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    In every family, someone ends up with “the stuff.” It is the goal of The Family Curator to inspire, enlighten, and encourage other family curators in their efforts to preserve and share their own family treasures.

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    Entries in rehumidify old photo (2)

    Tuesday
    Jul092013

    Where to Store Long Group Photos or Banquet Prints: Treasure Chest Thursday

     

    Inter-Church Family Bible Conference Hume Lake Aug. 21-28 1948

    Now that you've successfully dehumidified all those lovely old documents and long group photos that were held in tightly rolled little batons, you must be looking for a suitable archival-quality storage container. Right?

    You will want to store your photos and documents lying flat, and if you have multiple photos or documents it's a good idea to place a sheet of archival paper between each item. 

    The best storage choice is an acid-free, lignin-free archival box purchased from a reputable preservation supplier. These companies sell only archival quality products and their biggest customers are libraries, archives, and other institutions.

    You may find inexpensive boxes labeled "archival," but unless the tag also reads "Acid-free" and possibly "Lignin-free," it is not a true archival product. Confused? You are not alone.

    Why "Archival" Is Not Always Archival

    Unfortunately, the word "archival" is used freely by manufacturers to describe ANY container intended to store stuff. The word itself has no legal qualification. It's a bit like the word "organic." 

    Remember in the early days of the natural food movement when anyone and everyone called their produce "organic"? In 1990s, the government decided to lay down some ground rules; and today, when you see "certified organic" carrots you can be assured that those orange vegetables meet certain USDA standards. 

    It's much the same with archival products. Anyone can call a photo box "archival." After all, the box may be designed to "archive" or "store" photos. While there may come a time when the industry offers "certified archival" products that meet certain standards, for now, just know that the best storage containers for family keepsakes are labeled as acid-free, lignin-free (or low-lignin) containers.

    Where to Find True "Archival" Storage Boxes

    I'm often asked where to purchase archival storage boxes, and I have to confess that I'm a great believer in not re-inventing the wheel. When I want to purchase something new, I look for recommendations from people I trust. I feel very comfortable purchasing archival suppliers from the same manufacturer who supplies The Library of Congress and The National Archives. And, I'm not just playing favorites because this same company was kind enough to sponsor my Preserving Keepsakes Workshop at the recent Southern California Genealogical Society Jamboree. 

    For at least 15 years, my go-to archival supplier has been Hollinger Metal Edge, with locations in Virginia and Southern California. Hollinger offers museum-quality archival products in all shapes and sizes, from photo to document to keepsake storage.

    Those long rolled photos we've been working with are sometimes called "banquet photos," presumably because so many images were made of convention and conference banquet attendees. Look for long shallow boxes called "Banquet Photo Storage" or  "Group Photo Boxes." You may have to order in quantities of three or more, so find a friend or someone in your genealogical society who will share an order with you.

    Banquet Photo Boxes

    Banquetbox

    Hollinger banquet boxes measure  24 x 12 1/2 x 2-inches and cost under $20 per box. Mylar protective sleeves and archival folders sized to fit individual prints are also available. 

    Other archival suppliers may offer similar storage boxes; just be careful to purchase true archival-quality containers. Look for acid-free, lignin free boxes.

    DIY Options?

    You may not want to invest in archival boxes right now; maybe you'd like to find someone to split that order with you. Or, maybe you have only one or two prints and plan to have them framed in the near future.

    A DIY archival folder will also protect your newly-flattened print from dust and light. You will need a sheet of heavy-weight archival board, about the weight of good card stock. Simply fold the board in half, and place your print inside. Use scrapbook tape to close the ends and store the folder on a shelf or on top of archival boxes. Be careful not to put items on top of the folder that might cause abrasions on the image, and plan to move the prints to more secure storage as soon as possible.

    Archival board is often available at art supply and framing stores. Look for acid-free, lignin-free board.

    Where to Store Your Banquet Photo Boxes

    Family keepsakes benefit from kind storage. Place your boxes in a location where you live and the temperature is fairly constant -- not too hot, or too cold. An empty closet or cupboard in your home is a good spot. Avoid humidity, dust, light, pests, and smoke or fumes. 

    For more ideas on locating your home archive and preserving different kinds of family treasures, check out my book How to Archive Family Keepsakes: Learn How to Preserve Family Photos, Memorabilia and Genealogy Records available in paperback, or the Kindle ebook excerpt How to Organize Inherited Items .

    See Also:

    Photo Tutorial: How to Relax and Rehumidify Old Rolled Photographs

    Official Disclosure: At my request, Hollinger Metal Edge provided an assortment of archival products for display and demonstration in my workshop at the 2013 SCGS Jamboree. I was not required to promote or endorse their products. I receive a small commission from sales when customers indicate FAMILYCURATOR in the coupon code box. I also recieve a small commision through sales at Amazon and Family Tree Books.

    Tuesday
    Jul092013

    Photo Tutorial: How to Relax and Rehumidify Old Rolled Photographs and Documents


     

    If you've ever tried to capture a family photo with everyone smiling at the same time, you know the exquisite torture of group photography. Some wise-guy pulls the rabbit-ears trick at the last minute, or crosses his eyes, or yanks someone's hair. That's why I love those long tightly-rolled panorama photos often found cast aside in family collections. You can usually spot a goofy grin, a secret wink or a wayward hand. It's a second of social history captured by lens and film.

    It's obvious that people don't quite know what to do with these old rolled photos. They resist exploration. When forced flat, the paper often cracks every few inches damaging the photograph. If you try to look at the photo a few inches at a time, carefully handling the paper as though you were reading an ancient scroll, it's hard to get the "big picture" of what's going on.

    This 1929 black-and-white panorama photo is a classic example of what can happen when a brittle rolled photograph is forcibly flattened without first reconditioning the paper; the print is cracked at regular intervals across the entire image.

    I inherited nearly a dozen long group photos from the 1920s through 1960s, most still rolled tight and in good condition. I really wanted to flatten the photos and examine them more closely for genealogical clues to my family history. If nothing else, I thought they would look great framed and hanging on the wall.

    Fortunately, it's not difficult or expensive to relax, or re-humidify, a rolled photo or document.  When I asked Sally Jacobs, The Practical Archivist, if there was a safe method to flatten those old photos, she directed me to the instructions and reassured m:

    "Yes, It's Safe to Try This At Home"

    So I did.

    And it worked!

    The cracked photo shown above was curled in a series of small waves looked like a photographic washboard. Because it was already damaged, I thought it would be a good item to use in my first experiment with the rehumidification process. 

    Since then, I have successfully rehumidified and flattened many panorama photos, and some curled and brittle snapshots. Sally says that the process is also safe with documents, not just photos. Museums and archives create a similar humidification chamber when working with old documents. You don't need any fancy equipment, just a few household items and a bit of common sense about working with your family keepsakes. Here's the recommended method I used with success:

    Step-by-Step Instructions for Relaxing a Rolled Photograph

    You Will Need:
    • rolled or curled photograph
    • plastic tub or container -- deep enough to hold your rack and leave space between the rack and tub lid
    • rubber coated wire rack -- I used an expandable plate rack (you need a rack that is large enough to accommodate your item
    • water -- room temperature
    • archival blotting paper
    • wax paper or parchment paper from your kitchen (optional)

     

    Relax photo fc 1Step 1. Select Your Photograph

    For your first project, select a photo or document that is NOT a priceless heirloom. If you just want to practice this technique, you may be able to find an old rolled photo selling cheap at a thrift store. Most people throw them away (ouch) because they think they're past saving.

    Tap the print with your fingernail. Does it sound hard, like dry pasta? It should feel and sound different when the paper is dehumidified.

    Relax photo fc 2 

    Step 2. The Humidification Chamber

    Place the tub on a towel or rug on your floor in an out-of-the-way spot where you can leave it for a few days. Make sure the rack will fit inside the container and extend long enough to support your photograph. The rolled photo will start needing only a few inches of space, but as it relaxes you may want to gently help it unroll.

    Add about 2 inches of room temperature water. Do NOT use warm or hot water. You don't want  condensation on the underside of the lid that might drip down on to your photo. Use room temperature water.

    Place the rack inside the tub and place your photo on the rack. It will look lonely. 

    Relax photo fc 3

    Step 3. Close the Chamber

    Place the lid on the box and let it sit.

    Relax photo fc 4

    Step 4. Wait.

    Let everything sit there for a few hours. Get on with your life. Read a new blog.

    Relax photo fc 5

    Step 5. Check for Condensation 

    After about an hour, open the container and check  your photo. Make sure there is no moisture dripping on the photo. Feel the paper. Does it feel softer? It will probably need more time to absorb the moisture in the chamber.

    What we are doing here is making moisture available to the paper, so that it can become limber and flexible once again. You don't want too much moisture, because that can damage the print. It could also encourage the growth of mold or mildew. If you notice beads of water on the inside of the cover that could drip down on your print, wipe them off and check your print. Notice the moisture aroung the side walls of the chamber in the next photo. That's okay.

    Relax photo fc 6

    Step 6. Check Again

    After 4 or 5 hours, or overnight, check the paper again. Can you unroll it at all? You may need to do this a few times. Keep checking every few hours until the paper feels relaxed. Look at the difference between this photo and the tightly curled batons in the first step. You can feel the difference in the paper. Tap the print again with your fingernail. It should sound different; softer, more like. . . well, like paper.

    Relax photo fc 8

    Step 7. Remove Your Photo from the Chamber

    When you think the photo feels softer and flexible remove it from the box supporting it with both hands and place it on the blotting paper. Gently ease open the rolled image. If it resists or starts to crack, it needs more moisture. Return it to the humidification chamber.

    At some point the photo will have absorbed enough moisture to relax and allow you to unroll it. If the paper is still extremely brittle and hard you should probably stop and seek professional assistance. I have not experienced this situation.

    Relax photo fc 7

    At this point, your photo is relaxed. Now you need to allow it to dry as a flat print. If you have a  sheet of kitchen wax paper or kitchen paper, you can place this over the surface of the photo before folding the blotting paper over the top. It's not absolutely necessary. 

    Relax photo fc 9

    Step 8. Add Weight and Dry.

    Finally, weight down the entire photo in the blotting paper so that it dries flat. I used a heavy wooden cutting board topped with both volumes of the Compact Oxford English Dictionary  (the heaviest books on my shelves).

    Stitch gurley crop

    Step 9. Allow the Print to Completely Dry

    It may take a few days for your photograph to dry out completely. Check it occasionally. Remove the parchment paper and let the blotting paper absorb more moisture. Give it enough time to become very very flat.

    The result will be an heirloom group photograph you can scan, restore, share, frame, or use for further family history research.

    In a forthcoming post I'll show you how I scan panorama group photos with the Flip-Pal Mobile Scanner and with the Epson Perfection V500 and use stitching software to recreate the original long image.

     

    Disclaimer: 

    This DIY project worked for me; but I can't guarantee you will have the same results. Please use caution and good judgement, and try it at your own risk.