Getting the most out of Old Photos

Old family photos are a treasures and we should treat them well. And we should re-photograph them while they are still in good condition.

A lot of really old photos are deteriorating

Some of the family photos we are dealing with go back to the 1860's and are already way past their expected use by date! A good example is the wedding photo of Thomas Spencer and Rebecca Hooper taken in 1869. At nearly 150 years old it is in remarkably good condition. With this photo, the two major problems are a tear in the print and a metallic sheen starting to show in the image probably due to breakdown of the silver chemicals in the print.

Recently I rephotographed one of the original prints of this photo. I say one of, as the words "A Dozen" are written in pencil on the back of the mount suggesting there are possibly 11 more copies out there somewhere.

I already had a copy of the print but the process of re-photographing the original was definitely worthwhile as you can see in the copies below. Damage like tears or other marks on the print can usually be fixed using Photoshop or other similar software.

Make sure you keep the photo studio frame.

Photo studios often put there name on the mounting card or even sometimes they embossed information into the print itself. This information can be as useful as the photograph itself.

A good example is the photo below of Absalom Sherwood Spencer.

The photo frame on this image shows it was a taken at Carl & Co - 710 George St Haymarket. There is a lot of material about early photo studios available and what this mount tells is that the photograph was taken in 1887, as Carl & Co only occupied that address for that one year.

We know from May's Diary that Absalom was in Sydney in November 1887, just after his 40th birthday . There is a good chance this was a birthday photograph taken on that trip.

Don't throw out photographs if you don't know who they are of!

The photo of Absalom is a great example. It was in an old album belonging to Jack Saunders. It had originally belonged to one of his Aunts, who was long dead and who had lived at Wirra Warra when the Spencers where at Cuttabunda. All it said under the photo was Abs.

Jack Saunders showed me the album one day and said "I have no idea who any of the people left in the album are". On the next page was a photo just marked "Bert". It was a wedding photo of Albert Edward Spencer (my Grandfather) and on the next page with no name but from the same photo studio was a wedding photo of Elsie Colles (My Grandmother).

If you have old photos, re-photograph them before its too late. Use a digital camera set on the best image quality available. Don't use a phone or tablet if possible.
I am happy to re-photograph originals as long as either the photo can get to me or I can get to the photo.

Ian Spencer