Monday, October 11, 2010

A Photo Album from the 1930s

It's photo album week at Preserving a Family Collection!

In our family collection, we have a wide range of photo albums.  One of my favorites is a traditional black-paper photo album in a post-binding, filled with pictures of my mother as a baby and young girl.  I imagine my grandparents bought and assembled the album in the mid- to late 1930s.  Bringing the album into the Conservation Center for Art and Historic Artifacts, I assumed it was in poor shape because I knew much paper from that time was highly acidic and I could even see the black paper crumbling along the edges.

But my concerns were exaggerated, according to Barbara Lemmen, Senior Photograph Conservator at the Conservation Center.  The album's actually in pretty good shape.  The post-binding is too loose, and that has allowed pages to shift -- and it's these misaligned pages that have the damaged edges.  By and large, the paper itself isn't overly brittle.

Barb says the photographs are also in fairly good shape, variable in quality mainly because of their original processing rather than their storage conditions.  The ones that are washed-out and yellow were doomed by poor processing from the very start.  The photo album itself hasn't caused much damage.  (I don't share with Barb that it was my grandfather who developed these pictures in his home darkroom.  He meant well...  and many of the pictures are indeed processed just fine, still maintaining crisp black-and-white images.)

One thing that Barb particularly warns against is the crumbling and abrasive black dust common to this type of paper.  She says that it can easily spread throughout a collection.

There are many options for preserving photos in albums of this kind.  Barb likes to preserve the original album whenever possible.  In this case, the pages could be properly aligned and the post-binding retied for a tighter fit.  She recommends interleaving each page of the album with non-abrasive paper (or mylar) that has passed the Photographic Activity Test.*  And she suggests storing the album in an archival horizontal storage box which will keep the photo album from shedding its black dust throughout the rest of the collection.

* Photographic Activity Test:  Look for storage material and albums that advertise they have passed the PAT.

An Open Invitation:  Please feel free to share in our Comments section about your experiences with preserving your family collections or to ask preservation questions about items in your care.

© 2010 Lee Price

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