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The care and preservation of masonic archives

by WBro. Stuart MacDonald

Over the many years Masonic bodies throughout the world have accumulated literally millions of documents in their archives. With many lodges now surpassing the two hundred year mark, individual collections have grown to a significant size. While it is true that many lodges have suffered the ravages of fire thus destroying a potion of their records, there are also a vast number that have come through the years with the records intact, for now.

In addition to the archives that are already in the possession of the lodge, there are those records and artifacts that are in the hands of individual members. These can range from aprons and jewels to books, rare documents, scrapbooks and physical artifacts of historical importance to the fraternity. Over the years lodges' have lost valuable artifacts and private archives when there has been no provision in the legal wills of the members providing for the bequeathing of Masonic related items to their respective lodge. This has resulted in these various items being sold off, discarded or lost. Every effort should be made on the part of every lodge to encourage their members to add a codicil to their wills to insure that these items are returned to the lodge after their death. What would be even more preferable is to have the various artifacts and archives turned over to the lodge prior to the member's death.

The care and preservation of these records is of paramount importance and a responsibility that lodges' should not take lightly. Every lodge, no matter what the Grand jurisdiction, owes a duty to the craft in particular and society in general, to ensure that their archives are preserved for the benefit of generations to come. With some basic care archival collections may be preserved for years of use. This paper has been prepared with that goal in mind and has been written for the use of Blue Lodges and concordant bodies, recognizing the limitations of time, money and expertise in the field of archival management

Prior to entering into the actual physical care of the lodge archives it is necessary that the appropriate policies be established by the lodge for the governance of the archives. The following is a suggested archival policy statement that may be adopted in full as shown or adjusted to fit the needs of the body in question.

____________ LODGE AF&AM, No. __, GR____

The Archives of ____________ Lodge exists to:

1. Collect and preserve archival material which documents the history and workings of the Lodge as a fraternal unit from the time of the granting of its first Warrant in ____ to the present;.

2. Arrange and describe these materials according to archival principles and make them available to Masonic historians and researchers, each of which must be specifically authorized by the Lodge Secretary and Lodge Historian (Archivist);

3. Provide adequate and appropriate conditions for the storage, protection and preservation of archival material.

The administration of this policy is the primary responsibility of the Lodge Historian (Archivist)

Access to the Archives of _________________ Lodge is strictly restricted to those who are specifically authorized by the Lodge Secretary and the Lodge Historian (Archivist) and, in any case, to Master Masons in good standing

Materials acquired by ______________ Lodge Archives shall become the permanent property of the Archives (and therefore the Lodge) until such time as the Historian (Archivist) deems them no longer relevant to the Archives, in which case the material may be deaccessioned. Deaccessioning will not take place without the written concurrence of the Lodge Secretary and Master at the time.

The Archives should deal primarily with textual records such as the:

  • Summonses and Minutes of meetings (including specifically but not exclusively, the minutes of Lodge communications and the meetings of any other lodge committee that may be deemed appropriate);
  • Copies of the By Laws of the Lodge, as they are amended from time to time;
  • Petitions for initiation, affiliation and demits;
  • Periodic reports to _____________ Lodge members and Grand Lodge;
  • Lodge correspondence (in-coming and out-going);
  • Textual records of significant events and anniversaries;
  • Registers of members and their individual Masonic records.
  • Manuscripts of an educational nature that have been prepared and presented by a member of the lodge or a guest speaker.
  • Physical artifacts such as aprons, jewels
  • Photographs of officers, members and significant events in the history of the lodge.

The Archives should normally accept only material that is specific to Freemasonry and to ______________ lodge in particular. Materials relating to other Masonic bodies with little or no reference to ______________ Lodge should not be accepted.

Physical artifacts (aprons, jewels, etc) will only be accepted into the Archives if they illustrate particular events, developments or the progress of Lodge history. Each such artifact should be identified as to date and original owner (in the case of individuals) or date and circumstances (in the case of Lodge items). Duplicates of items already in the Archives should not be accepted.

The Historian (Archivist) may also maintain a Library of books of Masonic material which may be lent to members for study.

Parts of the ____________ Lodge archives may be deposited with the _________________ Public Archives for safe keeping and long-term storage. When so deposited, access to those portions is also restricted as described above.


Once a policy is in place to guide the lodge archivist, the next step is to sort and catalogue the collection. This process has several benefits. First the contents of the archives are documented, secondly it gives the archivist an opportunity to sort the archives and remove those items that should not be included in the collection. It will also provide the chance to identify any documents that are historically significant and are starting to deteriorate. These items should receive first priority in the preservation process.

The purpose in cataloging or recording the contents of the archives is to provide a written record of the collection as well as to provide an efficient means of retrieval. There are accepted cataloging methodologies for archives which may be found in any number of books on the subject, and the lodge archivist is encouraged to inquire into them. When developing a recording system there are several important factors that must be taken into consideration, The first is "Provenance". Provenance refers to the "office of origin," or the person or body that created or received the records in the course of lodge or personal activities. This is also referred to as respect des fonds or respect for the source or creator. A second rule of archival arrangement is to preserve or recreate original order: the order and organization in which the documents were created and/or stored by the creator or office of origin. Original order is most evident in corporate, institutional, or government records, where organization and ease of retrieval were important factors in their creation and use. Private manuscripts and papers, on the other hand, often show little discernible original order, items may have been kept in a cupboard or in a box in the basement; their creator may have found a filing system unnecessary. Consequently, original order cannot be as inflexible a rule as provenance.

Think carefully when developing a cataloging system for your archives. The system should be one that you are comfortable with, that is easy to use and allows for quick retrieval, remembering that provenance and original order are the essential building blocks of archival arrangement.

An ideal method is the use of index cards, and is to be preferred over the use of written pages for it allows for the insertion of other cards when necessary. Not every document has to be recorded separately, however, this is where common sense must prevail. When reviewing a document the question that must be asked: "is the document being reviewed of historical significance in the history of the lodge?" If it is then it should be recorded separately on the reference card noting the name of the originator of the document, the date, the nature of the document (i.e. a letter to the Grand Secretary seeking the lodge charter) and a notation referencing other documents that relate to this one. Some records will be grouped together such as the correspondence of five years ago which may contain letters of a routine nature and as a result may be filed together with the catalogue card indicating "Lodge Correspondence 1996". If there is contained within that group a document such as a directive from the Grand Master of the day, a notation to that effect should be made on the card.

The cataloging of physical artifacts is slightly different from that of written documents. Photographs are to be catalogued using the same criteria of provenance and original order whenever possible. The problem that often arises with photographs is that there is often no indication as to when the photograph was taken, the event that was being recorded or the names of the subjects in the photo. This is where a little detective work can go a long way to obtaining the necessary information. With the assistance of the older Past Masters of the lodge, one or two subjects in the picture can be identified, the rest of the information will then come together with a little research. If for example the picture is of the presentation of a fifty year certificate by the Grand Master, identifying either the Grand Master or the recipient will allow you to track back in the minutes and nail down the date and with a little cross referencing the names of everybody in the photograph. Now that the date, event, and names are known this information is recorded on the reference card.

Jewels are usually an easy item to record for the name of the recipient and date of presentation etc. are normally engraved on the back of the jewel. There should be little difficulty encountered in the cataloging of such items. Aprons however are not always easy to document. Before attempting any documentation reference should be made to the Arrival Policy adopted by the lodge to determine if the apron should even be in the collection. If the article is deemed to be a valid part of the collection, check for the name of the owner under the flap on perhaps on the back. If present, a search of the lodge records will provide the necessary information. If the name of the owner is not present, talk to the older members of the lodge, they may be able to cast some light as to the period when that style of apron was in use. Talking to other lodges that may have similar artifacts in their possession may also lead to information as to the period when the apron would have been in use.

In summary the archival collection should be catalogued using provenance and original order in every record made. The following parts of the collection are to be catalogued:

  • Summonses and Minutes of meetings.
  • Copies of the By Laws of the Lodge, as they are amended from time to time.
  • Petitions for initiation, affiliation and demits
  • Periodic reports.
  • Lodge correspondence (in-coming and out-going).
  • Textual records of significant events and anniversaries.
  • Registers of members and their individual Masonic records.
  • Manuscripts of an educational nature that have been prepared and presented by a member of the lodge or a guest speaker.
  • Physical artifacts such as aprons and jewels.
  • Photographs of officers, members and significant events in the history of the lodge.


    There are a variety of factors that contribute to the degradation of archival materials. These include careless handling, poor environment, inappropriate storage, exhibition or framing, and improper cleaning and/or conservation. In this section these various factors are discussed with the hope that the current state of lodge archives might be improved.

    Handling of Archival Material

    Careless handling is by far the most prevalent cause of damage to archival materials. It can lead to tears, wear, loss of the image, creases and staining. The following guidelines are included to assist in the prevention of damage that can occur during handling.

    Clean white cotton gloves should always be worn when handling a book or document. Salts and oils from human hands can cause damage in the form of staining and can also transfer dirt to the paper surface. This may come as a surprise to some that there is actually another use for white gloves outside of the lodge room. If gloves are not available, care should be taken to ensure that hands are washed and dried frequently when handling the archival materials.

    All work spaces and table tops should be neat and free of dirt. When moving a paper or parchment document always support it from below. The safest method for moving the object is to slide a piece of stiff paper or matboard underneath the document so that the matboard (not the document) is handled. This is particularly necessary when handling brittle paper or parchment items that cannot support their own weight. Never lift a piece of paper by its edges, particularly if there are any tears present. Stacked paper objects should never be dragged or slid across each other. This can cause abrasion or smudging of their surfaces. It is preferable to lift them up one at a time.

    Books should be grasped by both sides, not by the upper edge of the book (endcap). This can lead to damage and tearing of the binding. If the sides of the book are not readily accessible (as is often the situation with books that are stored on book shelves), the book should be gently nudged forward on the shelf from the back so that it can be fully grasped with one hand.

    Never eat, smoke or drink in the vicinity of archival collections. Accidents can lead to irreparable staining or burns. It is a good rule to use only pencils when working on, or around, archival materials as pens and markers can cause staining. Never write on documents with a marker or pen. It can bleed through to the other side or can complicate future conservation work.

    Paper clips, binder clips, staples and post-it notes should not be used on archival materials. Metallic clips can corrode and leave rust stains on paper, parchment and fabric. If it is necessary to use paper clips, plastic covered clips can be used. Post-it notes can damage the media or paper surfaces. Extensive photocopying of books and documents should be avoided as it can lead to damage in the form of fading. The compression of books during photocopying can also break the binding and spine of the book.


    The overall environmental conditions under which archival materials are stored and displayed can have a great effect upon their longevity. Factors that can lead to damage include: pollution; pests; inappropriate temperature, relative humidity and light levels.

    The fading of dyes and pigments and the overall degradation of archival materials can be caused by a variety of pollutants, including sulfuric acid, nitric acid, ozone and formaldehyde. These chemicals can originate either from the outside air or from materials in the environment. Wood and leather, as well as some rubber and plastic materials, can produce acid vapors as they age.

    Air filtration is the most effective way to minimize damage due to pollution. Proper storage can help to prolong the life of works of archival materials, if air filtration is not feasible. Measures should also be taken to eliminate storage or display in the vicinity of materials that emit hazardous gases. Unfortunately, for composite objects such as books, incompatible materials such as leather and paper cannot be separated.

    There are a variety of insects that can damage paper and leather artifacts; primarily, silverfish, firebrats, carpet beetles and the book louse.

    Silverfish feed on mold and starchy materials that are found on paper. They are small gray insects (approximately 12mm in length) and have a scaly appearance. Silverfish are generally found in dark, cool and moist environments such as basements. Evidence of silverfish damage is visible as an abraded rough surface on paper materials.

    The firebrat is similar in appearance to the silverfish; however, it is somewhat darker in color. Like silverfish, firebrats also feed on mold and starchy materials; the major difference being that firebrats prefer environments which are warm, moist and dark.

    The book louse is generally found in heated buildings. They feed on mold spores that are found on paper and cardboard. Direct feeding by book lice doesn't cause visible damage to paper; however, their squashed bodies can cause staining. Book louse prefer high humidity levels (above 60%), and they reproduce at warm temperatures above 25 degrees C.

    Carpet beetles generally subsist on protein-based materials that are often present in archival objects; i.e., adhesives, leather or parchment. The presence of tiny black beetles (2mm in size), small worms or furry carcasses are an indication of infestation.

    In general good housekeeping is the best method of pest prevention. Regular inspections of stored collections provides the cheapest and safest method of safeguarding against infestation. When infestations are suspected, sticky insect traps can be placed under cabinets and cupboards. These traps do not poison insects, but they do aid in assessing the numbers and types of insects that are present. In general, insecticides should not be used on or in the vicinity of archival materials. Insecticides can cause the fading and discoloration of paper, leather or parchment. If you do find an infested item, place in sealed plastic bag and contact a professional immediately.

    Fluctuations and extremes in temperature and humidity levels can have a detrimental effect upon the preservation of archival materials. By far, the greatest damage to collections is caused by rapid fluctuations in relative humidity. Temperature and humidity are interrelated. In general, heated buildings have very low relative humidity levels in winter. Conversely, humidity levels are high in the summer months.

    Low humidity levels can cause: the drying out and embrittlement of materials. the shrinkage of vellum and parchment covers, resulting in warpage. High humidity levels can cause the swelling of paper and parchment materials, resulting in planar distortions. Coated papers to stick together, the transfer of inks from one surface to another and mold growth in levels above 60%. Ideally cool storage is desirable for archival materials; however, in the home, it is generally not practical. Therefore, damage should be minimized by avoiding extremes in temperature and humidity. This can be done by insuring that objects are kept away from heat sources such as furnace vents, fire places, warm lights and direct sunlight Excessive humidity, as can be found in most basements, should also be avoided since it can cause mold growth that can stain the surface of the object. Recommended temperature and humidity levels for the storage and display of collections are as follows:
    - Temperature: 67 degrees F, plus or minus 2 degrees F
    - Humidity: 47%, plus or minus 2%

    Another major cause of damage to archival materials is exposure to high light levels, which leads to fading of media, discoloration and embrittlement due to heating.

    The most damaging portion of natural and artificial light is Ultra Violet (UV). UV is the invisible high energy portion of light. This is the same energy that has been proven to damage eyes and skin.. The simple prevention is to place framed documents either on an inside wall (hallway) or on a wall that receives the least amount of light during the day. This includes such items as lodge charters, portraits etc. In addition to damage resulting from exposure to UV, visible light can also damage documents. The recommended light levels for display of paper materials in museums is very low. 50 LUX is the level that is recommended for short periods of time (6 months). Colored inks are among the most susceptible to light damage and should be displayed in dim areas, free from bright light sources. Media such as black ink can tolerate somewhat higher exposure levels.


    The proper storage and display of archival materials can help to minimize many of the factors that can lead to degradation.

    Paper Documents

    The encapsulation of documents within a clear plastic (mylar) envelope provides a simple method of protecting documents from dirt, dust and tearing. Encapsulation also allows for viewing of both sides of the document. Mylar envelopes and acid free boxes can be purchased from conservation suppliers. For large or odd size documents, sheets of mylar can be sewn together or adhered along the edges using double sided tape. The recommended tape is 3M #415 adhesive tape. Care should be taken to insure that the tape does not come in contact with the document.

    Encapsulated documents can then be placed into acid free boxes or folders for long term storage. Items that are not handled often can simply be placed in folders and boxes. All storage boxes, paper folders and tissue paper should be acid-free, lignin free and have a neutral pH. Acid that is generated by poor quality wood-based cardboard boxes and folders can cause the degradation of artworks stored within them.

    Severely degraded paper should be stored in buffered boxes that contain an alkaline reserve. Alkaline reserve buffers are chemicals that absorb acids that are generated by the degraded paper.

    In general, good housekeeping is essential to the preservation of artworks on paper. Routine inspection and cleaning of boxes and folders will aid in extending the life of collections.


    Bookshelves are the most common method of storing books. To minimize damage that can be caused by overcrowding, books should be packed loosely on shelves. The use of book ends can help to provide even support. Large books should be stored flat on shelving units. Rare and fragile books should be placed into individual protective enclosures

    Exhibition and Framing

    The display of documents and books in the vicinity of fireplaces or air ducts should be avoided since dirt and soot can be deposited onto the paper surface. The display of framed documents on exterior walls should be avoided as it can lead to damage resulting from moisture condensation on the back of the document.

    Matting and Framing

    Archival documents can be framed for display. The use of high quality, acid-free, lignin-free matboard is recommended. In general, paper objects should be framed using a window mat. Window mats provide space between the surface of the artwork and the glass of the frame to prevent the work of art from becoming stuck to the glass surface. The document should be attached to the matboard using only acid-free paper hinges and high-quality adhesives. Staining can be caused by contact with acidic or other poor quality materials, such as scotch tape or rubber cement. The recommended adhesives for hinging paper are wheat starch paste, methyl cellulose, and the ready-made paper framing/hinging tape that is available from suppliers of conservation materials. The use of ultra violet filtering glass and Plexiglas in frames can help to reduce damage from UV light.

    Repair and Cleaning

    Aside from obscuring text, dirt can attract moisture, mold spores and pollution. Dirt also has an abrasive quality that weakens the structure of leather and paper. In general, the cleaning and repair of paper materials should be carried out by a professional conservator. If you wish to carry out some surface cleaning, the following procedures should be followed:

    Surface Cleaning

    Paper and parchment documents can be lightly dusted with a soft brush to remove surface dirt. Prior to dusting, the art should be inspected carefully to insure that there is no loose or powdery media or surface that could be brushed away during cleaning. Any additional cleaning of parchment should be carried out by a professional conservator. If brushing does not remove sufficient surface dirt, dry eraser pads such as Opaline and Skum-X can be used on paper. Again, this method of cleaning should only be used for stable images. To clean with Opaline or Skum-X, simply shake powder onto the surface of the document and very gently rub it over the surface of the paper. The powder should then be brushed off using a soft brush. Care should be taken to clean only the areas around the media, not the media itself.

    Always proceed with caution when cleaning. Over-cleaning can cause more damage than the dirt itself. Extensive wet or solvent cleaning should only be carried out by a conservator.


    The covers and edges of books can be brushed to remove surface dirt. An alternate method of cleaning is the use of a low-suction portable vacuum. A soft brush attachment and nylon screen should be attached over the end of the nozzle to catch loose fragments that could be vacuumed up during cleaning. All fragments should be saved since they can be reattached during future conservation work.

    Mold Removal

    Archival materials that have been stored in damp environments are highly susceptible to damage by mold growth. In situations where mold growth has occurred the mold must be removed before it can cause permanent staining or contamination of other objects.

    The safest method of mold removal for paper items is the use of a brush and a small low-suction vacuum cleaner. Mold spores can spread through the air and must be contained. The Canadian Conservation Institute has devised an inexpensive method of making a vacuum that traps mold in a glass vial containing water .

    If a vacuum cannot be constructed, an alternative method is to brush the mold off the surface of the paper. This must be carried out in an area where other paper and objects will not become contaminated. During the summer, this work could be done outdoors. Frequent cleaning of brushes is essential.


    Every Masonic archive is going to have within it's collection leather aprons reflecting the history of the lodge. From cataloging the collection, the name of the owner has been determined, now attention must be turned to preservation. Leather has it's own set of criteria that must be followed to properly conserve these artifacts. The following guidelines will enable this process to be successfully undertaken: Cleaning
    There was a time in the not so distant past that all leather objects in museums were routinely subjected to a saddle soaping for preservation. It has been found that unnecessary washing of leather is unwarranted and may actually be detrimental to the leather. First, it removes along with dirt, some of the natural moisture of the leather. Secondly, it is much harder to remove excess saddle soap residue from the leather than may be supposed With this in mind, the general rule of thumb is that the use of saddle soap to clean leather should be limited to objects with light oily/dirt soiling The cleaning should be judicious and limited to those soiled areas of the object and not the entire object!

    The saddle soap should be of a top quality such as Propert's or Kiwi. Proper applications begins by brushing the leather with a soft brush to remove all surface dust, etc. Then, saddle soap is worked into a lather with a soft, damp sponge (not wet). The lather and only the lather should be applied to the object and rubbed in a circular motion with a nearly dry sponge. The sponge should be rinsed and squeezed out to remove all dirt and water before it is re-applied to the leather. This step is repeated 5-6 times to assure that all soap residue is removed. Directly applying saddle soap without water is detrimental to leather. It is very hard to remove residue effectively without using large amounts of water, that, in turn leads to damage. Apply the lather and work in with a short swirling motion. The object should be left to air dry (not force dried) in its normal shape.

    Preservation Treatment:

    The most common forms of deterioration in leather are due to prolonged dryness, mold, mildew and fungus, U/V light, insects and vermin, and last but not least, the reaction of the 'tanning' with atmospheric pollutants such as sulphur dioxide (acid rain). Thus, leather needs to be protected from these agents of deterioration. Mold, mildew, fungus and pollutants can be detetted through the application of a solution of 7% Potassium Lactate and 1/4% Paranitrophenol to the object. If the object shows signs of mold spores, it should be brushed with a medium nylon bristle tooth brush to remove the spores before application of a protective solution such as Talas Leather Protector. It is a deacidifier, cleaner, buffering salt and fungistat which will also prevent the occurrence of 'red rot' which so often attacks vegetable tanned leather. It is basically non-toxic to humans, but rubber gloves should be worn when applying any solvents, liquids, etc. The protector should be applied sparingly but thoroughly, using a soft cloth or sponge. It should be allowed to soak into the leather and air dry. This product is very valuable in conserving your leather objects.

    'Feeding' the Leather:

    Dry, rigid or brittle leather may be made flexible again by proper lubrication or replacement of natural moisture with emollients such as Neat's foot oil, cedarwood oil, lanolin or a combination of these. The proper ratio of Neat's foot oil to lanolin is 60% Neat's foot oil to 40% lanolin. Since lanolin generally is found in a semi-solid form, it has to be heated to reduce it to a liquid before mixing with the Neat's foot oil. This is a purist, traditional method of making leather dressing which is unnecessary in today's applications. Talas markets a pre-mixed leather dressing combining these two oils. It is marketed as Talas Leather Dressing. Probably the best all around leather dressing is British Museum Leather Dressing or BMLD. It was developed by the British Museum and consists. of lanolin, beeswax, cedarwood oil and hexane The lanolin and cedarwood oil lubricate the leather fibers while the beeswax acts as a sealer and imparts a nice sheen to the leather when buffed.

    The BMLD should be applied with a soft lint free cloth such as cheese cloth etc., and should be applied sparingly in two coats separated by 2 days absorption time. After the second coat and absorption time (2 days), the object should be wiped with soft, lint free cloth to remove any excess dressing and then buffed. The beeswax or ceresin seals the leather grain when it is buffed and is an added ounce of prevention. It should be noted that all leather dressings will darken leather to some degree. This is generally acceptable and does not effect the items exhibit worthiness. This darkening actually helps to hide darkened oily stains in the leather. The applications of any dressing should occur after the application of a leather protector.

    There are other worthy dressings which may be substituted. Lexol which contains lanolin, Neat's foot oil and a mold, mildew deterrent, or Renaissance Leather Reviver which contains lanolin, 1,1,1, trichloroethane, and mystox (mold inhibitor).

    Proper Storage and exhibition of Leather Objects:

    As stated earlier, the single most important aspect of leather preservation is environmental control. The ideal environment for most leather objects is a relative humidity between 45% and 60% and a constant temperature of between 55 and 68 degrees F. The important aspect of those figures is not whether you achieve 50% RH and 65 degree F temp exactly, but that the temp & RH stay constant. Spiking temperature and humidity changes are detrimental to leather and most other objects in your collection.

    Radiant light and heat should be avoided. This will cause chemical and physical changes in leather. Dyed or painted leathers should be protected from ultraviolet radiation as diligently as you would protect prints, documents, paintings and textiles.

    Good house keeping is essential in leather care. Dust settling on leather can be very abrasive but even worse, it brings moisture and pollutants into contact with the leather and accelerates the onset of chemical decay (red rot). Leather may be stored and covered with plastic bags so long as the bottom is left open to facilitate air exchange.

    Aprons should be stored flat. If more than one apron is being stored, a piece of acid free tissue should be placed between the aprons. Never pile other contents on top of the aprons. If the aprons are to be displayed it should be done by laying them flat in a display case and not by hanging as hanging adds a great deal of stress to the apron. Exhibition of leather objects should be in cases designed with U/V filtering plexiglass and ventilated to assure air exchange. Again, temperature, humidity and light control are very important to your leather objects and cases should be designed and located with this in mind.


    There is an old saying that a picture is worth a thousand words and fortunate is the Masonic body that has a large photographic collection. Over the years Masonic bodies have been remiss in having pictures taken on a regular basis to provide a visual history of their respective bodies.

    As with the other elements of the archival collections, photographs also have their particular requirements for proper storage to ensure that they will maintain the integrity of the original images. The following guidelines will insure that these valuable images will be available for years to come.


    Photographic materials require a cool, dry, well-ventilated storage environment. High temperature and relative humidity increase deterioration and promote the growth of mold and mildew, which could mar surfaces and break down binder layers. Avoid storing photographs in the attic, the basement, or along the outside walls of a building, where environmental conditions are more prone to extremes and fluctuations and where condensation may occur. In some storage situations, seasonal adjustments such as dehumidifiers in the summer or fans to promote air circulation may be necessary to improve problematic environmental conditions.

    The ideal storage conditions for most photographs are a temperature of 68 F and relative humidity in the range of 30 - 40%. Film-based negatives and contemporary color photographs benefit from storage in cooler environments of 30 - 40 F and 30 - 40% relative humidity.

    Storage Enclosures

    Keep photographic materials in enclosures that protect them from dust and light and provide physical support during use. Chemically stable plastic or paper enclosures, free of sulfur, acids, and peroxides, are recommended. Plastic sleeves should be constructed of uncoated polyester, polypropylene, or polyethylene. For most photographic materials, unbuffered paper enclosures are preferred over buffered enclosures. Alkaline buffering is added to archival storage papers to absorb acidity from the stored material or the environment surrounding it. However, some photographs may be altered by the buffering in alkaline papers, so unbuffered paper is recommended for most processes. Film-based negatives, which can produce acidic gasses as they age, should be placed in archival, buffered enclosures and stored separately from other photographic materials. Store cased objects, such as daguerreotypes and ambrotypes, in their original cases or frames with the addition of custom-made, four-flap paper enclosures to reduce wear and tear on fragile cases. Place individually housed prints, negatives, and cased objects in acid-free, durable boxes that will afford further protection from light, dust, and potential environmental fluctuations.

    The storage of photographs in albums serves the dual purpose of organizing groups of images while protecting them from physical and environmental damage. Albums can be wonderful sources of historic and genealogical information. Preserve them intact when possible and store them in custom-fitted archival boxes. For the storage of family photographs, albums constructed with archival materials are available from conservation suppliers. Magnetic or self-adhesive albums can be detrimental to photographs and should not be used.

    Displaying Photographs

    Photographs should be protected from extended exposure to intense light sources. Limit exhibition times, control light exposure, and monitor the condition of the photographs carefully. Prolonged or permanent display of photographs is not recommended. It is important to note that a microenvironment is created when a photograph is placed in a frame for exhibition. Use unbuffered ragboard mats, and frame photographs with archivally sound materials. Use ultraviolet filtering plexiglass to help protect the photographs during light exposure. Reproduce vulnerable or unique images and display the duplicate image; in this way, the original photograph can be properly stored and preserved.

    Housekeeping Guidelines

    An overlooked area of collection maintenance is keeping the areas where photographs are handled or stored clean and pest-free. Paper fibers, albumen, and gelatin binders are just some of the components in photographic materials that provide an attractive food source for insects and rodents. It is vital that collections areas be free of debris that might encourage pests. Food and beverages should not be allowed. Apart from the potential for attracting pests, accidental spills can irreversibly damage most photographic objects.

    Handling Procedures

    Most damage to photographs results from poor handling. A well-organized and properly housed collection promotes respect for the photographs and appropriate care in handling. When images can be located quickly, there is less possibility of physical damage. The enclosures should be designed in relation to the intended use of the photographs, as well as their type and condition. Establish handling procedures and adhere to them whenever photographs are being used. View photographs in a clean, uncluttered area, and handle them with clean hands. Wear white cotton gloves to lessen the possibility of leaving fingerprints and soiling the materials; however, gloves may reduce the manual dexterity of the user. Support photographs carefully and hold them with both hands to avoid damage. Keep photographs covered when they are not being viewed immediately. Do not use ink pens around photographic materials. Mark enclosures with pencil only. If it is necessary to mark a photograph, write lightly with a soft lead pencil on the reverse of the image.

    Common Concerns And Solutions

    The following problems are commonly encountered in photographic collections:

    Broken, torn, or cracked photographs:     If the primary support of a photograph sustains serious damage, place it carefully in a polyester sleeve with an archival board support. If a photograph has a flaking binder layer or friable surface treatments, such as the pastel coloring often seen on crayon enlargements, place it in a shallow box, not a polyester sleeve. Do not use pressure-sensitive adhesive tapes to repair torn photographs. Consult a photographic materials conservator to perform repairs.

    Soiled photographs or negatives:     Brush soiled photographs carefully with a clean, soft brush. Proceed from the center of the photograph outward toward the edges. Do not attempt to clean photographs with water- or solvent-based cleaners, such as window cleaner or film cleaner. Improper cleaning of photographic materials can cause serious and often irreversible damage, such as permanent staining, abrasion, alteration, or loss of binder and image.

    Photographs or negatives adhered to enclosures:     High-humidity environments or direct exposure to liquids can cause photographs to adhere to frame glass or enclosure materials. This is a very difficult problem to resolve, and great care must be taken to reduce the possibility of further damage. If a photograph becomes attached to adjacent materials, consult a photographic materials conservator before attempting to remove the adhered materials.

    Deteriorated negatives:     Chemical instability is a major factor in the deterioration of early film-based materials. If film-based negatives are brittle, discolored, sticky, or appear wavy and full of air bubbles, separate the negatives from the rest of the collection and consult a photographic materials conservator. A conservator will be able to help identify these materials and make recommendations for their safe storage and/or duplication.

    Broken glass negatives or ambrotypes:     Place broken glass carefully in archival paper enclosures. Use a separate, clearly marked enclosure for each piece to reduce the possibility of scratching or further damage. For long-term storage, construct a custom sink mat that holds the pieces of broken glass, separated by mat-board shims, in one enclosure. Consult a photographic materials conservator for assistance.


    While every effort can be exerted too properly preserve the lodge archives, the possibility of the complete destruction of a lodges' archives due to a disastrous fire or other calamity always remains a possibility. Consideration should be given to having "back up" copies of the archives made of which there are a number of options that are available.


    The use of the microfilm technology has been around for a number of years and is the accepted method of duplicating documents, newspapers etc. for libraries as well as private and public institutions with large archival collections. The microfilming of documents has the advantage that the microfilm takes up little storage space and can be safely lodged in a safety deposit box or other safe storage. There are companies across the country that provide this service. The costs associated in having the service provided will vary depending upon the volume of documents to be copied, shipping and handling of the original documents etc. A quick search of the yellow pages under Microfilming will put you in contact with the company which should be able to provide an estimate of costs based on your requirements. The local library can provide you with the name of their service provider and also serves as to provide a reference.

    Another option in microfilming is to turn over the lodge archives for duplication to your Government agency responsible for Public Archives These agencies will normally copy the archives to microfilm at no charge and return the records when finished. There are however several important points to consider before taking this avenue. The first relates to privacy, it is important to determine whether or not your Public Archives will maintain these records "as private" for use by authorized individuals only. If it is the policy of the Public Archives that such records become part of the public domain it is then essential that the prior approval of Grand Lodge be obtained before any attempt is made to turn over the archives for duplication.


    Photocopying or scanning of records is another option available, however this option poses a number of problems and therefore has little viability. Unless the lodge has a photocopier at their disposal, the cost of photocopying a large collection at a commercial establishment could run into significant dollars. There is then the problem of where to store the duplicates.

    They cannot be stored with the originals, otherwise the whole purpose of the exercise would be defeated. They could be stored off site at a facility designed for that purpose and pay the monthly rental charges associated with the storage. Scanning the records would have the benefit of being able to save the archives on disks or CD-ROMs if that technology was available. For the lodge secretary or historian who uses a computer on a routine basis the term "backing up" is part of the everyday computer lexicon. Minutes and outgoing correspondence for the most part are compiled on the computer using word processing. Backing up these records becomes a simple matter of saving to properly labeled disks which can then be placed in safe storage. Even incoming correspondence can be saved to disk by using a scanner to copy the documents.

    The one downside to the backing up of the archive base on computer disks or CD-ROMs is our rapidly advancing technology. We have all seen the tremendous strides that have been accomplished in the world of computers over the past five years, which leads one to only imagine the advances that are yet to come. With the introduction of new mediums to which data will be saved, it would be necessary to transfer the archival data from the old medium to the new.


    If there is one thing common amongst us all, it is that we fail to plan for disasters, for it seems that it is part of the human condition that we feel that it only happens to the other fellow. Disasters come in many forms; fire, smoke damage, water damage from floods, broken pipes, leaks in roofs etc. Any and all of these forms can cause immense damage to your archives. While prevention is the obvious and most desired solution, this is often beyond our control. If a disaster strikes, what happens immediately afterwards takes on paramount importance.

    The first step in disaster planning is to ensure adequate insurance coverage. While most lodges and concordant bodies carry fire insurance to cover the cost of replacing buildings and regalia, the policies rarely cover the cleaning and restoration of archival material, libraries etc. Therefore it is strongly recommended that your insurance policy be reviewed and upgraded where required to cover the cost of restoration by a qualified conservator/restoration expert. It is also advisable to have one person designated to be contacted in the event of a disaster, i.e. the lodge historian/archivist, secretary etc. This person should have a small core group of workers that he can call on in the event that they are needed.

    The following steps should be followed in the event that the unspeakable occurs. You will note that different circumstances will call for a different response. If at any point in time you are in doubt as to the correct steps to be taken in a given situation, a call to the conservator/ restoration expert could prevent a costly mistake. You should be aware that in cases of a significant loss the insurance carrier will turn over the file to either an in-house adjuster or to an independent adjusting firm. From that point on it is the adjuster that will be your contact with respect to the claim.

    Damage from fire and/or smoke.

    a) Call insurance agent and conservation/restoration professional.
    b) Gain access as soon as possible to the area where archives are held.
    c) Determine extent of damage.
    d) Inventory damaged items.
    e) If building is unsecured, package, label and remove archives to a safe storage area.
    f) Turn over archives to the conservation/restoration expert as soon as possible.

    Certain precautions should be taken when entering the area after approval has been obtained from the civil authorities All volunteers should wear the appropriate clothing including masks. Disposable gloves should be worn and changed frequently to reduce the spreading of smoke on archival material.

    Damage from water.

    a) Call insurance agent and conservation/restoration professional.
    b) Gain access as soon as possible to the area where archives are held.
    c) Determine extent of damage
    d) Do not attempt to start separating water soaked items to inspect condition, irreversible damage may occur.
    e) Pack and remove archives to the appropriate storage area using the following guidelines.

    I. Books: Pack snugly, spine down, and freeze.
    II. Documents/manuscripts: Remove plastic covers if any, pack snugly, upright in original folders ( if no folders, pack flat) and freeze.
    III. Textiles: Bag wet textiles in plastic and freeze. Briefly immerse partially wet textiles in clean water, blot and freeze. IV. Leather: Shape, pad and air dry.
    V. Photographs: Carefully separate wet photos, place in plastic bag with a piece of plastic paper between each photo and freeze.

    f.) Turn over archives to the conservation/restoration expert as soon as possible.

    Certain precautions should be taken when entering the area after approval has been obtained from the civil authorities All volunteers should wear the appropriate clothing including masks. Disposable gloves should be worn and changed frequently to reduce the chance of spreading of mold spores.

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