Disaster | Old photos | Color Shift | ScanCafe

Safe at home? Maybe not

Southern California house on fire Fires are a serious threat to your old photos. This Southern California family's home burned on December 18, 2008 — the second time they have lost a home to fire!

The average American, according to our research, has nearly 3,000 old photos at home. Are they safe?

Not totally. Over half of Americans have already lost old photos stored in their home!

Many factors combine to keep photos from living their natural life. Beyond the natural and inevitable effects of time, like fading, color shift, and scratching, your old photos at home are subject to fires, water damage, misplacement, and even the family pet. And if a photo or negative is completely destroyed, it's gone forever.

We commissioned a survey of Americans recently to find the leading causes of losing old photos, and the answers were surprising.

How Americans Have Lost Their Old Photos

Cause Description % Reporting
Any Cause Have suffered damage or lost old photos in any of the ways below. 54%  
Misplacement (Can't find them today) 37%  
Move Lost in a move 26%  
Kids and pets Children or the family pet have torn, ruined, or misplaced an important old photo. 20%  
Water Ruined or extensively damaged due to water in some way, including flooding. 16% or respondents said they keep their old photos in the basement, or attic. 11%  
Fire, etc. Destroyed by fire, earthquake, tornado, or other natural disaster. 7% 
source: GfK North America, October 2008. Random-digit-dialed telephone survey of 1,004 adults. Margin of error is +/- 3 percentage points.

Tragedies happen to pros, too

Nobody is immune to the forces of nature. For example, the 1986 fire at the Los Angeles Central Library destroyed 350,000 books and damaged nearly a million more.

And the personal archives of Jacques Lowe, President John Kennedy's personal photographer, were destroyed when the World Trade Center center collapsed upon the safe deposit vault holding them in September 2001. Lowe's daughter reported that of the 40,000 negatives destroyed, only an estimated 300-400 images had ever been seen.

Our tips for preserving your memories

  • Get everything scanned.
    Don't pick and choose which images to preserve — you can't be sure in advance what your grandchildren and great-grandchildren will find important.

  • Don't just scan, REPAIR.
    Most 30-year old photos have altered significantly over time for the worse. If you're creating a permanent digital negative, you want it to be perfect.

  • Make regular backups of your digital negatives.
    Consider a remote backup service like Carbonite, which will back your computer up over the internet. That gives you extra protection against natural disasters.

  • Don't keep your photos in the basement, or the attic.
    The attic is too hot, and the basement is too damp. These conditions will make your analog images degrade even faster.

  • Don't handle negatives and slides unless you have to.
    They scratch very easily.

  • Use acid-free and lignin-free storage materials.
    Some kinds of photo albums can harm your photos over the long term, and avoid plastics that aren't Mylar, polyester, polypropylene, or polyethylene.

  • Make "reference" prints of any non-digital images you plan to display.
    Take a lead from museums, which often buy two color prints from an artist — one to display, and one to keep in storage.
  • Quick Facts

    #1 Photos are the most-cited things Americans would save from their burning house. source: GfK North America (Oct 2008)

  • Resources

    • usfa.fema.gov

      There are 400,000 residential fires per year. Here are tips on how to prevent them. more »
    • Floodsmart.gov

      The NFIP estimates a home has a 26% chance of being damaged by a flood in a 30-year timespan. more »
  • Testimonials

    "At first, I was apprehensive about sending some of the "family jewels" to a place I had no control over. I took a leap of faith and I was not disappointed in the least. Your step-by-step status page kept me informed and marked the progress of my order as advertised....When I received the DVDs and the originals shortly thereafter, my happiness turned to pure joy..."

    - B. Lukaszewicz, BELphotos.com (May 2008)

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