How do I Move Glass Plate Negatives?

Approaches to Moving Glass Plate Negatives at the National Archives and Records Administration

Pre-Move Housing Principles

  • Move intact glass plates in their storage orientation, that is, resting vertically on one long edge (see guidance on broken plates below).
  • House all plates in individual paper enclosures. Use side-seamed envelopes, or 4-flap enclosures, per NARA standard procedures depending on value, condition and use. Lantern slides bound with intact cover glasses do not require individual enclosures.

Specific Packing Instructions-Intact Plates in Boxes and Drawers

  • Boxed plates
    • Align plates neatly against each other within their box to eliminate side-to-side movement of individual plates.
    • Insert corrugated cardboard filler pieces that are cut to the dimensions of the plates into the front and back of the box to "snug up" the plates and fill out extra space in the container; to keep plates supported upright; and to prevent side-to-side plate movement or end-to-end shifting.
  • Small format Plates stored in Drawer Compartments
    • Use this same procedure to "snug up" plates that are stored inside drawer compartments. Alternatively, unload the plates from their drawers and box temporarily for the move

Specific Packing Instructions-When to use Interleaving

  • Do not interleave flat plates-most standard size plates (up to 8x10) do not require padding or interleaving beyond that provided already by their paper enclosures.
  • Interleave warped plates with thin polyethylene foam (Ethafoam or Volara) to avoid cracking the plates when they are compressed against each other or adjacent flat plates. These foam sheets conform to plate surface irregularities and minimize stress on the plate. Re-box the plates, as needed, to accommodate the extra padding bulk.

Specific Packing Instructions-Oversize, Fragile, Valuable Plates

  • Custom Crates with Dividers
    • Use a custom crate design (see below) for oversize or very fragile plates, especially for plates with high intrinsic value or for those stored in cabinets and drawers where boxing would be problematic.
    • Construct a crate (plywood box with top lid) with an interior foam lining and rigid dividers spaced several inches apart. File the plates between the dividers. Interleave the plates with foam if any are warped and or have fragile emulsions

Specific Packing Instructions-Broken Plates

  • High Intrinsic ValuePlates
    • Store broken plates with high intrinsic value flat in protective sink mat enclosures made from corrugated board. Align the fragments in their proper location with a small space between fragments to prevent further chipping. Use small squares or punched circles of mat board as spacers between fragments and glue the spacers to the base of the sink mat. Stack sink-matted plates up to 5 high inside a shallow print storage box.
  • Low Intrinsic Value Plates
    • Align the fragments together and store the plate sandwiched between either rigid paperboard or corrugated board inside a 4-flap paper enclosure. Stack the protected plates inside a shallow print storage box up to 5 high.

Cart Design

  • Use only carts rated for the weight load of glass (up to several hundred pounds with pnuematic, air-filled tires. Pnuematic tires cushion the ride and minimize vibration. Avoid carts with common utility casters made from hard rubber or plastic -- they do not absorb vibrations. Always adjust tires for the full weight load of the cart and check periodically to re-pressurize as needed.
  • Use either a single platform cart or a cart with 2-3 shelves; avoid tall narrow carts that might tip over easily.
  • Attach tip and vibration/shock sensors to the carts to monitor the move.

Loading Carts

  • Pad out the cart shelves/platform with moving blankets or foam.
  • Load boxed plates (or drawer compartments) onto the padded shelves/platform and orient the boxes the same way (see below, Orientation of Plates in the Vehicle).
  • Alternatively, group numerous small format boxes of plates into larger corrugated boxes (double- or tri- wall cartons) which have been padded out at the bottom and sides with polyethylene foam or similar cushioning material. Load these boxes onto the cart in the same orientation.
  • Do not stack boxes more than two high. Do not stack drawer compartments.

Protecting Packages from Weather for Transport Between Buildings

  • Wrap the boxes or the entire cart with protective plastic, such as stretch wrap, to protect against water or relative humidity extremes where a dew point may be crossed.

Vehicle Requirements

  • Use trucks with air ride suspensions if at all possible.
  • Use air-conditioned vehicles during hot weather; heated vehicles in cold weather.

Loading Vehicles

  • Moving Options - Short Distances, Several Trips for Moderate Size Quantities
    • Secure boxes onto the cart with packing straps or stretch wrap to prevent shifting in transit, then load and secure the cart onto a truck.
  • Moving Options - Short Distances, Several Trips for Small Quantities
    • Load the boxes directly onto the cushioned flat bed of a van or car.
  • Moving Options - Long Distances, One Trip for Large Quantities
    • Stack boxes no more than two high on padded sturdy pallet, secure with straps or stretch wrap and fork-lift onto a truck

Orientation of Plates in the Vehicle

  • Load the boxes, carts or pallets onto trucks so that the flat planar surface of the plate(s) is parallel to the sides of the truck in order to minimize the rattling or vibration of plate surfaces against each other as the truck starts and stops.
  • Attach tip and vibration/shock sensors to the boxes, carts or pallets to monitor the move.

Test Runs

  • Conduct a test run of the transit route, where possible, using the same procedures and materials proposed for moving the glass plates.
  • Use window glass in place of the original glass plates. Use tip and vibration/shock sensors to determine if the route or procedures are problematic.

See the answer to How do I house glass plate negatives?for guidance on storing glass plate negatives.

Rev 1/25/01 and 6/16/01
Originally presented March 1995
at the 10th Annual NARA Preservation Conference: Moving Archives
and published in Topics in Photographic Preservation, Vol. 5, 1995: 130-133.
Sarah S. Wagner, Senior Photograph Conservator
Preservation Programs
National Archives and Records Administration