Postcard albums were introduced in the late 19th century to collect, preserve and share memories of travels, families and friends. By the 20th century, bookbinding of albums became fully mechanised and during the height of a collecting furore, from 1900 – 1920, they were mass-produced to meet high consumer demand.

These precursors of Facebook and Instagram have represented for more than a century an intimate moment of human recollection occurring when pages of an album are opened. The smell of paper, the notes written on the side of the postcards, the act of holding the album are all factors a digital screen cannot replace.

A client bought her grandmother’s postcard album, circa 1910, to Artlab’s Consultation Day and her main concern was to preserve this keepsake for future generations of her family. The postcards were in good condition and unfortunately, the album was in a state of deterioration with pages pulverising when touched. This degradation effect is typical of modern paper of low quality, which undergoes oxidation and hydrolysis resulting in high acidity and poor mechanical strength. The binding was damaged with the block of papers held together by the original mechanical binding of iron stiches now heavily rusted.

During the consultation with the Principal Conservator Paper and Books, a conservation dilemma was identified. The paper was unsuitable to guarantee the long-term preservation of the postcards and stabilisation would have involved the dismantling of the original binding, washing and chemical treatment of each sheet, mechanical stabilisation and infills of missing areas. This job alone would be extensive, excluding the re-binding of the album and repositioning of the postcards. The dilemma being, save the album or the postcards!

A new polypropylene album would have housed the postcards but this would not invoke the same sentiments felt when leafing through the original album. The solution was to preserve the postcards and the original structure of the album, and replace the damaged sheets with new paper. The original album papers did not detail any written text, annotation or numbering, making this decision a clear choice. New conservation-quality paper sheets were cut to size and the openings for the postcards were executed with a Gunnar mat cutter using a specifically designed template. The postcards were transferred to the new album sections and these pages were sewn to tapes and rebound, using the original covers.

This conservation approach secured the long-term preservation of the postcards and at the same time, retained the original appearance of the album. The original block of papers and all elements of the binding not used in the reconstruction were preserved separately and returned to the client.

Learn more about Consultation Day at Artlab Australia.

Front of postcards albumFront cover of postcard album before treatment.

Damaged binding on postcard albumDetail of damaged spine before treatment.

Damaged end covers on postcard albumPaste down and fly leaf before treatment.

Detail of postcards and damaged pagesDetail of postcards and damaged pages.

Damaged binding on postcard albumPostcard album before treatment.

Conservator Paper and Books with Gunnar cutterRoberto Padoan, Principal Conservator Paper and Books with Gunnar cutter executing new openings for the postcards.

Conservator Paper and Books with Gunnar cutter

Postcards being arranged in to new albumDetail of backs of postcards.

New pages with original postcards before bindingNew pages with original postcards before binding.

Conservator bookbindingRoberto sewing the sections on tapes.

New binding of album after treatmentNew spine after treatment.

Pages of postcard album after treatmentOpening of album after treatment.

Front cover of postcard album after final treatmentFront cover of postcard album after treatment.