Preserving Old Photos & Documents
How to Preserve Old Photos and Documents
Archivists have discovered the hard way that using ordinary lamination plastic for old documents, newspapers, photos, etc., does not preserve them. The best way to preserve them is to store them in a dark place after placing in acid-free Mylar film (not laminated). Ordinary lamination material still permits light rays to pass through it and to cause a chemical reaction to the acid that most modern paper and modern dyes contain, and that ALL old documents photos contain. This causes deterioration of paper and fading of the paper and print. The heat and pressure of most lamination processes also damages documents.
Of course, keeping original documents is important, but one should always copy (scan) newspapers and other documents and then print them on acid free paper, which can be found at just about all stores selling printer paper and/or computer supplies. Too, one should save the graphics files from scanned documents and put the files on CDs for permanent safekeeping. Life expectancy for data on CDs is 80-100 years for premium quality CDs.
EXCERPTS FROM VARIOUS WEB SITES:
The key to preserving your paper documents and photos is to keep them in an acid-free, humidity-controlled environment. Your paper documents and photos need protection from a variety of elements which contribute to their deterioration -- namely: light; heat; humidity; acids in papers, plastics, and adhesives; pollutants; and pests.
You can store and preserve your paper documents in a few different ways. You can organize and file them in acid-free folders, and keep them in an acid-free box. Or you could place your documents in archival-safe, acid-free plastic sleeves and keep them in an album or binder. Another popular alternative is to encapsulate a document between two sheets of polyester (Mylar) film.
Regardless of how you choose to store your documents, NEVER STORE THEM IN AN ATTIC OR BASEMENT. Extreme temperature and humidity changes cause rapid deterioration. Store your items in a room that is comfortable to you, with stable temperature and humidity.
Plastic enclosures are safe for documents ONLY if they are made of polyester, polypropylene, or polyethylene. Other plastics are not chemically stable and will release damaging acids over time. Especially dangerous is PVC (polyvinyl chloride) plastic commonly found in "store-bought" binders; it emits hydrochloric acid over time.
There is no problem with putting more than one document in the same plastic sleeve, but documents should be interleaved with acid-free paper to prevent acid migration from one document to another. Acid-free paper that is buffered will also counteract the formation of more acids in the future.
Lamination of a document is NOT considered a safe conservation technique because the process may potentially damage a document due to high heat and pressure during application. Moreover, the laminating materials themselves may be chemically unstable and contribute even more to the deterioration of the document. Lamination also violates a cardinal rule of conservation, and that is to only apply treatments that do not alter the item, and which can be reversed. Lamination cannot be reversed.
Since newspapers are made of highly acidic paper and deteriorate so quickly, you should always photocopy the information you want from them onto acid-free paper. You can then store the original paper in an acid-free box, or mount clippings in an archival scrapbook. Clippings could also be stored in acid-free file folders, interleaved with acid-free paper. If you want to frame the clipping, you should frame the acid-free copy rather than the original clipping.
The inks used in photocopiers and printers are only moderately durable. Most printers have no alternative ink available that will not fade with time. Epson does produce DuraBrite ink for some of its printers, which is water-, smudge-, and light-resistant, and is supposed to be stable for 80-100 years. It is a good rule of thumb to photocopy or scan any document you wish to preserve onto acid-free paper. If you then keep the original and copy away from light, heat, humidity, etc., the document should last for several generations. Incidentally, there are archival inks for use on paper when one makes entries by hand: Pigma ink comes in a pen (do a web search for "Pigma ink" or "Sakura", which is the company making this ink); Actinic ink comes bottled for use with a quill pen or in an ink pad (do a web search for "Actinic ink").
Often when paper objects (such as wedding certificates) have been stored rolled for many years, they become quite brittle. In order to safely unroll your certificate, moisture needs to be restored to the document (known as humidification). Placing your document in a humid environment for several hours should make it more flexible, allowing you to carefully unroll and flatten it. Watch out for ink on the document that might bleed (don't humidify it if the ink will run). You may have to experiment with the level of humidity and the amount of time you leave the document exposed; monitor to make sure it does not get saturated. Attempt to carefully unroll the document while it is still humid. (Do not proceed if it resists or begins to crack or tear.) You could then flatten it by placing the document between two pieces of blotting paper, and then place a heavy object on top for a few days.
The same rules which apply for the safe storage of paper documents generally apply to photos. Again, there are a number of options for preserving your photos. If you prefer an album, some archival albums have acid-free components such as scrapbook style pages, picture-pocket pages made of one of the safe plastics, etc. Store-bought albums with "magnetic" pages are typically highly acidic and dangerous to photos. Besides albums, there are acid-free boxes made to accommodate between 500 and 1000 prints. These boxes come with acid-free envelopes and sleeves for negatives. Finally, photographs can be encapsulated in polyester film (acid-free, such as Mylar) just like paper documents.
There are a variety of storage options available for storing negatives. The best choice depends on the number of negatives and one's preference. Negatives can be stored in acid-free envelopes -- paper or plastic -- and placed in an acid-free box made for negatives and prints. There are also clear acid-free plastic sheets which hold various size negatives and can then be put in a binder. The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) recommends non-buffered storage for color prints and negatives, and buffered storage materials for black and white prints and negatives. Nitrate film should be stored in buffered materials.
When photos have been glued to photo album paper, the safest and recommended way to remove them from the paper is to carefully try to lift the photos off of the album page with a tool called a micro-spatula or a small spatula. Slip the micro-spatula under the edge of the photo, and carefully move it back and forth. The ease with which the photos come up may vary depending on the humidity level. Dry conditions may make prints and backing brittle, easier to lift. Or humid conditions may soften the adhesive and ease removal. Experiment with it, but DO NOT force the photos so that they tear.
If you cannot lift them, cut away the black paper around the photo. If photos are on both sides of the page and you cannot cut around, interleave the pages of the album with acid-free paper and store the album in an acid-free box.