Tuesday’s Tip: Dismantle Those Framed Photographs

Tuesday’s Tip: Dismantle Those Framed Photographs – today. Did you inherit framed family photographs? When framed photographs are donated to an institution, archivists always disassemble the frames and usually store the photographs unframed.

Archivists do this because framers often used cardboard and scrap wood to back photographs and hold them in the frames. In some cases, we have seen photographs where the acid in the wood backing has reproduced the knotholes and texture of the wood perfectly right on the photographic print … and ruined the photograph in the process.

Does this mean you shouldn’t have framed family photographs? Of course not. But do disassemble vintage photographs from their frames to check on the backing being used. You can still use the vintage picture frames. Just have your local framer replace the backing with acid-free materials (aka museum mounting).

And it doesn’t matter what the frame is made of – the backing should be checked in all instances. You can keep your wooden frames in use if you have the framer redo an acid-free backing.

Another advantage to checking behind those framed photographs is that there may be other treasures tucked away. While visiting my mother last spring, I was taking a small photograph of my grandmother and father out of its frame when two carte-de-visites taken in Sweden tumbled out. Isn’t that great?

Let me know what you find when you take advantage of Tuesday’s Tip: Dismantle Those Framed Photographs. And for more information on caring for your family photographs and papers, click here.

About the Author:

Nancy Loe has an MA in American History and an MLS in Library Science and Archives. She has appeared on PBS’s American Experience, at Rootstech, SCGS Jamboree, and state and regional genealogy conferences. Her website was featured in Family Tree Magazine's “Social Media Mavericks: 40 to Follow.”


  1. Sassy Jane Genealogy 15 January 2011 at 10:58 AM - Reply

    Elizabeth, I hesitate to made any recommendations when I haven’t actually seen the image because there are so many variables. First scan the image (if you haven’t already) because it’s possible that it will be damaged beyond repair during the rescue attempt.

    This happened because there was humidity or moisture in the air and the glass was directly touching the image. If you don’t use a mat with your framed photographs, ask the framer to put spacers or risers in the corners to keep the glass off the print.

    In the archives, we’ve floated images off of the glass in water baths and once I think a hair dryer worked. If you still have a local camera store, I’d go there and ask if they could do it.

    And this discussion board covers most strategies:


  2. Elizabeth O'Neal 14 January 2011 at 4:58 PM - Reply

    Great tip, but what to do with those framed photos where the picture has adhered to the glass? I have one in particular like that (might have gotten wet at one time?), and when I tried to remove it from the glass, it ripped. Any tips for how to do this safely?

  3. Geniaus 12 January 2011 at 1:55 AM - Reply

    Thanks for the tip. …so relevant.
    We have a couple of cartons of old photos in frames. They need attention I will delegate this job to Mr Geniaus.

  4. Sassy Jane Genealogy 11 January 2011 at 9:34 PM - Reply

    I’d check the metal (Victorian) frames as well since the backing is the biggest concern.

    Excellent idea to frame the copy, Lisa. The less exposure to light that your vintage prints get, the better off they’ll be.

  5. Greta Koehl 11 January 2011 at 3:28 PM - Reply

    This is a good reminder. I don’t have any wood-framed photographs from my family, but I do know that my husband’s family does. We’ll have to check those out next time we visit.

  6. Lisa Wallen Logsdon 11 January 2011 at 10:38 AM - Reply

    Great advice! I like to take the originals out and store them after making a copy. I then frame the copy and save a scanned image on my computer.

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