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Old, curled black and white prints


tom_mccabe
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Good afternoon. I have a friend with some 83 year old black and white wedding photos of her parents. They are curled up and she would like to scan them but is afraid of damaging the emulsions if she just uncurls them. My advice was to soak one of the prints in clean water and dry it with a blotting paper. Before she does so I thought I'd put the question out here for further thoughts. The prints are her parents wedding photos so they are precious. Does anyone have any experience with dealing with issues like this?

 

Thanks!

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I don't think I ever worried about cracking the emulsion, but then again, I never tried 83 years old.

 

If they are single weight (thinner paper) then they are less likely to crack.

 

I think soaking them in water is good, but it might be that could cause some other problems.

 

I do wonder about scanning them while wet. That avoids some problems that might occur in drying.

 

I am so used to RC paper, which dries almost flat. Years ago, I used single weight fiber paper,

which rolls up into tubes. I had a "Kodak blotter roll", which is a roll of blotter paper, blotter paper

with a special coating, and corrugated cardboard. You roll up the prints facing the special

(maybe plastic coated) side, and let them dry overnight.

 

I used that a lot for 7th and 8th grade yearbook photography.

 

Whichever one you try, try it for a few first, and then learn what works best and what doesn't.

-- glen

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You might try putting one or two in a sealable plastic box or bin with a wet sponge to humidify the paper (forget if it's resin). If it works, then scan, not wet, but damp. See how it works, do a few at a time.

 

don't over do it. watch out for mold.

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Soak in water, add an ounce of glycerin (from drug store). Air dry under a towel. Place a heavy flat object atop as they dry. When dry, they will be much flatter. They curl because the image is silver imbedded in gelatin, and it has shrunk while the wood pulp paper base has not. Glycerin will add some moisturizer to the gelatin, and this will help.
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Soak in water, add an ounce of glycerin (from drug store). Air dry under a towel. Place a heavy flat object atop as they dry. When dry, they will be much flatter. They curl because the image is silver imbedded in gelatin, and it has shrunk while the wood pulp paper base has not. Glycerin will add some moisturizer to the gelatin, and this will help.

 

(Many) years ago, I had "Kodak print flattening solution". It never worked as well as I thought it should, and wasn't all that cheap.

 

That is for new prints, not years old, though. Still, I wonder if it had glycerin.

 

I also used to have an actual ferrotype plate, but maybe used it once.

 

I used to use mostly single weight paper. One that I remember was having to buy

some for passport pictures, and got N surface, which I really liked.

(It used to be required that passport pictures be on single weight.)

-- glen

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I'd follow Alan Marcas' advice with the glycerine bath. Give them a long bath, and in my experience, a double bath of clearing solution (washaids, clearing baths). This may help archive these wedding photos. And, though I cannot articulate it plainly, enlivens the photographs, especially matte surfaces.
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The paper base isn't the issue. As Alan says, the gelatine drying out and becoming brittle is what needs to be addressed, and the easiest way to do that is total immersion in a lukewarm water bath.

 

Gelatine is a protein, and softening can be accelerated by adding a mild alkali to the water. Maybe a pinch of bicarbonate of soda to a quart of water. Glycerin won't accelerate the relaxing of the gelatin matrix, but it will help prevent it drying out again after re-softening.

 

If the prints were originally 'hardened' in a final processing bath and most likely glazed on a heated drum, then the curl may be quite stubborn to straighten out. But as long as any brittleness of the emulsion has been softened away, then pushing the prints flat should cause no damage.

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  • 2 weeks later...

The first question is how many prints and what is their size? Then it is important to know their surface, matte or glossy?

I helped a friend who had a stack of about 10 curled prints which were printed on 24x30cm paper Agfa Brovira double weight with a matte surface. We first separated the prints and put each one on a table between 2 acid free carton of a slightly larger size. Then we used a book as a weight for each print between the two cartons. Most difficult was to make sure the corners did not fold and all I can say I pushed down the corners of the smaller side, then held that from the outside with one hand, while the other hand pushed down the corners of the opposite smaller side of the sheet. It worked but took awhile. In the end there were 10 prints between carton on the table with each a book (photo books, ha) on top.

A week later the friend came back, the curling of the prints had diminished a lot, at least by half. I then used the least important print and a dry mounting press to press this print flat. The temperature of the press was at about half of what I normally do while flattening my own fiber prints. Which is 90 degrees Celsius, so I set the temperature at 45 degrees Celsius. Pressing this print took a little longer than usual, because of the lower than usual temperature of the press and I also decreased the tension of the press. The result was very good, so we did the remaining prints in the same way. After pressing I put these prints between acid free sheets for about two days, like I usually do. They came out fine and flat, and looked as if nothing had happened to them

Washing or wetting such prints I would stay away from, because you risk changing the surface, when glossy in particular. And, even after so many years, if the prints were spotted you probably change that. The spotting ink may disappear completely or partly, or you risk changing the color of the black ink used for the spotting, which can look awful.

 

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This print of my father's regiment in WWii is a good example of what can happen to an old print if it's just stuck on a flatbed scanner after curling up.

This is a small section of the whole print. You can see that a reflection from a stubborn curl has streaked the copy. There are also tiny cracks elsewhere in the emulsion that show up quite obviously. 

Flatbed-scan.thumb.jpg.4cfe74c46feaa4c440cb9cda30e95ea9.jpg

BTW, the cracking occurred some time previously when the print was put in a glass frame by my mother. The wrinkles have stubbornly resisted several years of being flattened in the frame. 

This is the same print copied with a digital camera using lights at 45 degrees either side of the print. 

Camera-copy.thumb.jpg.184572b919e8bb2d8ec7601ced43d827.jpg

The surface reflection has completely disappeared and the cracking shows up much less. 

No digital retouching was done or needed on the camera copy. 

So maybe there's no need to flatten the prints completely; just camera copy them, rather than use a flatbed scanner. 

Edited by rodeo_joe1
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