While at my parents’ home for the holidays, I was rooting around in the garage -for something I never did find- and was horrified to find indecent storage conditions for some of my mom’s most treasured heirloom possessions. The old family photo albums, books, costume jewelry, and a few textiles were rather haphazardly stored; the result of cleaning out my grandmother’s house and rapidly storing a lifetime of hording when she passed away a few years ago.
Unfortunately, upon further investigation, I found several albums and books that were completely destroyed due to extensive water and mold damage. Indeed, I have never seen mold so huge, so highly developed, or so colorful. Needless to say, it broke my mom’s heart.
This is regrettably a familiar story even to museum collections. Even here at the Raupp (although not often since we are very diligent), I have found artifacts that have suffered from poor storage. The photo of the document below is one of those artifacts. I found it rolled up and disintegrating, with water damage and a little mold.
I find that improper storage is the number one culprit of artifact deterioration due to unsuitable environmental conditions and pest introduction. It is also the easiest condition to maintain.
Tip 1: Areas that routinely change in temperature, especially those that are hot, humid, damp, and dark are prime breeding grounds for mold growth. For that reason, garages, basements, and exterior walls are usually unacceptable storage areas. Stored objects should be examined and lightly dusted with a clean dry cloth a couple of times a year to ensure the storage is still appropriate.
Tip 2: Textiles are best stored in acid-free archival quality boxes and wrapped in acid-free tissue paper. Both of these are available buffered or unbuffered. If unsure of which to use, go with unbuffered paper and boxes. Compromised fabric folds should be buffered with a wadding of paper.
To maintain the environment’s stability, tissue should be changed out when it starts to look discolored. Although acid-free boxes and tissues are a bit pricey, they are worth the investment for the most treasured of treasures. The best prices are online but The Container Store also sells archival quality boxes and heirloom textile kits.
An alternative option to archival boxes is to place objects in plastic zip top bags made with a clear polyethylene plastic. Keep these out of direct light. “Ziploc” bags are my preferred brand.