Preserving Your Scrapbook of Memorabilia

by Cassandra Volpe

A personal or family scrapbook is important evidence of the past. With proper care and knowledge of some basic preservation techniques, you can enjoy scrapbooks for generations.

A good storage environment is of primary importance: Temperature 65-75 F; 35-45% Relative Humidity; low light levels, and a clean area away from potential hazards such as water pipes, rodents, etc. is best. Attics, basements, and garages usually don’t qualify.

The basic problem with scrapbooks is the variety of materials combined in one volume; i.e.. newspaper clippings, photographs, printed matter, ephemera such as flowers, ribbons, locks of hair, etc. All of these items in one volume can cause damage to each other and strain the hinges of the scrapbook.

Methods and supplies to use

  1. Use only acid-free and/or alkaline buffered (archival) folders, scrapbooks, pages, and envelopes.
  2. Use a pH testing pen for testing acidity in existing and new storage materials.
  3. If possible, remove all pins, staples, paper clips, rubber bands, and other damaging fasteners.
  4. Mount documents and photos with acid-free mounting corners or use a water-soluble adhesive
  5. Photocopy clippings on archival copy paper. Making archival copies of all important documents and storing them in a separate and safe location is a good idea in case of disaster and reduces damage to the original from handling.
  6. Place fragile documents in transparent polyester sleeves (Mylar D is one trade name)
  7. Photographs require special handling. Important photographs should be copied in a professional lab in black and white. Request a copy negative as well as a print. Color prints and Polaroids will fade within a few years.
    1. Use only polyester, polypropylene, or polyethylene for enclosures for photographs. These plastics are inert and will not interact with the emulsions.
    2. Use archival photo albums. These contain heavy weight acid-free paper; use archival photo corners;
    3. Try not to write on photographs. Stay away from the image area. Write on the white border if at all possible, with an archival pen or soft pencil. If you must, write with very light pressure on the reverse of the print.
  8. Wrap oversized albums and overstuffed scrapbooks in acid-free tissue and store flat.

A Few Don’ts

  1. Do not use pressure-sensitive adhesives (tape), rubber cement, white glues, metal clips, pins, rubber bands, or staples.
  2. Do not write on a document or the emulsion side of a photograph with magic marker or ball-point pens.
  3. Do not use “magnetic” albums or any polyvinyl chloride plastic sleeves.
  4. Avoid dirt, dust, sunlight, and water in the storage environment.

With careful handling and some protective enclosures, your scrapbook can give you many years of pleasure.