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A Sticky Situation - Removing Photos from Those Evil Albums

If you recall two weeks ago I shared with you the story of a photograph that I discovered and wanted to preserve. After creating a digital copy of it, I then handed it over to Top Hat Photo Repair who did an amazing job restoring it. Go ahead and check out the results I'll wait. Now our attention turns to removing the much damaged old photo from the evil sticky photo album. Why not just leave it there? Because there is something written on the back, and well you know, I’m a family historian and enquiring minds want to know. It may not tell me anything, but what if it does?

I’ve done some research on removing old photos; at this point I’m not as concerned with maintaining the photo since I have a beautiful restored copy but removing it so I can read the writing on the back.

The photo is a picture of my great-grandfather and great-grandmother about 1906-1914. One of the children in the photo I believe is my grandfather. If the writing on the back indicates which child is my grandfather then I can narrow in on the date, and probably identify some of the other children. As well there are a couple of unidentified adults in the photo and perhaps the writing will reveal their identities.

My research on Google came up with several options.

Option 1: Dental Floss (unwaxed) Slide back and forth between sticky page and photo.
Option 2: UN-DU a scrapbook product applied to back of photo.
Option 3: The freezer - leave for a few minutes but not so long to cause condensation on photo.
Option 4: A sharp knife (now with clarification, some recommend this, others do not)
Option 5:  I consulted the curator at the Norfolk Historical Society. Helen suggested a tool that scrap bookers use; it’s thin but dull so it won’t cut through the photo.

Knowing the fragile condition of the photo, I quickly eliminated the UN-DU product and the freezer.  I’m down to the dental floss, scrapbooking tool and the sharp knife.  The dental floss was a fail. It worked nicely on some other photos in the book that were intact and stuck but it wasn’t happening for this photo. It just couldn’t get between the picture and album page. The photo paper is so thin at this point. I need a very thin sharp edge to pry the photo off the page.  The scrapbook tool did not have a sharp enough edge but I could see working well for other photos in a less fragile state.  Its clear there is only one option at this point – a sharp edge not a dull edge is my only option.

Understand I am entering into this knowing full well I may lose the photo, but take comfort in knowing I have a restored copy. I enlisted the help of my husband and I attempted the removal of the photo – the thin sharp blade we chose was the blade from an x acto knife.

 We first cut the page out of the book. 







We very slowly moved the blade, edge down, basically scraping the photo off the page ever so gently.  The use of a light directly on the picture helped. I held the light when I wasn't taking photos. 




We also found it easier to cut the page apart into a smaller piece to manage it better.






There was one particular area of the photo that was very difficult of course that was in the area of the writing. This took a great deal of time –it took us 90 minutes to remove the picture.





It is difficult to make out here but with the help of my magnifying glass and tweezers, I am to able read most of what is written and confirm my grandfather is in this photo.







The Results

I would be lying if I said the photo wasn’t a little worse from the wear and tear but it is still in tack. It can now be stored in a proper archival photo album; I will include a copy of the restored photo alongside it and a label of those identified. So did I get the answers to my questions?

Yes and No?  
         
I was able to confirm through the photo and in comparison to other photos, my mother’s memory of the photo and through the little bit of writing on the back that the young boy standing in front is my grandfather. I estimate he is about 3 1/2 years old; the baby his mother is holding is his brother.  I can therefore narrow down the date of this picture to 1909.

The writing on the back did not identify all the people in the photo which was a disappointment. Overall, it was an interesting experiment; I hope it helps other family historians who may come across a similar sticky situation. 

Read Part 1 - A 100 Year Old Photo Restored for 100 More!