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Help in how to float an albumen photo off of it's mount?

Hello fellow British Photo History Members,  A very Happy Holidays and New Years to you all! I am seeking information about how to 'float' an albumen photograph off of it's mount. Here I have an early English of French photograph, 22 x 17cm, showing a great old tree, with a few young people, bottom left.

I think that it is either a varnished salt print, or an 1850s albumen print, as it has just a very slight sheen. It is mounted on a heavy page from an album, the reverse looks like it previously held CDVs. My idea is that there may be information on the back of the photo, so I want to remove it from the mount. I have successfully floated albumen prints from their mounts by soaking them for several hours in warm water, but am unsure about how to proceed after this.

Before I undertake this method on this photo, I would like to hear members experiences/ ideas about how to properly dry, press, and remount photos like these.

Any information would be appreciated.

Best wishes,

David McGreevy

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Comment by Ian Wallace on January 3, 2018 at 16:23

Great Article Marta.  It certainly shows the value of experimentation and insights it to the effect of the different approaches. Thanks!

It seems that the mechanical seperation protects the image but must be perhaps the most tedious method to undertake successfully.



Comment by Ian Wallace on January 3, 2018 at 14:50

Thanks Glenn/Clara,  its good to hear from someone who's done this professionally. Taking a print to a conservator would obviously be best for any really valuable image.  There are many less valuable but nevertheless interesting images in the hands of amateur collectors which are unlikely to justify the cost.   I have a number that are stuck to old and clearly not very acid free album pages and I can't help thinking they would be better lifted from them.   It would be useful to understand the amateur "Best Practice" for these. "Leave well alone" I hear you say.. and I appreciate I certainly I could do worse!   When is it justified to attempt to lift a print?   If the risk was low I would lift every image on an old album page, but its clear that the risk is not insignificant!

The suggested approach to the backing removal seems interesting, as in practice scraping the mount away sounds quite feasible so long as the image itself is on a good substrate.   

I plan to experiment with the alcohol water mix as the AIC scientific research does show it causes less damage to the structure of the albumin image than using water alone.  Its seems any approach can do more harm than good and I expect a great deal of patience is required for a good result. I assume Clara by controlled humidity you mean a way to make the whole thing "damp" to a known degree rather than "soaked".

Am I right in understanding Glenn that for "tenacious paste" you mean a flour and water mixture?



Comment by Marta Garcia on January 3, 2018 at 14:10

As Clara and Glenn suggested, I believe the safest bet is to contact a conservator of photographic materials. Albumen prints + moisture is not fully advisable. As Clara Prieto suggested, mechanical intervention may be the best way to proceed. A couple of years ago I did some experimentation in this area. The results can be found at the link (below) pp. 34-36. Is not a long and a thorough description, but it may give you an idea of the reactions I encounter when delaminating albumen prints (with different methods) and the complexity of the treatment.

With my very best wishes, 

Comment by Clara M Prieto on January 2, 2018 at 1:29

I agree with Glenn in taking your print to a conservator. Albumen prints are sensitive to moisture, also the albumen layer behaves differently from the paper support causing structural damage. Mechanical treatments as well as controlled humidity procedures had to be used to lift the secondary support, the heavy paper album page.

Best regards,


Comment by Glenn C. Samson on January 1, 2018 at 12:42

Hi,  I worked as a conservation technician for eight years and  treated a large number of albumen prints.  I would suggest taking your print to a conservator, especially if it is important to you.  Very often albumen prints were mounted with tenacious paste, and often the way to remove the mount is to soak it in warm water, lay it face down, and manually pull the backing off it or use a very dull scalpel and scrape the wet mount away.  This takes some practice and not all prints will release the same - therefore I strongly suggest a conservator.  Often salt prints were coated with gum Arabic, which is soluble in water - and a salt print will release from the mount quite easily in warm water.  I wouldn't suggest alcohol - the paste is water soluble, not solvent-based, so there would be no reason to use ethanol. But be safe and consult a professional.

Comment by Ian Wallace on December 31, 2017 at 22:58

This is the work I was thinking of form Journal of the American Institute for Conservation. Summer, 1999, Volume 38, Number 2, pp 176-185



Comment by Ian Wallace on December 29, 2017 at 18:07

Hi David,

I'd really be interested in how best to do this.  I read some research from the net a while ago and I believe the best mixture for lifting albumen prints is one with a alcohol and water.  I have it on my to do list to try to acquire some absolute alcohol for exactly this purpose.  I thought I'd try some less valuable images first. If I recall the alcohol helped protect the image in some way.  I expect  you might find the article if you search google.

I'm not sure about a varnished print.  I guess it would depend on the original varnish substance used.  If your lucky its not that soluble (though the a fore mentioned alcohol might dissolve it) and you just need to part the paste beneath the print.

It would be good to hear how museums do this conservation task.

Best Regards


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