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 [graphic] National Register Bulletin: How to Improve the Quality of Photographs for National Register Nominations

U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service

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V. Storage of Film and Prints

Cool, dark, dry places are always best for conserving photographic media. Black and white media should be stored in dark areas with no more than 50 per cent humidity. While these are ideal archival conditions, they are rarely practical for most people. The general rule is to keep both prints and negatives in as cool, dark, and dry a place as possible.

Negatives should be kept in an acid free, dust free, dark environment using stable (low pH, i.e., low acid) envelopes in baked enamel filing cabinets. Current polypropylene and polyacetate holders are often termed archival. However, due to newness, no one knows how long they will last. Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) slide/negative holders should never be used, because they give off gasses that literally destroy emulsions. Easily identified by their glossy look and slippery texture, PVC slide holders are generally made of much heavier plastic than current holders.

Cardboard, black construction paper, manila envelopes, paper envelopes, non-rag bond paper, print holders such as so-called magnetic albums and albums that use non-acetate plastic are all unacceptable for storage. When buying albums, it is important to make sure the leaves are acetate plastic.

Acid-free paper envelopes are the best method for storing both prints and negatives. The only plastic that is acceptable for archives is non-PVC, as noted above. Film holders and print sheets are available in archival plastic, but for absolute safety and long-term storage, acid-free paper envelopes are superior storage media. Mylar transparent sleeves should be used for film.


photo of Statue, Garden of Shadowlawn, New Jersey
Statue, Garden of Shadowlawn, West Long Branch, New Jersey. (Walter Smalling, 1978)

There are numerous suppliers of archival photographic storage materials as well as information on photographic conservation. Two excellent publications devoted to the conservation, care, and permanence of photographs include: Eastman Kodak's Conservation of Photographs, (Rochester, New York: Eastman Kodak Company, 1985) and Henry Wilhelm's The Permanence and Care of Color Photographs, (Grinnell, Iowa: Preservation Publishers, 1993).


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