I wonder if you friend could describe the photographs in more
detail so we could work out the process and therefore the chemistry used.
Perhaps you could also ask if negatives are in the same storage container.
Negatives were for some time made from cellulose nitrate which is pretty
unstable. If there are negs there it’s worth separating them from the
prints and putting in a metal tin. Cellulose nitrate negs are VERY flammable. What
are the photographs stored in? I wonder if anything was added to the container
to deter bugs?
The main processes used around that time were albumen and gelatine
silver and I can’t think of anything that would chemically break down and
have such an effect. There is at least one conservator on the list so maybe
s/he could chime in.
From: Paul Viapiano [mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org]
Sent: 06 December 2009 08:29
Subject: question re: old photographs late 1800s-early 1900s
friend of mine just came across a trove of family photographs from this period
and as he puts it:
"...in those days it was
customary to have your portrait taken and have them printed on postcards and
send them friends & relatives, we found many amazing beautiful portraits of
people we didn’t know. I shipped a bunch out and have them here now. The
question is that when I handle these photos from 1900 – 1920 my nostrils
and throat start to burn. Is there some chemical in these old prints that could
found in this incoming message.
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