When I acquire an antique photo album, I follow certain steps. I'm sure that an archivist would scold me, but I do the best I can to carefully document and remove the photos from their album pages.
|Example from Photo Album|
The first thing I do is photograph the album as it is. I take pictures of the front and back covers, then I snap photos of each album page (with the photos intact).
I don't fuss too much with this step as I am only interested in documenting exactly what photos was on each page, and the order of placement in the album.
This is my record which I save so that I can return the photos to the album if I choose to do that later.
Next I want to record whatever has been written in the photo album or on the front of each photo. First I have to decide on a name for the album. My usual method for naming an album is to see what surname is most recorded and use that. Sometimes I just start with the first identified photo and use that surname. It really doesn't matter what I name the album, it is just a way for me to distinguish between my collection of over 50 Civil War Era albums.
For this album I chose SUTTON as the name. I start with SUT-1 as the identifier for the first photo (using a 3 letter abbreviation of the album name and numeric order) on a blank piece of lined paper. I could record this on my computer using WORD or even EXEL but I prefer to use pen and paper for these first stages. So I begin with SUT-1 and the inscription, if there is one, for each photo. If there is no inscription I put a brief description of the photo - only a few words such as "head & shoulders, young woman, bow at neck"
I learned the hard way to leave a few lines blank between each numbered description on my paper. After I remove the photos I will be adding to each description whatever is found on the reverse (verso) of each photo. Sometimes there are hidden treasures - another photo tucked between two visible photos, or a lengthy description on the back, or the photographer's logo plus a revenue stamp and date. So I need lots of room to record this. Also, if I find hidden photos tucked between others, leaving room lets me add a subset of numbers. So if I have photos SUT-1 followed by photo SUT-2 but find a CDV tucked between those photos, I can add SUT-1a to my documentation. Using the "a" designation reminds me that the photo was hidden.
My next step takes patience, a steady hand and lots of time. I'm not great with the patience part but I force myself to go slowly. I'm ready to carefully remove the photos from the album. This album is approximately 150 years old and most of the photos have been in it for that long. Pages are brittle and tear easily. Most of the photos are CDVs which are paper. Over the last 150 years some have stuck to the album inserts or to each other.
Each photo is back to back with another photo and although originally there was a thin paper insert between each one, that is often missing. The tintypes don't stick to each other but they are much thicker than the CDVs, with sharper edges that can tear and rip the album pages. They are often are more difficult to remove without damaging the album.
It's difficult to describe my method as it is all based on the feel of the photo in that album. I have a small tool I use for more difficult pictures but I'm a stickler for removing the photos without damage to either the album pages or the photos themselves so using a tool of any kind can be a bit nerve-wracking.
The tool I use has a rounded end (no sharp edges!) and is very thin so it can slide between the photo and the album page that is holding the photo in place. This allows me to gently "unstick" the album pages from the photo at which point I can carefully slide the photo out. Sometimes a photo comes partway and the only way to get it all the way out is to push on an edge. But this too is a tricky move if your goal is no damage. It can take me anywhere from one minute to 20 minutes to remove one photo from an antique album. I once spent over an hour getting one photo out.
As I remove each photo from the album I record what is on the verso. I also write on the back my own identifier name and number (SUT-1 for example) so that I know what album this photo came from and what it's placement is. I also add whatever was written on the album page for that photo. This step has given me a lot to think about. I have wrestled with my need to document and record each photo and my horror at adding anything to the original photo.
I would prefer to not alter the original photo in any way but with over 3,000 CDVs in my collection I worry that identification of a photo will be lost over time, or that I will not know which album it was found in. So after much thought and discussion with my husband, I've made the decision to record the album identifier and any identification on the back of each photo.
There are many treasures in these photo albums. In the Civil War era album I just received, I found two hidden CDVs tucked between other photos. The final total was 50 CDVs and tintypes. My next blog post will talk about some of the hidden treasures, and various photographer's logos and marks.