5 Steps to Rescue Snapshots from Old Family Displays
Recently I was asked for advice from a friend who had come across a forgotten example of what is today perhaps the most common occurrence of “tape on your photographs”—the family snapshot display (see photos above).
Whether or not it’s wise for you to try and remove tape stuck to your photos depends on a host of factors involving both the tape and the type of photograph it’s adhered to. When in doubt, always consult a trained conservator, and for more information please see the list of additional resources at the bottom of this blog.
Today, however, we’re going to take a quick look at something you often can address yourself—preserving photographs taped onto homemade snapshot displays.
Step 1: Find Your Family Photo Displays
This sort of photo display is common at birthdays (see photos above), graduations, anniversaries, family reunions, and a host of other celebratory occasions or important events, even funerals (see photo below), and are sometimes kept assembled for sentimental reasons.
The problem arises when the event is over, and we’re left with important photos and snapshots that were sometimes hastily adhered to cardboard or posterboard displays with doublestick tape, masking tape, even duct tape. They’re also frequently stored for years in attics or basements, where you’ll need to go find them.
Step 2: Remove the Tape (if Possible & Safe)
In the images above and below, the snapshot being used as an example has already been carefully removed from the cardboard display it was attached to, and placed face down on a clean, dry work surface. Exercise caution when removing your taped photographs from your display so as not to bend or tear them.
In the right-hand image above, the tape is being pulled off the photograph in the direction matching its “orientation” by “peeling it back” rather than pulling it straight up (see the dotted red arrow at the top). The second piece of tape was also peeled off in the same direction it was applied (see the solid red arrow on the tape), all while securely holding the opposite edge of the snapshot with your free hand to provide some stability and leverage.
While not usually associated with preserving photographs, a regular hair dryer—set on low—can be used to gently warm the tape to make this step a bit easier.
Step 3: Address Any Adhesive Residue
Once as much tape as possible has been removed from the snapshot, you will probably notice a sticky adhesive residue on the back of the photograph. To address this simply cut a piece of acid-free Archival Paper or Archival Thin Paper slightly smaller than the image in order to place it over the back of your snapshot (see photos above). Adding this thin acid-free backing will keep the photo from sticking to the scanner you’ll use in the next step, or to the pages of the photo album or to the interior of any enclosure or sleeve in which you may wish to place it when finished.
Before placing the Archival Paper or Archival Thin Paper backing sheet, check for any important information that was written or printed on the back of the snapshot. In this case the light red Kodak stamp (see blue box) includes the date the image was printed: February, 1981 (see red arrow). This information can help you date the snapshot for future reference—and future generations—and is an important aspect of preserving photographs.
Step 4: Scanning
With its acid-free Archival Paper sheet in position—which is being held in place by the tape residue it’s covering—the snapshot on the left is ready to be scanned to create a digital file as a backup of the original, and to allow you to print additional copies or email to relatives.
In the image on the right, two snapshots were being scanned. The lower snapshot (the white rectangle) has it’s acid-free backing in place and stayed on the scanner platen when the top was opened after scanning. The upper snapshot does not have this backing, and the adhesive residue stuck it to the cover of the scanner. You’ll want to avoid this situation in your photo albums and enclosures.
Step 5: Archivally Store the Original
Once scanned, the snapshot is ready to be placed in a Print Page & album, or into an archival print storage kit (see photos above), both of which come highly recommended for preserving photographs. If creating an album, Print Pages will fit into any one of a number of different styles of archival binders (see photo below) to be safely stored and enjoyed for years to come.
At the end of the day, preserving photographs taped to your family displays is well worth the effort. And should the need arise to assemble another homemade photo display in the future, you can safely use printouts of your scans so you won’t have to worry about putting your originals in harm’s way ever again.
In closing, we hope you’ll call or email us here at Archival Methods with any additional question you may have on preserving photographs in your family archive. We also hope you’ll take a look at the following blogs and third-party websites for more information on tape & your photographs.
Please click here to see our blog on Conservators: Pros You Should Know
Please click here to see a response to Removing Tape from a Vintage Photograph from the Smithsonian Institution
Please click here to see a short piece on Sticky Tape Removal