Making Writing in Pencil on Black Photo Album Paper Readable

Dear Donia,

How can I make faded pencil writing on black photo album paper clearer to read? 

black photo album pages

Q. Dear Donia,

I have multiple family photograph albums with the black pages used in the early 1900s. My grandmother marked identifying names and dates in pencil on
the black photo album paper. I can no longer read most of them. Is there anyway to the make this faint pencil writing any clearer or darker? Thank you so much, Donna 

A. Dear Donna,

Black photo album pages like this are common as is the practice of writing names or other identifying information in pencil. The problem is that it is hard to see. One thing you can try is in a darkened room, take a flashlight and shine it sideways across the page (called raking light). Sometimes this can allow you to see the writing well enough to transcribe it onto paper so you can make a map of the album with each picture labeled. 

If this doesn't work, you can try digitizing the pages. It is not guaranteed to work and can damage the album itself if you are not careful, so really try the first option from different angles if your first attempt doesn't work.

Finally, sometimes the old techniques can be useful. If you have a #2 pencil that is good and sharp and a light-weight piece of paper (like tracing paper) you can put the tracing paper on the album page and, with the side of the pencil, gently rub over the writing to see if you can get an idea of what is there from the impression left by the original pencil. Be very gentle when you do this so you don't make your own new impressions.

Hope this helps. It can be very difficult to read graphite on black pages so just keep trying.