Up Close and Personal

Preservation of Personal Treasures & Family Heirlooms

Scan, Retouch, and ReprintA Funny Thing Happened On My Way To Work. . . I bumped into an old friend while leisurely walking down the street one sunny day last week. We briefly exchanged news, and I was saddened to hear that his father had recently passed away.

Later, we met for coffee, and he asked me to look at some old photographs he had discovered while cleaning out the family home. There were some very interesting artifacts, mostly photographs, letters, some original watercolour paintings and three war medals.

I was reminded of my own closet full of family heirlooms, carefully wrapped and hidden from everyone, including me!

Old photographs have a timeless quality, and a powerful capacity for drawing emotional attachment and meaning to one’s personal history. Typically, any photograph that has travelled from generations past will have some ‘wear and tear’ from being handled, or possibly signs of mold from being stored or displayed in damp surroundings. My friend’s photographs were original monochrome prints, with an albumen (brown) tint, produced in Europe during the last decade of the 19th century. They all shared similar characteristics, namely scratches, faded areas, and this one even had coffee stains!

The solution was simple, although time consuming, and relatively expensive. The original prints were scanned at a high resolution, and brought into image processing software for careful retouching. Using the original as a reference, the colour and tonal values were closely matched, and the final image was reprinted onto a specially coated archival cotton paper, using a digital inkjet printer with pigmented inks. The results were stunning, but the project isn’t finished yet!

The final touch of elegance will be mounting the restored photographs onto archival backings, and attaching them behind a museum quality mat, then sealing them into wood frames with conservation glass.

The total cost of digital restoration, reproduction, and subsequent framing is shocking to most people these days. Many will try to do it themselves, using their own computer, scanner, printer, and paper — then stuffing it into a box store frame. Their results will vary, but most will fade quickly.

Hiring a professional with skills, experience, and special tools will ensure that your personal treasures can be handed down and moved around safely for generations, in our increasingly mobile society. My friend will soon enjoy displaying his family history with pride, and embellishing the stories more and more as the years go by!

For anyone interested in preserving their personal collections and family artifacts, from yesterday and today, the American Institute for Conservation (AIC) has an excellent online resource guide. The website includes a section on ‘How To Care For. . .’  offering practical information for steps you can take at home, to help preserve many different types of artifacts, including books, fabrics, art, silver, glass, videotape, and lots more.