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Many of us are in possession of one or more magnetic photo albums. These albums, which first achieved popularity in the 1960s and 70s, were made from a thick paper stock coated with glue strips and included a thick Mylar plastic covering for each page. Conservators have discovered, however, that the glue used in those albums had a very high acidic content which can eat through the backs of the photographs. The Mylar plastic seals in the acidic fumes, causing deterioration to the image side of the photos as well. In some cases, the plastic covering used wasn't even Mylar, but PVC (Poly-Vinyl Chloride), a plastic which further accelerates deterioration.
If you do own one of these older magnetic photo albums full of precious family pictures then I advise you to do something NOW to try and prevent further deterioration. Begin by gently trying to peel up the corner of a photo that doesn't mean a lot to you. If it doesn't come up easily, then STOP. You will only end up ruining the picture. Instead, try one of these tips for removing the photos.
Tips for Removing Photos From Old Sticky Albums
- Dental floss can work wonders. Use a piece of unwaxed dental floss and run it between the picture and the album page with a gentle sawing motion. This how to remove photos from a sticky album video, from Smithsonian Archives Conservationist Fellow Anna, demonstrates the technique.
- Un-du, a product commonly used by scrapbookers, is an adhesive remover that may help safely remove the photos. It comes with an attached tool to help you get the Un-du solution safely under the photo to help release it. It is safe for use on the back of the photos, but be careful not to get it on the images themselves. Valerie Craft demonstrates the use of a microspatula and UnDu as a method for removing stuck photographs in this video.
- Slide a thin metal spatula (a micro spatula is preferred) gently under the edge of a photo and then use a hairdryer to heat the spatula as you slide it slowly under the photo. This may heat the glue enough to help you remove the photo safely from the album. Be careful to keep the hairdryer pointed away from the photo itself. This video from Hummie's World Digital Scrapbooking Tutorials demonstrates the hairdryer technique.
- Try putting the album in the freezer for a few minutes. This can make the glue brittle and make it easier to remove the photos. Be careful not to leave the album in for too long, however, as it may cause condensation to build upon the photos as the album comes back to room temperature.
- Some photo experts recommend using the microwave to try and loosen the adhesive. Place a page into a microwave oven and turn it on for five seconds. Wait five to ten seconds and then turn it on for another five seconds. Follow this procedure for several cycles - being careful to check the adhesive each time. Do NOT try to hurry the process and turn on the microwave for thirty seconds, or the glue will become so hot it will probably burn the print. Once the glue is dissolved, then you can try again to lift up the corner of one of the photos or try the dental floss trick.
If the photos still don't come out easily, then don't force them! If the photos are very precious, then take them to one of the self-help photo kiosks, or use a digital camera or digital flatbed scanner to make copies of the photos right on the album page. You can also have a photo store make negatives from the photos, but this can be more expensive. To prevent further deterioration, remove the Mylar or plastic sleeves and insert pieces of acid-free tissue between the pages instead. This will keep the photos from touching each other or the remaining glue.
You should also be aware that any or all of these techniques may damage any writing which may exist on the back of the photos. Experiment first with the photos which mean the least to you and see what works best for your particular album and photos.