Safely Removing Photos from Old Scrapbook Paper

photos on black scrapbook pageDear Donia,
Can I safely remove photos from old black scrapbook paper by dunking them in hot water?

Q. Dear Donia,

I have some old pictures from the 1920's and 1940's that are in a scrapbook that was in an attic. They are mostly of my grandmother and relatives. The photos were glued to old black scrapbook paper. I want to remove these photos from the black paper because I know there is writing that tells who is in the
picture. I have seen a video of someone dunking the photo into hot water and peeling the paper off that way but would the photo be alright along with the writing? Is this a safe way or is there a safer way? Thanks, Corlyn

A. Dear Corlyn,

I have similar photo albums from my grandmother and have had the same problem you have with not being able to see the writing.

Dunking the photo into hot water to get the backing off may be quick but is not a good idea. The hot water can damage not only the writing on the back but also the image itself. The better way is to take your time and be patient. To do this, you will need a pallet knife or a butter knife. Gently pry the photo off the black paper (it should come up fairly easily since the black paper is brittle) while keeping the photo flat. If you try to bend the photo back too much, you can crack the image layer or crease the photo which will leave lasting damage.

Once the photo is off the page, place it face down on a clean, smooth surface gently, and I mean very gently, scrap the excess black paper off the back with an icing spatula or a butter knife that does not have any serrations. Don't scrape too far as you will damage the photo but you should be able to get down to being able to read the writing on the back. Best, Donia