The Archive Lady: Preserving Old Negatives

Karen from Florida asks: “I have a whole box of old negatives that I inherited along with a bunch of photos. I want to keep the negatives even if I have the photos that go with them. What is the best way to preserve these old negatives?”

Karen asks a great question and one that I get all the time in the archives. Many genealogists find themselves with old negatives in their photograph collections and they just don’t know what to do with them. First and foremost, negatives should never be put with photos in such a way that they are touching each other. Over time, old negatives could start to develop a vinegar odor or start to warp. This is a sign that the plastic is deteriorating.

When working with negatives, always wear gloves! Just like photographs, film negatives are susceptible to the dirt and oils on our hands and if they get on the film negatives they can be damaged. Always wear gloves when working with or handling photographs and negatives.

Always use gloves when handling photos and negatives

Always use gloves when handling photos and negatives

Store negatives in archival sleeves. These sleeves are available in all different sizes and shapes to accommodate any size negative. (A list of archival supply stores is listed below where these archival sleeves can be purchased). These clear archival sleeves safeguard negatives from dust and scratches when they are being stored.

 

Archival sleeve for negatives

Archival sleeve for negatives

Once the negatives are on the archival sleeves, they should be housed in a binder or box. Whether or not a binder or box is used is purely a personal decision and one that should be decided taking into consideration the amount of room a person has for storing negatives. If a 3-ring binder is used, it is recommended that one that totally encloses the sleeves be used. Here is an example:

3-ring binder for negatives in archival sleeves

3-ring binder for negatives in archival sleeves

This binder will fully protect the negatives from any unwanted elements from entering during storage. These binders can be purchased at any archive supply store listed below.

Another storage option is to use Hollinger boxes to store negatives. Using Hollinger boxes will also require purchasing archival safe file folders to hold the archival sleeves so they can fit nicely in the boxes. This preservation method will give the negatives triple protection from the elements.

Hollinger box example

Hollinger box example

The most important aspect of archiving and storing negatives is to store them in a very cool place. Heat and humidity will quickly damage negatives and break down the chemicals in the material that makes up the negatives. Keeping all photos and negatives out of the sunlight is also important. Not only will the sunlight damage the negatives by warping them but the sun will also wash out the image on the negative to where it cannot be seen any longer. Do not store any genealogical records, including photos and negatives, in attics, basements or storage areas where the temperature and humidity fluctuate.

Preserving negatives is just as easy as preserving our old family photos. Using the right archival materials and storing them in a cool, dry and dark place will insure they will last for generations to come.

Archival Material Websites

Here is a listing of online archival materials stores. They all have online catalogs and paper catalogs that can be sent to your home. Also, be sure to sign up for email notifications because they periodically have sales and will send out email notifications.

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If you have a question about researching in archives or records preservation for The Archive Lady, send an email with your question to: melissabarker20@hotmail.com

Melissa Barker - The Archive LadyMelissa Barker lives in Tennessee Ridge, Tennessee. She is the Houston County (TN) Archivist and a Professional Genealogist. She writes the blog, A Genealogist in the Archives, and has been researching her own family for over 26 years. She lectures, teaches and writes about researching in archives and records preservation. 

©2017, copyright Melissa Barker. All rights Reserved.

About the Author

Melissa Barker
Melissa Barker lives in Tennessee Ridge, Tennessee. She is the Houston County (TN) Archivist and a Professional Genealogist. She writes the blog, A Genealogist in the Archives, and has been researching her own family for over 26 years. She lectures, teaches and writes about researching in archives and records preservation.