Preserving an Old Photo Print


Today’s Question: I recently found an old (85-90 years old) photograph that I would like to keep in storage and protect. It seems to be printed on a slightly thicker paper and from the fading around the edge looks like it had been in a frame. It’s otherwise in surprisingly good condition. I know there are archival sleeves out there but I’m not sure if that’s the best option and what specifics I should be looking for.

Tim’s Quick Answer: The very first thing I would do is make a digital copy of the photo to preserve the image. I would then store the original print in an archival acid-free container that will prevent exposure to light and store the container in a relatively cool and dry location.

More Detail: While you certainly want to preserve the original print in this situation, I also think it is important to further preserve the image itself by creating a digital copy. This can be done with a digital camera, ideally using a copy stand with two lights positioned at a 45-degree angle to avoid glare.

To preserve the original print the key is to ensure optimal conditions to avoid deterioration of the print. To begin with, I recommend using acid-free containers designed for preserving photos. This can include special sleeves for the print itself, for example, along with a box to help further protect the print. Both should be acid-free to help prevent damage to the print.

Ideally the print would then be stored in a relatively cool and dry place. That means a temperature of around the lower range of room temperature, or about 68 degrees Fahrenheit. The humidity should be relatively low at around 30% to 50% relative humidity.

While there are a variety of sources of products designed to safely store photographic prints you want to preserve, I’ve found a good range of products available from Gaylord Archival, which you can find here:

Just be sure that the items you choose are acid-free and designed for photo preservation. You may also find the information on this page from the Library of Congress to be helpful: