Risks of Handling/Use

Generally, handling and use heightens the risk of damage to your materials, be it through neglectful handling (e.g. touching photo emulsion with bare hands) or irresponsible operation of access equipment. This is a risk posed by patrons and staff alike, intentional or not.

Handling and Collections Care

One of the easiest areas to implement protections for collections is through careful handling and sensible collections care. The unfettered use and handling of materials heightens the general risk of damage--be it through neglectful handling (e.g. touching photo emulsion with bare hands) or irresponsible operation of access equipment. Whether intentional or not, this is a risk posed by patrons and staff alike.

Examples of neglect, mishandling, and mismanagement include:

General Recommendations:

Additional Copies

The use of additional copies for reference or display purposes is highly recommended, particularly if the item is an original or valuable. This provides broader access to the content while also protecting the original document from user wear and tear or environmental factors.

Recommendations for care of original object:

To learn more about best practices for use and access, including resources for creating digital surrogates, see Use & Access in the User-Manual.

Orientation in Storage

Store vertically with dividers between each slide. May also be stored horizontally (flat). Enclosures and folders may be stored in hanging files or archival storage boxes.

Storage Container

Acid-free enclosures and/or folders strongly advised. Each ambrotype should have its own enclosure to protect it from dust, handling damage, and changes in environmental conditions. Ambrotypes in good condition are best stored in an acid-free four-flap enclosure or, if cased, wrapped in acid-free tissue inside a folding box to prevent breakage and abrasion. Ambrotypes with flaking emulsion layers should be stored flat. If in a paper sleeve or envelope, position emulsion side away from seams in the enclosures. Such seams (if any) should be on the sides of the enclosure, not down its center. Wood cabinets should be avoided. Enameled steel, stainless steel, or anodized aluminum are preferred. All storage materials should pass the Photographic Activity Test (PAT) as specified in ISO Standard 18916:2007.

Display Recommendations

The duration of an exhibit should be determined in advance, and no item should be placed on display permanently. Most items should not be displayed for longer than 3 to 4 months, assuming other conditions like light levels, temperature, and relative humidity are within acceptable ranges. Facsimiles or items of low artifactual value may be exhibited for longer periods of time. Between display periods, they should be returned to an appropriate environment where they may "rest" in dark storage.

Light levels should be kept as low as possible. When on display, objects should be protected from exposure to natural light, which contains high levels of UV radiation. Shades, curtains, or filters applied directly to windows will help to minimize this exposure. This is particularly important for ambrotypes, which are very sensitive to light.

Display cases should be enclosed and sealed to protect their contents, and their items should be securely framed or matted using preservation-quality materials that have passed the Photographic Activity Test (ISO18916).

For more information on exhibition management, see Exhibition Guidelines.


If your item has any kind of labeling on the container, the item itself, or any related material, we highly recommend that you return to the Basic Info section and enter this information in the appropriate field(s).

Physical Damage

Ambrotypes may display cracks in what appears to be the image and, in advanced stages, flaking. This is actually the dark varnish used to coat the back of the image emulsion on one side of the glass. As the varnish falls away, it reveals the negative image. This may be caused by a number of issues, but often high humidity and temperature spurs this along.

Due to their glass support, ambrotypes can sustain severe damage through breakage. The image surface should never be touched; and, similar to daguerreotypes, ambrotypes should remain in their cases or sealed packages to protect them from abrasion and pollutants. If the image surface is not varnished, the silver image may become oxidized by exposure to air.

Mold / Pest Damage


If your item is exhibiting white or brown patches or if you see a lattice-like growth along the edges, you are most likely viewing mold. Items stored in hot, humid environments (generally above 65% relative humidity) are most vulnerable to mold, mildew, and fungus contamination. Mold will typically damage the edges of photographic material first. If mold has eaten into the emulsion, the item will be noticeably and irreparably damaged, exhibiting feathery-like distortions or dull spots on the projected image. Mold can be removed through cleaning and then storing the items in a cold, dry environment, but this should be done responsibly.


Pests like insects and rodents tend to like paper and textile materials more than copper-based materials. That said, pests can still do damage. When assessing the exposure of your collections to pests, it is necessary to look not just at the materials themselves and their containers, but also at the larger environment. Insects and rodents tend to leave droppings in areas they inhabit. Insects tend to leave behind a substance called frass, which is the undigested fibers from paper. If you see droppings and/or frass in the storage area, it is a strong sign that your materials are being exposed to pests. Small, irregular holes on paper-based enclosures are also a sign that pests have attacked your materials.

Some tips for reducing your materials' exposure to pests are to refrain from eating anywhere near your collections materials. Crumbs and food waste draw pests, so eat far from your collections. Another tip applying to both pests and mold is to be cautious about donated materials when you receive them. Pests and mold can hitch a ride into your facility on these materials, so having a good, clean staging area where you can inspect donated items for, among other things, pest and mold evidence can help you reduce your storage environments' exposure to both.


Ambrotypes are typically housed in miniature hinged cases made of wood covered with leather, paper, cloth, or mother of pearl and backed with a dark opaque material (e.g. black lacquer, velvet).

Ambrotypes should remain enclosed in their original cases or packages to protect the plate's surface from mechanical damage and atmospheric pollutants.

Tarnishing, darkening, and/or loss of contrast

Ambrotypes should remain enclosed in their original cases or packages to protect the plate's surface from mechanical damage and atmospheric pollutants. Tarnishing will result from opening the case packaging or sealer and will begin as a light brown that progresses toward blue-black opaque staining along the the outer edge. Old cover glasses may also show signs of deterioration in the form of small white spots on the inside surface of the glass. Ambrotypes should never be exposed to intense light.