To Keep Your Old Photos Safe, Take Precautions

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Growing up, my sisters and I spent quite a bit of time at our paternal grandparents' home. It was wonderful. There were rules of course, but lots of fun, too.

One of the things I enjoyed most while staying with my grandmother was to look at her photographs. She kept them in a big box than had once held chocolates.

There were lots of photos of my sisters and I, almost as many of our father and uncle and then there were all the mystery photos. Those were the ones I loved the best.

If my grandmother weren't busy, I would ask her to tell me who the people were and how we were related to them. In our family, most of the people we socialized with were our relatives. I don't know if it was because we were antisocial or just because we had such a big family settled in a relatively small area that if you spit you might hit a cousin.

Anyway, once my grandmother died, I did not visit the box of photos again until after our Grandpa McQuerrey died.

I inherited the candy box of photos, plus a Mason Shoe box that also held a collection of pictures.

At some point I want to either put the oldest ones in frames or properly store the photos. But since they seem to have held up quite well after more than 40 years in the candy and shoe boxes they might already be in proper storage.

Still there are steps that can be taken to keep these precious elements of my family history safe.

They need to be kept in a place that gets little light and stays a constant, dry comfortable temperature (neither too hot or cold). If they are to be placed in albums, they must be acid-free (no cardboard or PVC-type plastic).

I was not sure about how to properly frame old photographs though, so I turned to the handy-dandy Internet, at about.com, and found two different articles that had similar information.

One article was based on information from Claire Maxwell, president of the Taylor Conservation and Heritage Society and a director of the Williamson County Historical Commission in central Texas.

"(E)ven framing should be done with care," she said. "Using acid-free mats to prevent photos from touching the glass and acid-free backboards to deter deterioration of the image help protect and preserve."

So, are these materials available in Payson? Yes, they are. Wild Brush Gallery & Framing has both acid-free mats and backboards and offers a variety of colors, according to owner Terry Winans. Master Frameworks has all the materials for conservation framing and the owner, Greg Allerton has more than 30 years of experience in the field.

Other tips from Maxwell: photos should be handled as little as possible since oils in our fingers can be transferred to the photos providing a place where dust can collect; using white, cotton gloves, designed for handling archival materials, is recommended.

The problem with the gloves is finding them; they are not readily available to the general public, according to Barb Wilembrecht, co-owner of Paper & Metal Scrappers. She said people could use a plain, cotton terrycloth towel to remove finger marks from photos or an acid-free neutralizing wipe carried at the scrapbook store.

After adopting proper handling measures with your old photographs, the next step is identifying who or what is in the picture. Maxwell said regular pens should not be used because too much pressure is needed to write with them on photos. She recommends using an acid-free permanent marker. These can be purchased at Paper & Metal Scrappers and at Wal-Mart.

To store photos, either put them in PVC-free envelopes, use acid-free boxes -- either of cardboard or metal, or boxes specifically designed for archival purposes -- and layer photos between sheets of 100 percent cotton bond acid-free paper. This material is also available locally.

Another suggestion for keeping your old photos safe, store the original and display a duplicate.

When I first came into possession of my family's old photos I bought a couple of archival boxes. So far, I have yet to make the transfer. I hope the candy and shoe boxes hold up for a couple of more years.

The editors of The Rim Review are looking for crafters, hobbyists and collectors to feature on this page. If you would be interested in sharing your story with others, or know of someone who might be worth reading about, please call Teresa McQuerrey at (928) 474-5251, ext. 113, or send an e-mail to tmcquerrey@ payson.com, or drop a note by the Roundup office at 708 N. Beeline Highway, Payson.

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