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Flattening old curved prints

Alistair Dove , Jan 30, 2002; 02:19 p.m.

I have found some 70 year old black and white prints, apparently on RC paper. They have curved (concave on the print side) over time. Is it possible for me to flatten them without cracking the emulsion? If so, how?


Bill Tate , Jan 31, 2002; 12:08 a.m.

RC paper?? I don't think so. Surely they must be fiber base. They might soften in water, but after that long in a curved position they might not ever flatten.

Steve Bingham , Jan 31, 2002; 12:41 a.m.

Yes, these can be saved. If 70 years old they are fiber based. RC didn't come out into the 60s. Besides, RC images are rarely archival past 20 years or so. Try soaking the prints is a wash for 1 hour and then either ferrotype them or put them between blotter paper. Maybe use some print flattening solution in the wash.

Colm McCarthy , Jan 31, 2002; 12:08 p.m.

They must be FB papers at that age. You can easily flatten them. Let them soak in water for a few minutes then shake off the excess and place them between two sheets of blotting paper and put a good weight over them. I use a sheet of glass topped with books.

Incidentally, just because it's easy doesn't mean you don't have to be careful. The paper can be very weak and easily torn while wet so handle it carefully. Place the photos on the blotting paper either individually or side by side - not on top of each other.

Let them dry overnight then change the blotting sheets and weigh everything down again and leave them for another 24 hours just to get them totally dry.

DK Thompson , Jan 31, 2002; 01:07 p.m.

I'm a big advocate of just leaving old prints & negs alone, don't attempt conservation work on old photos yourself unless you know what you're doing...or it doesn't matter much to you if they get messed up....so my stock advice is to contact your state or local archive, history museum, maybe a library with a special collections room (genealogy wing) etc....if you can find one with a paper conservator, an objects conservator or at best a photo conservator this would be great....I work in a history museum & we do things like this in the way of "patron services"--we offer advice on care--but we deal mostly with furniture & textiles.....I'm not a conservator though...just a staff photographer.

Here are some suggestions (but if they were mine, I would leave them alone & try to find some advice from a professional conservator or an archivist at the very least)

That said, I would not rewet them or reprocess them....if they're severely curled--like in a tube--leave them alone & seek help. If you attempt to flatten them out, you risk cracking the emulsion...one way to deal with a *slightly* curled print is to place it face down (emulsion down) on a sheet of clean blotter paper..lay another sheet on the back, and place a piece of glass over the top of this sandwich...if you do this very carefully, and do it in an enclosed area like a small box or a tent, you can _slowly_ raise the humidity over a period of days....you don't want any mold to grow, but if you can relax the print enough, you may be able to flatten it a bit....another way to do this would be to lay it emulsion side down onto the clean blotter, and then *slightly* moisten the back of the print--do not wet the emulsion side-- and then place another sheet of blotter paper & lightly weight it down...but either way, the blotters and the glass plate etc., should all be bigger than the original...when it's all said & done (assuming you haven't made them worse) you should invest in some nice PAT approved acid/lignin free folders, and maybe a flip top Hollinger type (metal edges) box to store them in a cool & dry spot..so they won't curl again....

If these are hand-colored, look like they have chemical stains, have started to silver out, look like they have mold/mildew growing on them...all bets are off, and do NOT rewet them....you probably won't be able to afford a conservator, but you can at least seek out some good advice....and with that:Opinions expressed in this message may not represent the policy of my agency.

Good luck.

Alistair Dove , Jan 31, 2002; 01:18 p.m.

Thanks so much

I really appreciate everyone taking the time to answer my questions. Obviously I cant recognise paper types! I will be seeking some advice from conservationists about what to do, and will show all your suggestions.

Steven Zell , Jan 31, 2002; 01:22 p.m.

I have never tried this with 70 year old prints, but it works fine on badly curved or wavey modern prints as, for example, Oriental Seagull and Brilliant. If you can get access to a good dry mount press, heat up the press to about 200 degrees farenheit with preferably Three sheets of archival board within it. Then putting release paper both under and over the prints, put the middle board on top of the prints to hold them in place and the top board on top of that. Heat for a couple of minutes. Then remove and, protecting the surface, as with another mounting board, stack those prints of the same size and put a heavy book on them until they cool. They should be come out perfectly flat. Some words of caution if you are not used to using a dry mount press. Dust the boards, print faces, and especially the release paper carefully. Dust will leave an indentation. The middle board in your setup should be of a size you can easily handle carefully, that is, probably smaller than the outside boards that protect the platen. Only place under the middle board the number of prints that will FOR SURE not overlap nor stick out from under the board, otherwise you will get an unremoveable crease. Other than this need for care, it is quick and easy.

good luck, Steve

charles stewart , Jan 31, 2002; 02:42 p.m.

Continue as you say you'll do: consult an expert and be sure that you or the expert make photographic copies before proceeding with any treatment- as insurance against loss of the original - since there is a significant factor of risk in this sort of thing. Sometimes it can be done successfully, but all sorts of unforeseen consequences can result, and your expert may advise essentially doing nothing, as Mr. Thompson suggests. I've seen old emulsions come right away from the base material, for example. I'm senior photographer in a library conservation department. Good luck.

DK Thompson , Feb 01, 2002; 03:22 p.m.

You can be sure that a paper or photo conservator would never do anything to harm a print...they're in the business of stabilizing an item, not restoring it....preservation/not restoration...there's a big difference in the archive/museum community here. The American Institute of Conservation has a nice FAQ about care, here's the link:


You may be able to get a referral through them for conservators in your area as well...worth a try, but it can be expensive to get this work done professionally....even on an institutional level, often this needs to be considered...that's why I said to try to find a public institution if one is nearby...oh yeah, most institutions will not do the work---only advise--they will not do appraisals etc, this is viewed as a conflict of interest etc, but we do offer advice of this nature to our patrons...usually on caring for family quilts, heirloom furniture etc. So, after all--if your state has an archive (all of them do) or a museum, or whatever...as a resident, you are the patron.... good luck, as always MY opinions only here.

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