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Collections Care 9: protective enclosures: case studies


Want to know which protective enclosures we chose? Want to know why we chose the ones we did?

There is no "one size fits all" answer to which protective enclosures to use, but you may remember some of the "rules" to follow in the decision-making process – if not, take another look at Collections Care 8 before reading on.

At Gloucestershire Archives collections are brought to us in plastic bags (including rubbish bags), stationery folders, envelopes and boxes. Here is one example:

The envelopes in this box contain glass negatives. We’ll show you what we did with this collection later, but as you are more likely to have a mixed collection, that is where we’ll start.


This is the Ivor Gurney collection, a special collection for which we managed to get some grant funding. We knew this would be a valuable collection that would be requested regularly, so we wanted people to see it without handling it.

It was also a relatively small collection, so we decided to opt for archival ring-binders with archival polyester album pages. They come with different pocket arrangements from single A4 or folio, to multi-pocket slide or even negative strip pages. All materials pass the "Photographic Activity Test". If you have a mixed collection including documents, photographs, postcards and ephemera, and you want to be able to look at it regularly, this is a good solution – but keep it somewhere cool and dry.

In the foreground, you can see one of the larger photographs from the collection that was too big for the ring-binder box. These we protected with paper folders and support boards that we made to measure from photo-safe materials, and housed in "clamshell" or "drop-spine" boxes of the nearest size (different names are used for the same type of thing by different suppliers).


Here’s another collection of negatives, this time black and white 35 mm film in non-archival ring-binders (including PVC covers), with several loose pages. What to do with this rather large collection?

We know the film is polyester based, and therefore pretty stable. Other earlier film stock is not, so it is important to identify what you are looking at.

Archival quality polyester/polyethylene storage pages would be a good option, as we know they "pass the test", and would allow viewing and contact printing without removing negatives. However, this was a large collection with several folders and hundreds of pages, and it would have been very expensive and time-consuming to put all the negative strips into new pages. Also, you may have spotted the small paper labels identifying the strips. Most of these were still in place (although some had fallen off!), and to remove these and reattach them to new enclosures would have taken time that we just didn’t have!

As the original storage pockets appeared to be in good condition, and the collection was to be kept in an environmentally stable strongroom where we could control the humidity and temperature, preventing them from going too high, we decided to simply re-house the existing pages in new archival quality, photo-safe boxes. At least this provides better protection for loose pages and reduces the risk of dissociation by their loss or misplacement, fully protects the contents from dirt and dust, and in combination with our monitored and controlled storage areas reduces any impact from fluctuating environmental conditions.

You may have spotted the use of sticky notes here on the new box. These were used temporarily while we were in the process of transferring pages. They should never be used directly on original items or for long term labelling of protective enclosures.

Labels should never be attached to collection items, but do need to be securely fixed to enclosures. Archival quality self-adhesive labels are available from suppliers, or you could write directly onto the outside of the enclosure. Lightfast and waterproof pens should be used (but keep them away from the collection items themselves!) – or if printing, use a laser-jet printer (not ink-jet).


Remember the glass plate negatives in the dog food box? We re-housed them in paper four-flap enclosures (the white ones at the top of the picture) and then inside photo storage envelopes. Two protective enclosures around each glass plate means we can avoid touching the surface of the photograph when getting them out for people to see. Think in terms of taking the enclosure from the item rather than the other way round (more on handling techniques later). All four flaps of the inner enclosure can be opened to allow inspection over a light box avoiding the need to remove the plate entirely or handle it directly.

We stored them standing on their edge (to reduce the risk of breaking) inside a small hinged-lid box with metal-reinforcements for added strength (the grey box on the right). We used an archival polyethylene foam (the white stuff under the glove box and packet of envelopes), to line the box and to make spacers between the negatives. We also use this foam as a safe surface for working with glass. All these materials pass the test!

As several pieces of glass are surprisingly heavy together (and fragile!), we labelled the box “Contains glass”! Notice the vinyl gloves (important to wear when handling photographs!), and the 2B pencil to copy the numbers onto the new archival envelope to avoid dissociation (Collections Care 4 and Collections Management 1)! But if your collection has been labelled by hand by the photographer/collector and this adds value to the collection, you may want to consider keeping original wrappings rather than discarding them – you could put an archival four-flap enclosure inside the original envelope if there is room. Not ideal but preserving intangible aspects is important too and yet another thing to think about – "value" comes in different forms.


For more information see our links at the end of Collections Care 8 for recommended authoritative sources on storage materials and labelling for photographic collections. See also:

• the Guidelines on the "Care and conservation of photographic materials" from Institute of Conservation (ICON) and theGraphics Atlas on identifying different types of photograph.

Page updated: 17/11/2020 Page updated by: Ally McConnell

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