Conservation of Historic Photographs

Ambrotype of Louisa McLoughlin Rae
Ambrotype of Louisa McLoughlin Rae before conservation. Note the scratches in the black lacquer on Louisa's dress.


The Fort Vancouver museum collection contains a number of historic photographs. In the summer of 2010, a collection of daguerreotypes, ambrotypes, tintypes, and other photographs were shipped to the Northeast Document Conservation Center (NEDCC) in Andover, Massachusetts.

Included in this collection of images was the historic daguerreotype of Dr. John McLoughlin seen below. To conserve this photograph, NEDCC conservators first disassembled the dageurreotype "package," which consists of the daguerreotype itself, printed on a glass plate, a brass mat, cover glass, a brass preserver, and the leather covered case. Compressed air was then used to remove dust and debris from the surface of the image.

When the package was re-assembled, the cover glass was removed and replaced with borosilicate glass. Glass made in the nineteenth century is inherently unstable, and will inevitably deteriorate over time, making its replacement necessary.

Also included in this conservation project was the ambrotype image of Louisa McLoughlin Rae, Dr. McLoughlin's granddaughter. The ambrotype process creates a faint negative of an image on a glass plate. When the finished plate was placed in a case, it was backed with black material, which could be lacquer, cloth, paper or metal, to make the image appear positive. Over time, the black lacquer that backs some ambrotype images can flake, and this was the case for this image of Louisa.

NEDCC conservators resolved this problem by placing a piece of archival-quality, PAT-tested black paper behind the plate. This paper will help to preserve both the image and the remaining lacquer.

McLoughlin daguerreotype before conservation
Daguerreotype of Dr. John McLoughlin before conservation


McLoughlin daguerreotype after conservation
Daguerreotype of Dr. John McLoughlin after conservation. Note the removal of dust on the darker areas of the image.


Last updated: February 28, 2015

Contact the Park

Mailing Address:

612 E Reserve St
Vancouver , WA 98661


(360) 816-6230

Contact Us