How do I preserve photos in vintage cardboard frames or folios?
Q. Dear Donia,
A number of old portrait photos I've come across were inserted into vintage cardboard frames or folios. Some have intricate window designs and other embellishments that are worth preserving in their own right, however, I'm not sure if their paper chemistry could cause damage to the prints themselves over time. Is it advisable to take the photos out of these cardboard frames and store them separately or at least insert a neutral buffer paper between them? Thank you, Jim
A. Dear Jim,
Thanks for coming back with another excellent question! You are correct in that the paper in these frames is not the most chemically stable. However, the answer comes down to how careful you are going to be in preserving the information from the frame. Most of the frames of that era have the name and location of the photographer which can be very helpful in terms of genealogical research (or historical costume research, or for whatever you want to have the image for.) Without the frame, you lose that information. You can take the photos out of the frames and store them separately. However, be sure to make a note to ensure you know which photos go with which frame.
There is also a solution if you want to keep the photos in the frames. In my own collection, I keep the paper frames as I think they are worthy of preservation in their own right. What I have done with mine (and it has worked well over the years) is that I have put a piece of MicroChamber interleaving paper behind the photograph as well as a second piece as a slip cover between the photo and the cover. This will help slow down the negative effect of the cardboard. Conversely, you can do the same thing with Melinex (formerly known as Mylar). With the Melinex you can slip the front piece to fit directly over the image to protect from dust and fingerprints, however it will give the piece a reflective surface so if you want to display the photo, you may want to take the Melinex out.
As always, please don't hesitate to ask if you have any further questions!