The conservation of an historic photograph

The State Library of Queensland’s Collection Preservation is responsible for the conservation and restoration of the library’s varied collections.  Hannah Nguyen,  Preservation Assistant, recently completed the treatment of a silver gelatine print from the John Oxley Library collection.

Before treatment, the photograph titled The Eleventh Annual Queensland Dinner held in London, and dated June 17th 1897 (Acc. 7953), was mounted on acidic, poor quality matting board which was also brittle and discoloured.  A large area of print was missing and the photograph was covered in heavy surface dirt with the emulsion embedded with a line of white paint. The print itself was heavily silvered.


Before treatment

To begin the restoration, the print surface was cleaned with solvent. This process removed much of the surface damage including the white paint and greatly reduced the silvering.


During cleaning process

The mechanical removal of the photograph from the old brittle backing board was a lengthy process due to the boards poor condition, quality and multiple layers.


Removal of the backing

To repair the missing piece of the photograph it was necessary to infill the area of loss.  To do this, thick Japanese paper was toned using high quality watercolour to match the surrounding area of print and then added to the area.  An application of gloss and matte medium was then applied to create the same surface texture as the photograph.  Non-buffered 100% cotton photomount board was then used for the re-matting.  To complete the process, the original captions were attached to the new board.


End result

As well as preserving our own collection,  staff offer advice and services to Queensland's regional libraries, other organisations and members of the public.

By Hannah Nguyen (Preservation Assistant, Conservation Unit)

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