you come across photos that can not easily be removed from album pages or are torn or very fragile, don't attempt to fix them or pull them from the pages yourself until you consult with a professional!