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Cleaning old glass-plate negatives

Discussion in 'Everything Film' started by nf3996, Oct 23, 2017.

  1. nf3996

    nf3996 Well-Known Member

    This morning I ‘saved’ about 200 glass-plate negatives that were due to be thrown out later this week. They belonged to someone who has kept them in his loft for the past 36 years and is soon to move house. He had discovered them under the floorboards of his previous house in Woodford, Essex, many years ago.

    I’m still working my way through the negatives, but the majority appear to be images from which to make postcards. From the clothing and cars in some, I’d estimate that they were made in the 1920s. Several have a name scratched on them ‘A Mundy, Photographer, Radstock’, and some quick Googling reveals that there was such a postcard photographer in Somerset at that time. I wonder if Mr Mundy subsequently moved to Woodford.

    The condition of the negatives is pretty awful, as you can imagine after all that time under floorboards and in the loft – plenty of dust and ingrained dirt, and lost of damp stains. On many the emulsion has completely disappeared, or is so crazed and scratched as to be unsalvageable. However, there are a good few that with a bit of TLC could still be scanned and reasonable images produced.

    Apart from sorting the good from the bad, I’ve not attempted to clean any of the negatives yet, and I would be grateful for any suggestions on how to go about cleaning them. I’ve got plenty of ‘duds’ to practice on before moving on to the better images.

  2. Andrew Flannigan

    Andrew Flannigan Well-Known Member

    My first reaction is don't clean them. I'm pretty sure that anything beyond gently blowing the dust away is likely to do more harm than good. Much better to rephotograph (or scan) them and then work on the copies.
  3. nf3996

    nf3996 Well-Known Member

    I agree. I don't intend to touch the emulsion side - apart from removing the dust - but the plain glass side on most is pretty mucky too. Would a moist paper towel on the non-emulsion side be too risky?
  4. PeteRob

    PeteRob Well-Known Member

    If you have a local museum they may be able to advise on conservation.
  5. nimbus

    nimbus Well-Known Member

    The non-emulsion side is to all intents and purposes plain glass. As such it is not particularly vulnerable, the emulsion side is another matter entirely, as you are already fully aware.
  6. Roger Hicks

    Roger Hicks Well-Known Member

    On the glass side, alcohol or even window cleaner. Just don't let it get on the emulsion side. On the emulsion side, (a) brushing with a soft brush and (b) PEC-12. I have never used the latter but I have heard many speak well of it, even for glass plates which the site recommends against: test it on a real scrapper. ALWAYS scan before ANY attempt at cleaning, though.


  7. gray1720

    gray1720 Well-Known Member

    Do please share them when you get going - I love that sort of thing, have some of my great grandfather's glass plates.

    Sadly, it sounds as though most of them are going to be Somerset scenes - my area of interest is Essex, I think I've a few old ones in my Flickr (see link below, not going to add myself as am at w**k) - but they are often fascinating little windows into time.

  8. nf3996

    nf3996 Well-Known Member

    Thank you for your suggestions. I'll proceed slowly and carefully! The photographer was quite well travelled, as the scenes include Somerset, Wales, Essex and London, plus quite a few of Bourneville near Birmingham (and quite a few anonymous places). Unfortunately, many of the images are in worse condition that I expected, but I'm still hoping some will be salvageable.


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