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Care of Historic Photographs




Don't write on the back with ink or use rubber stamps. Inks are acidic and may contain sulfur.

Don't write on the emulsion side.

Don't use scotch tape or any type of pressure-sensitive tape on or near your photographs or negatives.

Don't touch the emulsion side of any print or negative. Touch only the edges. Human oils and perspiration are acidic.

Don't use paper clips or rubber bands around prints, negatives, or slides. They can rust or imprint emulsion.

Don't put newspaper clippings and photographs together in the same file. Newspapers are acidic and can damage photographs.

Don't use water-absorbing glues and pastes, including white glue, library paste, and wheat paste.

Don't use rubber cement to mount pictures. Use only acid-free and sulfur-free adhesives available at your local art supply store.

Don't use magnetic albums of any kind.

Do carefully identify your photographs. Write on the margins on the back of prints with a soft lead pencil or with an acid-free pen that meets ASTM standard D-4236. Be careful not to press hard enough to leave an impression on the emulsion side of the print.

Do store your photographs in a cool, dark, dry place. Light will fade a photograph. Heat and humidity will cause crackling and peeling of emulsion.

Do separate prints and negatives in acid-free paper envelopes with the emulsion side away from the seams. Remember that the emulsion side of a print or negative can be easily damaged.





Nitrate film was used as late as 1951. This film emits certain gases that will damage negatives or prints stored nearby. Nitrate film is capable of spontaneous combustion.

The margins of the negatives will help identify nitrate film. Unless your negatives state "safety" film, the negatives should be checked and any nitrate negatives should be duplicated and disposed of.
Glass plate negatives should be stored vertically in boxes or drawers; they should not be stacked. The emulsion, or non-reflective, side should not be touched or wiped.

Daguerrotypes, ambrotypes, and certain other types were usually kept in leather cases. These images should be stored vertically and it is best not to clean them.




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