Q. Dear Donia,
A. Dear Elizabeth,
Wow! What a collection. I thought I was lucky to have two such framed photographs in frames as you describe.
Your instincts are correct in that you don't necessarily want to automatically unframe the photos and get rid of the frames. First off is that the prints may not be prints at all if the photograph really is from the mid-1800s. If the photographs are original, it would be best to unframe slowly since some early photographs, especially daguerreotypes, need to remain in their cases or frames to protect them.
If the photos are modern copies of earlier photographic processes, go ahead and unframe and store the photographs in folders and boxes or polyethylene or polyester sleeves. You can then decide what to do with the frames. For those frames that are in good condition, you may think about donating them to a local college or university special collections or art department. They may be able to provide a new lease on life for the frames so they don't just get tossed away.