Archival Answers: Case Work

By Memory Makers magazine Premium

Q. I recently inherited a pile of old family photos that includes tintypes and daguerreotypes. How should I care for these unique old photos? Can I store them in my albums?

A. “Cased” images such as tintypes (shown in the peach frame) and daguerreotypes (matted in brass) arc some of the earliest forms of photography. Tintypes date from 1856 to the early 20th century, while daguerreotypes go back as far as 1840 and remained popular for the next 20 years or so. Both processes involved printing the images on metal.

Your scrapbook isn’t the best place for these one-of-a-kind photos. Instead, make copies to use in the album, then safely store the originals. David Mishkin, president of Just Black & White, a Portland, Maine, photo-restoration lab, recommends placing tintypes and daguerreotypes in envelopes made from acid-free, lignin-free paper; polyethylene; or Mylar. They’re available from archival suppliers.

Once they’re in envelopes, store tintypes and daguerreotypes in an acid-free, lignin-free box for additional protection. Keep the boxes in a temperature-and humidity-controlled environment. Ideally, the temperature should be 68 degrees and the relative humidity shouldn’t exceed 50 percent (10 to 20 percent lower is acceptable in both cases). One of the best and easiest storage spots: a safe deposit box at your local bank.
To create copies of the cased images for your album, you can enlist the help of a professional or use a digital camera to photograph them in good but diffused lighting (to prevent glare). Learn more about digitizing your family archive in our Photo Rescue e-book.
From the May 2006 issue of Family Tree Magazine.