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A Custom Housing for a Historic Photograph

Purpose

The Archives recently received this photograph, an early gelatin print that is brittle and mounted on a friable, acidic board that has cracked completely in half; damage evident on the lower portion appears to be due to blocking, while the top and bottom edges of the photograph and support are also curling upward. In order to protect it both while it is in collections storage and being used by researchers, a custom housing was designed and created. The solution had to meet a few specific criteria: adequate support of the broken photograph; easy removal of the image from its housing without excessive abrasion to the fragile edges; and restraint of the curling edges of the support.

Author(s)

William Bennett
Smithsonian Institution Archives
600 Maryland Ave SW
Suite 3000
Washington, DC 20013
202-633-5872
bennettw@si.edu

www.siarchives.si.edu

Photo Credits: William Bennett

Publication: 2016

 

Figure 1: Portrait of the Younger Family, Accession 15-098.

Figure 1: Portrait of the Younger Family, Accession 15-098.

 

 

Description

The photograph rests in a housing composed of three elements—a three-layered base in which the photograph sits, able to separate into two pieces for easy and safe removal of the image; a magnetic over-mat that gently restrains the curling edges of the image; and a protective cover mat.

Figure 2: Overview diagram of the photograph housing

Figure 2: Overview diagram of the photograph housing

 Figure 3: Side view diagram of the photograph housing.

Figure 3: Side view diagram of the photograph housing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Materials, Tools & Supplies

  • Corrugated E-flute gray board
  • Archival matboard
  • Blue board
  • ¾” double-sided adhesive tape
  • Gummed linen and paper tapes
  • Rare-earth neodymium magnets
  • Steel shim
  • Polyvinyl acetate
  • Mat cutter
  • Scalpel
  • Microspatula

 

Construction

  1. The base of the housing was constructed first from corrugated E-flute board; three pieces, one for each layer, all cut to identical size.
    Figure 4: Base layers of corrugated board and matboard, all cut to size

    Figure 4: Base layers of corrugated board and matboard, all cut to size

    • The overall size of the housing was chosen to fit snugly inside one of our standard-size flat archival storage boxes for extra protection and safe handling.
  2. The bottom layer of the base was cut in two pieces so that approximately one-third of the board is above the cut and two-thirds are below, with the flutes of the corrugated board running horizontally.
  3. The middle layer was cut into six vertically-oriented strips, with the flutes of the corrugated board running vertically. Each strip was then cut in two across the horizontal axis to create a series of tongue-and-groove joints, alternating approximately one inch above or below the cut in the bottom layer. This creates the mechanism for fitting the two pieces of the base together.
    Figure 5: Middle layer of the base, cut into vertical strips to create the interlocking pieces.

    Figure 5: Middle layer of the base, cut into vertical strips to create the interlocking pieces.

    • Once the base was assembled, it became clear that fitting the two pieces together was tricky. To facilitate easier joining of the two pieces, the teeth of each joint were slightly tapered.
  4. To accommodate the thickness of the photograph in the top layer, the mounted photograph was placed on a light table with a sheet of Mylar atop it. The shape of the item was traced onto the Mylar, transferred to the top layer of corrugated board using a teasing needle to prick through the Mylar into the board, and cut out. The top layer was then cut in two at the same point as the bottom layer.
    Figure 6: Tracing the shape of the photograph and transferring it to the top layer of the base.

    Figure 6: Tracing the shape of the photograph and transferring it to the top layer of the base.

  5. All three layers were laminated together with ¾-inch double-sided adhesive tape.
    • With the base completed, the photograph has a secure support that allows the two pieces to slide apart and the object to be easily removed without fear of damage.
  6. A miniature facsimile of the reverse of the photograph mount was adhered to the lower right corner of the base top, to provide access to the manuscript annotations without necessitating the removal of the photo.
  7. The next piece, the magnetic over-mat, was fashioned next. A piece of archival matboard was cut to the same dimensions as the base; a window was then created with a mat cutter.
    • This allows the photograph to be viewed while still restraining the curling edges of the object. Because the edges of the photograph are not square, the size of the window was based on the largest possible opening that still restrained the curving, irregular edges all along the perimeter of the image.
  8. Rare-earth neodymium magnets were sunk into the top layer of the base, four each along the top and bottom edges of the photograph tray, using a Japanese screw punch to create space in the top layer. The magnets were set in the punch space with polyvinyl acetate.
    Figure 7: The completed base, with magnets embedded in the top layer

    Figure 7: The completed base, with magnets embedded in the top layer

    • The magnets are set back from the edge to avoid contact with the photograph.
  9. The magnets were further isolated from the photograph and secured in place with strips of gummed paper tape cut to size, moistened with water, and pressed flat with a Teflon folder.
  10. Lengths of steel shim were cut to correspond to the magnets on the base. These were recessed into the reverse of the over-mat by tracing the shape of the shim, cutting partway into the matboard, and peeling out layers with a microspatula until the shim fit flush in the recesses. The shim was adhered with polyvinyl acetate.
    Figure 8: Recessing the steel shim into the reverse of the over-mat.

    Figure 8: Recessing the steel shim into the reverse of the over-mat.

    • The thickness of the steel shim, along with the size and number of the magnets, can be adjusted to customize the strength of the magnetic attraction to fit the needs of the enclosure.
  11. The mat was then attached to the base with a V-shaped hinge made from gummed linen tape at the top edge. This was done by laying the base and over-mat flat on a work surface, moistening the gummed linen tape, and pressing it flat with a Teflon folder along the hinge; this was then inverted and left to dry under weights. Once dry, the ensemble was flipped over and the edges of the tape were trimmed flush.
    Figure 9: Base and magnetic over-mat completed, with the over-mat attached with linen tape; note the facsimile placed on the lower right corner.

    Figure 9: Base and magnetic over-mat completed, with the over-mat attached with linen tape; note the facsimile placed on the lower right corner.

  12. Finally, a protective cover was created from blue corrugated board cut to the same dimensions as the other two components.
  13. This was attached with the same gummed linen tape used with the magnetic over-mat. Instead of a V-shaped hinge, the tape was applied to the exterior of the housing from the bottom of the base and wrapped around to the top of the cover.
    Figure 10: Attaching the cover

    Figure 10: Attaching the cover

    • This leaves the edges free, allowing the cover to fold completely flat behind the base for display or consultation.
  14. A warning label was affixed to the exterior, advertising the presence of strong magnets to users so that sensitive devices such as pacemakers are not exposed to damage.

With the housing complete, the photograph was fitted carefully into the base, the magnetic over-mat was lowered into place to gently engage the magnetic attraction, and the whole ensemble was ready to go into storage within a standard flat box.

Figure 11: The completed housing, ready to protect the photograph

Figure 11: The completed housing, ready to protect the photograph

 

Comments

Magnet warning: strong magnets such as these rare earth neodymium ones can disrupt delicate electronics like pacemakers. Those consulting the photograph should be warned in advance of their presence. In addition, while the design of this housing appears complex, this could easily be adapted and repeated with photographs that have similar needs now that the overall specifications are established.

 

Keywords

photograph, magnets, storage, custom enclosures

 

 

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