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How to Preserve Your Oldest Photographs

Author: The Printique Team

An old-fashioned camera and photographs on a table.


Your most treasured photographs are often the ones at the highest risk of being damaged. Learn what you can do to help your photos withstand the tests of time.
From vintage postcards to antique daguerreotypes, photographs are not only a treasure trove of historical value, but also priceless family heirlooms — some could even fetch you a hefty sum at an auction. But mold, sun damage, and plain-old wear and tear all pose a threat to these relics of the past. What can you to do to protect and preserve yours?

What’s in a Name?

To understand how to prevent damage to your old photos, we first need a better understanding of the elements that compose them.
According to the American Institute for Conservation (AIC), photographs typically consist of three parts: the image, created by dyes, pigments, or other chemicals; the binder, a clear substance in which those chemicals are suspended to hold the image together; and a primary support, a backing of paper, plastic, glass, or metal.
Depending on the photograph’s age and type, it can face any number of potential threats — luckily, there’s plenty you can do to prevent it from being tarnished. When in doubt, a professional conservator or photography expert can offer specialized care and preservation for your photos.

Protecting Your Photos

Some types of damage are easy to prevent with plain old common sense, according to the AIC. Photographs should be stored in an area where they’re safe from pests like insects, as well as from dramatic fluctuations in temperature or moisture — that means avoiding areas like attics, basements, and even outside walls.
Photos do best when kept in areas with a temperature around 68°F, relatively low humidity, and with minimal exposure to intense light.
What about storage materials? The American Museum of Photography advises that photos are best preserved in specially-designated “archival” storage products, “specifically designed for long-term stability.”
When buying, look for labels like “archival safe” or plastic with the number 5 in the recycling symbol and the letters “PP” (for polypropylene, an archival-safe plastic). Photos should also be matted with acid-free materials.
But of course, different types of photos all need different types of care. Shopping for archival photo materials can be complicated, even in an average retail store — imagine trying to restore cover glass on a 150-year-old daguerreotype!

Preservation for Posterity

Restoring and protecting antique photos can be difficult and confusing. In its 188-year lifespan, photography has produced a wide array of styles and techniques, each with unique qualities and unique archival needs. Hiring a photography professional is the best way to ensure your cherished photos are preserved.
The experts at Printique can reproduce these original works in personalized albums, all on high-quality, durable photo paper. When you place your trust in our expert team of developers and our state-of-the-art printing technology, your photos will not only look better, but also last longer.
Whether it’s a treasured ancestral portrait or a candid Polaroid, your photos are worth taking care of. They aren’t just pieces of paper — they’re pieces of history, and with Printique, they’ll be preserved with the care and professionalism they deserve.