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Subject: Flattening photographic album pages

Flattening photographic album pages

From: Curry Lynn <lynn.curry>
Date: Wednesday, May 31, 2006
At Library and Archives Canada, the treatment of a collection of 66
albums containing 100,000 identified photographic portraits is
raising some challenges for flattening.  The albums of studio proofs
are part of a collection from the Ottawa based William Topley
Photographic Studio (1868-1923) representing 55 years of documentary
heritage, including genealogy,  and the histories of Canada,
photographic technology, fashion and style.

The albums contain either albumen or silver gelatin photos adhered
with starch paste and the pages left to dry on their own, causing
severe distortions (warping of the pages).  As images were
continually added to the albums, the pages became more and more
distorted, and eventually the photographs were adhered to already
creased and warped pages, thus preventing full adhesion of the
photographs to the album pages. Over time, the photographs have
curled, along with the thin paper support pages, causing undulations
of up to 1 1/2 inches over the surface of the pages, resulting in
the breakdown of the binding structures.  The fragile photographs
have succumbed to these stresses resulting in splits, blisters and
creases.  The albums are ledger style, with machine made paper, with
blue ruled lines that are extremely water soluble.

Flattening of the album pages was recommended for the following
reasons, to relieve stress on the photographs, enable access for
handling, exhibition and copying, and to enable the reassembly of
the albums in their original bound formats.

A humidification protocol was developed that is gentle on the
photographs, and does not cause the blue ruled lines to bleed: 24
hours in a humidification chamber at 100%RH.

To date, a number of flattening techniques have been tried.

    1.  Hollytex and blotters under board and weights

    2.  Hollytex and blotters under boards and weights with various
        thicknesses of compensation strips (Hollytex, Japanese
        tissues, thin blotter) to account for the thickness of the

    3.  Hard-soft sandwich

    4.  Karibari board

    5.  Hollytex and blotters in nipping press

The best result is the first, just under weights however it is not
perfect. The problem seems to be from the creased support page,
under the photographs, which has no where to expand due to the
adhesion of the photographs.  The pages and photographs end up
relatively flat overall, however there are tiny creases around each
photograph.  This phenomena occurs with all five methods of
flattening.  Removal of the photographs is not an option as there
are over 100,000 images in the 66 albums.

This may be as good as it gets and we may have to accept the small
creases, after all, the goals of the treatment have been achieved:
relieve stress to the photographs, enable access and reassembly of

Discussion or suggestions on flattening are encouraged.

Lynn Curry
Book Conservator
Care of Collection
Library and Archives Canada
625 Boulevard du Carrefour
Gatineau Quebec K1A 0N4
Fax: 819-953-0150

Tania Passafiume
Conservator, Photographic Records
Care of Collection
Library and Archives Canada
Fax: 819-953-0150

                  Conservation DistList Instance 19:59
                 Distributed: Wednesday, June 14, 2006
                       Message Id: cdl-19-59-020
Received on Wednesday, 31 May, 2006

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