Hints on Preservation of Photographs

If you want to preserve color photographs, have a photographer make black-and-white prints as backups—color film and slides have a shorter life span than black and white. Transferring photos to video is not a guarantee of longevity because videos deteriorate over time. Individual photographs and postcards should be kept in protective sleeves made of chemically inert plastics such as polyester (known by brand names such as Melinex 516 or Mylar D), polyethylene, or polypropylene. Don’t use vinyl or PVC, which can cause chemical reactions. These sleeves, which come in many sizes, will provide support, allow handling without smudging, and protect emulsions that can often flake and peel with the passage of time. Then store the photos flat and upright (not on top of each other) in buffered or metal boxes—no rubber bands or paper clips! If you want to store photos in an album, make sure the pages are made of the same inert plastics or buffered paper. Never glue the photos onto the pages; instead, use mounting corners available from photography and archival suppliers. Make sure to record information—date, place, people, events—on the back of each photograph or else future generations will have no way of knowing what they are looking at. Press lightly when writing and use archival-quality markers, pens, or pencils.

Heritage Preservation is a national nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving the cultural heritage of the United States. By identifying risks, developing innovative programs, and providing broad public access to expert advice, Heritage Preservation assists museums, libraries, archives, historic preservation, and other organizations, as well as individuals, in caring for our endangered heritage. 1012 14th St. NW, Suite 1200 Washington, DC 20005 (202) 233-0800

New publication (non-member regular price: $24.95, member regular price: $18.00): A team of top museum professionals, assembled by Heritage Preservation, provide practical advice and easy-to-use guidelines on: how to polish silver and furniture without diminishing their value; how to preserve a wedding dress for future generations; the safest materials and procedures for creating a scrapbook that will last; how to care for a photograph album that is deteriorating; creating safe display conditions for ceramics, dolls, quilts, or other treasured collections; and much more.

Paul Schlotthauer has been an archivist and librarian at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, Teachers College at Columbia University, and the Queens Borough Public Library. He is currently the archivist of Pratt Institute and lives in New York City. He will also be providing two short articles for the March issue of the Newsletter: how to relax paper (so that it can be unfolded) and how to remove the musty smell from old books easily and safely.