Thursday, September 22, 2016

Lessons From My Magnetic Photo Album Rescue

I am very happy to be able to tell you that I was able to remove all 31 photos from Donald's baby album with only minor damage to one photo. Here is what I learned.

Have a plan.
I first learned of the destructive nature of magnetic photo albums during one of Miriam Robins' Scanfests a few years ago. Since then I have periodically read and researched methods for rescuing and preserving the photos in these albums. This project has been a bit anxiety-inducing, having a plan is a big help.

Don't rush.
I didn't complete any step in this process in one sitting, but I did make sure that I had a good amount of free time ahead of me so that I wouldn't feel rushed.

Have patience.
Going hand-in-hand with the above is patience. Even with plenty of time ahead to work on the photos, I would occasionally feel impatient if work was progressing slowly. Rushing is not a good idea with this delicate work, so a deep breath or a break is a good idea if patience is wearing thin.

The information I used to formulate the plan for this rescue came primarily from three sources; the conversation at that Scanfest, some posts in a genealogy group on Facebook and the book "Preserve Your Family Pictures" by Amber Richards.

Donald's album was spiral bound so I first removed pages carefully with a craft knife. Then I slowly and carefully removed the plastic sheet from the outside of that page, making sure that it was not sticking to the photos underneath. Next, I scanned the photos and cleaned the scanner after each page to remove any residue from the acidic adhesive.

I know that some people would have stopped there. I was told by at least one person during that Scanfest that the photos would be so toxic after years in the album that they would be a threat to my other photos. I'm not a hoarder by any means, but the thought of throwing away a photo makes me a little sick to my stomach. I scan the images, I back them up online but even so, technology changes and the only way to ensure preservation of the images is to preserve the original - in my opinion.

So, on to the rescue then. I started by attempting to remove the first photo with a micro spatula. I heard about this on Facebook and in "Preserve Your Family Pictures". It is a small, very thin metal spatula which I ordered on Amazon for under $10.

Fortunately in this album most of the photos had at least a corner that came up easily so that I could slip the micro spatula underneath. I discovered pretty quickly that this is something you need to get a feel for. It can be a little disconcerting at first to see the spatula move around under the photo as if it is going to tear right through. Because these magnetic albums tend to have thick pages, I was able to direct the pressure down into the page instead of up into the photo.

Next I tried no-wax dental floss. It seems like a good idea but I found that after initial success on the first photo, the floss did not really work for me. It was slippery in my gloved hands and Donald had to hold down the album page for me. Progress with the floss was very slooooooow. Amber Richards' book recommends no-wax floss, but others disagree. I might try the waxed at some point.

I moved back to the spatula until I got to some photos printed on what felt like thinner paper. I decided to try the freezing method, placing the album page in the freezer for 5-10 minutes.  I made a mistake with this one. I put the page into a Ziplock first to protect it from the contents of the freezer. I think it was the very slight condensation from being in the bag that caused some temporary tackiness on the surface of the photos and some very slight damage to one of them where it came in contact with plastic while tacky.  Putting the page in the freezer is an attempt to make the adhesive brittle and hopefully release the photos easily. That was not my experience. It didn't seem to help at all.

I also tried a heat method, with the goal of softening the wax. I heated the micro spatula with a hair dryer and then worked it carefully under the photo as before. I didn't see a difference but I might try this again in the future.

This album contained photos from late 1969 to late 1971. All but one were color, most of them were on nice thick photo paper with coating on the back. For these photos the micro spatula was the best tool. Next, my experience with an older album.