JAIC 1999, Volume 38, Number 2, Article 5 (pp. 176 to 185)
JAIC online
Journal of the American Institute for Conservation
JAIC 1999, Volume 38, Number 2, Article 5 (pp. 176 to 185)




It has long been thought that moisture may be detrimental to albumen photographs. Cracking and roughness (Messier and Vitale 1994; Vitale and Messier 1994) and fading (Reilly 1980) are all believed to increase due to the changes that occur in the albumen layer and paper substrate when subjected to cycles of wetting and drying. The dissimilar responses of gelatin emulsions and their paper substrates when exposed to varying moisture levels have been demonstrated to promote significant stress levels and crack formation in photographic prints (McCormick-Goodhart and Mecklenburg 1992). The deterioration of albumen prints may be produced by a similar mechanism.

The study presented here is an expansion of the work by Paul Messier and Tim Vitale (1994; Vitale and Messier 1994), in which they found increased cracking in albumen prints subjected to aqueous treatment. Messier and Vitale found that both the number and the dimensions of minute cracks in vintage albumen prints increased significantly after treatment with water, whether by immersion or damp surface cleaning. This effect is cause for concern, since it is sometimes necessary to use moisture in the treatment of albumen photographs. Wettings over the course of a typical photograph treatment might include damp surface cleaning, aqueous backing removal, aqueous adhesive removal, aqueous stain reduction, humidification and flattening, and lining or mounting with aqueous adhesives.

This project was designed to indicate which aqueous immersion media might be the least harmful to albumen prints. The four baths chosen were:

  1. deionized water
  2. ammoniated deionized water (pH 9)
  3. a deionized water:ethanol mixture (1:1 v:v)
  4. deionized water followed by immersion in ethanol.

An exaggerated treatment program was designed to more easily relate the degree of deterioration of the albumen layer to the different baths. Groups of newly manufactured albumen prints were repeatedly bathed in one of the four aqueous solutions, and changes in gloss were measured and compared. New print materials were produced for this study to provide some consistency in terms of fabrication and environmental history.

Copyright 1999 American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works