The Archive Lady: Preserving Old, Oval, Convex Framed Photographs



Melissa from Utah asks: “I always learn so much from your posts and webinars. My question today is about really old, oval, convex photos. I have inherited several in original frames. They are brittle and some are fading, one has unfortunately already disintegrated. I have been putting all of my flat photos in archival materials and indexing them for storage, but these oval photos have me stumped. They are so brittle and convex, I worry that if I take out of the frames and put them in a flat box, they will crumble anyway. Yet the frames and backing are also in poor condition and not likely archival quality. Any tips or helps for me?

The Archive Lady: Preserving Old, Oval, Convex Framed Photographs - Oval, Convex Framed photograph from Melissa
Oval, Convex Framed Photograph from Melissa of Utah

Melissa has asked a great question about some photographs that many of us have in our collections. These very old, oval and convex photographs can be difficult, but not impossible, to preserve. The most important thing to remember when preserving anything is “do no harm” and “don’t do anything that you can’t undo.” These are rules that archives and archivists live by and so should the home archivist.

Oval, Convex Framed Photograph from Melissa of Utah
Oval, Convex Framed Photograph from Melissa of Utah

I would encourage Melissa to NOT remove the photos from the frames. This could cause them to become damaged beyond repair if they are as brittle as Melissa mentions. This may sound contrary to everything archival, but most likely the photos are stuck to the glass. Most oval photographs like these adhere themselves to the glass and getting them out can be very difficult and can really damage the photographs.

It is very important to try to digitize these photographs so if anything happens to the original, there is a digital version that survives. Anyone that has one of these convex images behind glass knows how difficult it can be to scan. In the archives, we take digital photographs of the image. You may have to take several shots from different angles to get the entire image. If the photograph is a large photograph, you may have to take several photographs and stitch them together with photo editing software. If a good image of the photograph can be duplicated, it would be a great idea to frame the copy if one wants to display the photo. The original needs to be preserved in an archival manner.

Melissa also has another problem. The frame and backing of the framed photograph are in poor condition. I would suggest that she take the framed photograph to a reputable framing shop and ask them if they can archivally repair the frame and backing. Once the frame and backing are stable, then it is best to store the framed photograph in an archival box surrounded by archival tissue paper so it doesn’t move around in the box. The online archival materials stores have boxes of varying sizes to fit just about any framed photograph (see list of stores below).

Example of Clamshell Archival Box from Gaylord Archival
Example of Clamshell Archival Box from Gaylord Archival

If Melissa or anyone is determined to remove the photographs from these frames or if they don’t feel they can handle this preservation project on their own, I would suggest they contact a professional conservator. One of the best places to find a conservator is at your state archives. They will either have one on staff or they can could give you contact information for one in your area.

I am so glad that Melissa is taking the time to preserve these precious photos of her family. Her descendants will be so grateful!


Archival Material Websites

Here is a listing of online archival materials stores. Archival tissue paper and boxes can be purchased at any of the following online archival stores. They all have online catalogs and paper catalogs that can be sent to your home. Also, be sure to sign up for email notifications because they periodically have sales and will send out email notifications.

Melissa Barker Webinars at Legacy Family Tree

Check out my presenter page at and catch my latest recorded webinars as well as upcoming live webinars!

Check out my presenter page at and catch my latest recorded webinars as well as upcoming live webinars!

You Can Now Follow The Archive Lady on Facebook

Follow Melissa Barker, The Archive Lady, on Facebook


If you have a question about researching in archives or records preservation for The Archive Lady, send an email with your question to:

Melissa Barker - The Archive Lady

Melissa Barker lives in Tennessee Ridge, Tennessee. She is the Houston County (TN) Archivist and a Professional Genealogist. She writes the blog, A Genealogist in the Archives, and has been researching her own family for over 26 years. She lectures, teaches and writes about researching in archives and records preservation. 

©2018, copyright Melissa Barker. All rights Reserved.


4 Responses

  1. Gene M

    8 February 2018 4:03 pm

    Year ago, when Walmart was the only photo scanning place, I took mine, in the frame & they scanned it for me & did a Great job. Now days I would try to find a photographer that can photograph it for you or possibly take it to Kinko, Staples or Office Max & see if they can scan it on a larger machine, in the frame.

  2. Chris Bauman

    8 February 2018 5:04 pm

    I have a related, but different problem. I have my mom’s convex photo–approximately 12″x18″ oval, still in the original carved frame with wood backing. The glass got broken years ago. It was in her house until 2009, and now it’s in mine. The photo looks like it was hand colored, and it is pushed in, but the paper doesn’t appear cracked. There appears to be some water spotting on the surface. I DO have a flat copy of the photo (without the coloring), so that’s not a concern. What do you recommend? Can the photo surface be restored reasonably? Thanks.

    • Melissa Barker

      9 February 2018 9:31 am

      Chris, I would suggest that you take it to a professional photographer or a conservator for restoration. Thank You for reading my column!

Comments are closed.