Professional Tricks to Help Care for Old Pictures

When you flip houses for a living, you keep a lot of things in storage. We live in the properties we flip, but we don’t unpack everything with each move. Special items like old family pictures stay tucked away in storage until we find a permanent place. Lucky for me, I picked up several tricks of the archivist’s trade during a brief stint as a volunteer in a small museum. If you’ve got old pictures in storage, it is essential that you store them correctly. Contrary to popular belief, they need much more than a dry, dark spot. Here’s a checklist to help you make sure you’re doing the best for your photographs.

You Need a Frame
Wood frames are beautiful, but they can damage a photograph. Over time, wood emits acids that will turn the picture’s paper yellow. Switch to a metal frame to be safe. For museum-quality preservation, call around to a few framing shops to find an archive-quality metal frame. These frames use a special backing that will give your picture an extra layer of protection from acid and moisture. If you plan to hang your pictures while you protect them, look for a frame made with glass with UV protection.

If you have to re-frame your picture, put on a pair of cotton gloves first. The oil on your hands will eat away at the picture over time. You won’t be able to see it now, but come back in a few years and there will be light finger print marks ruining your favorite family photo. If there is already fingerprint damage or other markings on the picture, have it restored by a professional before you frame it. Those little problems will only get worse over time.

Humidity Matters
Over time, light fades pictures. Store your framed pictures in a dark spot that is rarely exposed to light. The attic or back of a closet is a good place to start. Wherever you store your pictures, the temperature should remain around room temperature with low humidity. If you know it get’s muggy where you live, place a hygrometer in the room. If the humidity is over 45 percent, keep a humidifier running or move the pictures to a climate-controlled storage unit.

Keep them Protected
Stack multiple frames vertically and lean them against a wall. Drape a sheet or moving blanket over them to further control the climate right around them. If your pictures are invaluable, put them in a fireproof box. You can store other items in there as well and you won’t lose any irreplacable items in case of a disaster.

Check Up
Even in a museum, stored items are checked on once in a while. Pull out the frames once a year and give them a once over. Put on your cotton gloves and open up the frames. Give them the once over and look for signs of insect, acid or moisture damage. Leave each frame open for around 10 minutes to allow the paper to discharge any gas that’s been building up over the past year.

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