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Sally J, the Practical Archivist, warns....


"A sticky magnetic album is a Chemical Sandwich of Dooooom!"


  • Both the cardboard backing and the glue are acidic. Over time, acids causes what we call a slow fire that eats away at your photographic treasures.

  • And as if that wasn't bad enough, there's a vinyl overlay which causes additional damage. Ever wonder what that weird vinyl smell is all about? It's destructive chemicals leaching out of the solid vinyl material. Bonus tip: If any photo album smells like a shower curtain, keep it away from your photographs.

  • But we aren't done yet, folks. The photographs themselves are going through chemical changes over time, too. Your sticky magnetic photos albums trap the photograph in it's own chemical fog. Stewing in its own juices, so to speak. Not good.


We're talking about the worst photo

album ever designed, pretty much.



These chemical sandwiches of doom were popular from the 1970s through the 1990s. All of my childhood photos were carefully placed in this style of album. Ironically, the photos I never got around to organizing are in better shape.

Psssst...I *still* see them on sale occasionally. You don't want to be with me when I discover one of these babies being sold as "Photo Safe." I've been known to make a scene. But I digress.

Where were we? Oh, yes. Worst. Photo Album. Ever.


But, don't panic!

You can rescue your photos without damaging them,
and it's easier than you think.

Practical Archivist's Photo Rescue Kit $25 + $3.75 S&H




Read on to learn more...


From Common Lab Item to Photo Rescue Wonder Tool

Archivists and conservation professionals use a nifty tool to gently remove all kinds of stuck items. It's called a microspatula, and it wasn't created for this purpose at all. No, sir.

Normally, it's used by dental assistants and chemists to scoop powdered chemicals and add them to skinny test tubes. Nothing whatsoever to do with removing photographs from sticky magnetic albums

...and, yet?


If I were to design a safe removal tool from scratch,
this is exactly what I would create:

  • It's sturdy, but also ever so slightly flexible.

  • It's long enough that you can use it sitting in a comfortable position instead of hunched over.

  • It doesn't have any sharp edges that could accidentally ruin your photo.

  • (It's a separating tool, not a cutting tool.)


Thanks to this wonder tool you can rescue your photos while you enjoy a funny movie or swap stories with your favorite friends and relations.

Your Photo Rescue Kit includes ALL the

tools & info you'll need for Photo Rescue:

  • 1 Micro-Spatula, Wonder Tool of Photo Rescue
  • 1 pair of white cotton gloves to keep the oils and salts on your hands away from your treasured photographs. This is probably the easiest thing you can do to extend the life of your photos and negatives.
  • Photo illustrated instructions so you know how to use the tool correctly and safely.
  • Soft No. 1 pencil for marking the back of vintage prints.
  • Stabilo pencil for marking the back of modern plastic-coated prints.




Why *Two* Pencils?

You have two different kinds of photos in your collection. These two pencils are all you need to mark every format safely.

The golden rule of preservation -- like all golden rules -- is simple and eady to remember: Do Nothing You Can't Undo. There are lots of reasons for this, including the uncomfortable truth that some conservation treatments used commonly in the past are now known to cause damage. And they are irreversable. Oops.

So this (simple but wise) golden rule means no marking your photos with a pen. So that fancy schmancy Archival Pen you got at the scrapbooking store? Use it for journaling or writing captions, but keep it away from your photographs.

OK, no permanent ink, got it. But what's the big deal about these pencils?

A soft No. 1 pencil is the perfect choice for vintage photos that are printed on paper. You want the lead soft so you aren't tempted to push down hard as you write. If you do that you'll end up embossing the photo with your caption. It's harder than you think to find these pencils in a store. Even MaxDepot MegaOffice big box stores.

The second pencil took me several years to find. Regular pencil marks simply don't adhere to more modern plastic coated prints. I tried the No 1. pencil. No luck. I tried blue pencils, two kinds! At one point, I even considered lightly sanding one section on the back so it would take the mark from a soft No. 1 pencil. But that's waaaaay too fussy. Nobody has time for that! Not even folks like you and me who love their photos. My default advice was to use a permanent market on the back (gasp!) but to mark only along the edge. That way, when the ink bleeds through to the front many years from now, it won't obscure any faces.

I threw away that unhappy compromise when I found the incredible Stabilo All pencil.Now you can add information to the back of any photo. No smudging or smearing. And if you need to un-do your mark later? A gentle eraser will do the trick.


Photo Rescue Kit

A simple solution to the Chemical Sandwich of Doooom

Reserve your very own for only $25 + $3.75 S&H




I assemble these in batches of 100, which means that sometimes they run out. Until I'm ready to do another round of light assembly work. My helpers and I get our Photo Rescue Kits packed and ready to go multiple times each year. 

SO: If you get an "Out of Stock" message when you try to purchase, shoot me a quick email and ask to get on the waiting list for the next round. Send the email to: practicalarchivist+rescue@gmail.com.