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  1. #1

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    Cleaning Old Prints & Negs

    I am scanning a large number of old (back to early 20th century, and possibly earier) negs and prints of family and ancestors. Most of the prints are not mounted, and many of them are not clean - anything from tape residue to peanut butter, I suppose. I am doing well with the negs cleaning with a graphic arts cleaner called Film Kleen. When I was in the army, I saw contemporary prints cleaned occasionally with something like this. I have some prints I don't want to take a chance with, and haven't tried cleaning them yet.

    I also have a gallon of Isopropyl Alcohol that is 100% (or nearly so, purchased from a druggist), so I could use that too.

    Anyone know what is best - for the negs and the prints?

  2. #2
    Bob Carnie's Avatar
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    George all I can say is to be careful , and I will be watching this thread with interest. I do a lot of this kind of work and presently I do not clean the originals.

  3. #3

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    Donít touch them with alcohol. The water content can do bad things to the gelatin.

    Instead use naphtha in small amounts applied with a Q-tip or small piece of freshly laundered cotton cloth and be GENTLE.

    I found that lighter fuel like Ronsonal works well and has a dispensing spout that allows as little as one or two drops at a time. Since this is lighter fuel you must be careful. There can be no source of spark or flame anywhere near.

    I and many others have used this for cleaning oily or gummy residue from negatives, slides, and prints for years without harming emulsions or the support or paper below. Iíve used this regularly since 1985.

    I have removed lipstik and even ballpoint pen ink (an oil-based ink) from prints that were to be copied using naphtha.

    Alcohol almost always contains water. Even anhydrous alcohol readily absorbs water vapor from the air above it in any less than full container because alcohol and water are perfectly soluble in each other.

  4. #4

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    Thanks, Bob and Ian for the comments. Let's see if anyone else weighs in.
    I'm kind of hoping for a comment from PE.
    I'll post my own observations when I do something.

  5. #5
    Greg Davis's Avatar
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    You can also wash them as you would any print and let them air dry afterward. The Kodak book "Conservation of Photographs" has quite a bit of information about doing this kind of work and may help.
    www.gregorytdavis.com

    Did millions of people suddenly disappear? This may have an answer.

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  6. #6

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    Hello George. I used to work in museums and I now do digital photo restoration for a shop. My experience is that older prints and negatives are usually not receptive to general cleaning techniques that can make much difference. Restoration is largely confined to major museums who would have the knowledge to undertake this with the purpose of archiving and it is my understanding that photo materials aren't cleaned so much as stabilised to retard further decay. I suggest you try contacting a museum curator in this field for sound advice - although someone on the forum may have more direct knowledge.
    There's probably nothing wrong with a surface clean using a dry lint free cloth (a moistened one won't necessarily be kind if the emulsion is cracked). Others may suggest naptha dampened cotton buds testing a small area for obvious surface dirt on negatives, but don't drag if it feels soft and don't try on split or cracked materials as uneven application could worsen the condition: I suggest researching this a little more. Personally, I would refrain from the 'Film Kleen' on old materials as the long term effects aren't known to me, despite the immediate results- for example the effect of the propellant/gas/alchohol mixture and pH of the moisture being absorbed into a sensitive layer. Don't forget, photo materials absorb moisture and gases they come into contact with.
    The question a restorer has in mind is exactly what is the nature of the problem, and unless you can identify the make up of the stains/dirt/fungus then any well intentioned remedy could be plain wrong in the long term. The key is to sympathetically extend the life of the material and storing them in acid free archival tissue and boxes would be a kindness. Many an old oil painting has been lovingly 'restored' to then blister and crack years later.
    Sorry to go on and not offer a solution, but I'm speaking with my museum 'hat' on.
    Finally, carry on taking advantage of restoring copies digitally, (Ctein has produced an excellent book - 'Digital Restoration from Start to Finish' ), and seek some museum guidance from someone who has actually done it if you want to pursue further.

    Regards, Mark Walker.

  7. #7
    Bob Carnie's Avatar
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    be very careful, I have seen a disastor.
    Quote Originally Posted by Greg Davis View Post
    You can also wash them as you would any print and let them air dry afterward. The Kodak book "Conservation of Photographs" has quite a bit of information about doing this kind of work and may help.

  8. #8
    Greg Davis's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bob Carnie View Post
    be very careful, I have seen a disastor.
    As have I. This is not work for the faint of heart. The problem with trying to re-wash old prints is that some printers and studios used all kinds of finishing techniques that aren't used now or disclosed. They may have varnish or be mounted to some kind of card stock, or who knows what else. In all honesty, your best approach is to either scan the original print or rephotograph it with a fine grained film on a copy stand. Both of these can then be retouched to restore the image.
    www.gregorytdavis.com

    Did millions of people suddenly disappear? This may have an answer.

    "No one knows that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father." -Matthew 24:36

  9. #9

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    Read Mark's post very carefully. Valuble prints/negatives are best left to the care of a professional restorer
    A rock pile ceases to be a rock pile the moment a single man contemplates it, bearing within him the image of a cathedral.

    ~Antoine de Saint-Exupery

  10. #10

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    Hello again, George. The age of your prints,etc. (upto a 100 years or more) would suggest that re-washing them would not be good idea as they may well disintegrate, or delaminate, or cause swelling and uneven drying or possibly create new problems. Washing would only be advisable for later robust materials that had been reasonably well produced in the first place and with particular identifiable issues that a wash could resolve, not necessarily for antiquities. Again, anything you apply in terms of restoration is a change and unless you know the results that change will bring about for the long term then 'don't try this at home.' Sympathetic (acid free) storage and even handling with cotton gloves would be something you can put into practice.
    I'm no expert, but just applying the general 'rules' of conservation from my academic and work related experience.
    Regards, Mark Walker
    (Sorry,if I repeated myself)

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