Sealed with a Kiss
9/27/2009
Encapsulating means never having to say you're sorry because your precious photos and documents have deteriorated. Follow our step-by-step guide to sealing your treasures safely in plastic.

My sister's idea for a cousins reunion was great for our family, but rough on our family photos. We hadn't all seen each other together in more than 25 years, so we agreed to bring the pictures taken of us when we were kids. Being a wonderful hostess, my sister plied us with potato chips and lots of other greasy snack foods. But can you imagine what happened to all those old photos being touched and handled by greasy fingers?

I was more fortunate than my cousins, because I'd protected my photographs before the reunion by encapsulating them—basically, sealing them in archival plastic. Encapsulation protects your photos from the elements, including rough handling. The oils and acids in our fingers can unwittingly cause physical deterioration when we touch old photos. Even just placing one photograph on top of another can cause surface scratching and abrasions. The easiest way to prevent this from happening is to encapsulate your photographs. The process works just as well to protect documents such as birth, death and marriage certificates, letters and so forth.

You have several choices for encapsulation. For example, you can purchase plastic sleeves with pockets and slide your photographs into the pockets. There are also other forms of protection you can make or purchase from any archival supply catalog, like clear, self-sealing envelopes. These forms of encapsulation do offer some protection, but they're not ideal. The best encapsulation method is also one of the easiest: binding two pieces of Mylar together with double-sided archival tape, leaving a tiny "breathing space." Another advantage to this approach is that it allows you to view both sides.

Although encapsulation looks like lamination, it's a completely different process. You should never laminate a photograph or document under any circumstances. Lamination actually binds the document to the plastic—so it's a destructive process, while encapsulation is a preservation process.

David L. Mishkin is the president of Just Black & White in Portland, Maine, a custom photographic processing lab that specializes in copying and restoring historic and family photos at www.main.com/photos. Its clients include many museums and historical societies. You can contact him at photos@maine.com.

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