Evil Magnetic Albums!

I’ve been struggling of late with an old magnetic album – the kind from the 1970s with sticky pages and lethal plastic coverings. The consensus is that their adhesives are  damaging to photos.

As if that weren’t enough, my albums have peculiarly awful fluorescent floral covers. They look like something Monet would have painted at Giverny – on acid.

So:  Get ‘em out, put them in archivally safe albums, breathe a sigh of relief. Obviously!

But nothing’s every really obvious, is it? Not even with magnetic photo albums. I started reading and Googling and asking around, and the more I learned, the more conflicted  I became about two basic questions:

A. Should I dismantle the old albums?
B. If so, how?

Regarding Question A, the bulk of opinion out there favors removal from magnetic albums. (Older, non-sticky albums are another story – most conservators say to leave them alone.)

But a respectable minority points out that sometimes, photos are stuck in magnetic  albums so firmly that extracting them poses the risk of other kinds of damage – shredding the backs of the photos so that inscriptions are lost, for example.

Even so, I have decided it’s better that the photos come out. The clincher was a series of photos of an elderly couple whose identities were mysterious for years. The man bore a strong resemblance to my maternal grandfather, but any information on the backs was trapped against the evil magnetic pages. A couple of months ago, I gingerly lifted the plastic covering, and to my delight, out popped the photos. I had lucked into another common magnetic album possibility – the stupid adhesive just fails, and the photos slip out, no problem.

On the back of the photos were lots of inscriptions. Comparing them with recently acquired information about my grandpa’s siblings in Germany, it became clear the pictures were of his older brother, his brother’s wife, and their baby grandson, dating to late 1954 or early 1955.

Ta-da! Inscription revealed. Rough translation: "It's quiet; Baby Josef is still sleeping."

I just can’t ignore the possibility that inscriptions that were gibberish a few decades ago might make more sense in the light of recent family research. Coupled with the benefits of stopping the damage from the adhesive, the vote goes for removal.

So then there’s Question B: How to remove the photos?

There are many, many suggestions. Some advocate freezing the albums briefly to loosen the glue’s grip; some advocate using gentle, low heat from a hairdryer to soften it up. Some conservators are completely horrified at either of these suggestions.

A friend who is a scrapbooking consultant suggests using unwaxed dental floss, sliding it oh-so-gently under the photos to carefully loosen and lift them out. I like this method because it seems like a conservative approach to start with.

So I’m going to start easy, checking for photos that want to slip out by themselves. For those that remain, I’ll give the dental-floss method a whirl. I am also mulling the purchase of a kit of photo-removal tools, to deal with the pictures that resist the dental floss. For photos that resist even the kit, I plan to have a good cry and locate a professional conservator.

Needless to say, I am scared stiff. Wish me luck.

Edit: 1/2011: I’ve deleted the link to the photo-removal kit, since it doesn’t work anymore, and I can’t confirm that this item still exists, either. If I come across it again, I’ll share. Or if you come across it, share in the comments!

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3 Comments on “Evil Magnetic Albums!”

  1. […] My Achilles heel. Not only do I have evil magnetic albums, I used to have an Evil Photo Box until several years ago. I did finally get my photos out of a […]

  2. Well, the shoebox had better be acid-free :)

    The best albums are supposed to have acid- and lignin-free pages and a non-pvc polyester overlay. Of course, then you have the problem of stuff being advertised as having all those things, and then … not having them. Just another photo thing to keep us awake at nights.

  3. westchesterdead says:

    The tool is worth it. What do you put them in when you take them out of the albums? Is there a safe, acid free envelope or something, or do you just throw them in a shoebox?

    I would be inclined to put the more stubborn photo album pages in a microwave oven set to defrost, but I was the type of kid that used to light GI Joes on fire so as to give them that ‘battle worn’ look. I would completely understand if you were to ignore my advice.


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