Collections 102, part 4: how do I store… books and photos

If you’ve been following this series, by now you have a working knowledge of preservation materials and storage options for your family treasures. Last week, the blog touched on textiles. This week’s post takes a closer look at how to care for family books and photos (scrapbooks and albums, too).

Quick version:

  • Books are best stored upright (vertically) on shelves
  • Books and photos should have minimal light exposure to avoid fading
  • Avoid writing on the back of photos
  • Keep food and drinks away while handling items

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Collections 102, Part 3: how do I store…textiles

So you’ve inherited the family textile heirlooms, now what? Textiles include clothing, rugs, blankets, lace or other fabrics. Bottomless quote generator, Ben Franklin noted: “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” It certainly applies to textile care; small measures now ensure good long term preservation. Let’s get started.

The quick version:

  • Don’t store in a basement, attic or garage (really, you’ll regret it)
  • Remove dry cleaning bags and wire hangers
  • If a textile is sturdy, hang it up
  • If it is heavy (like a quilt), box it up
  • If it is fragile, roll it up

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Collections 102, part 2: how do I store… vintage plastics

So last week tackled preservation materials and storage environment best suited for maintaining heirlooms and treasures at home. If you haven’t seen it, check it out real quick before you read this.

Vintage plastics

Whether Bakelite jewelry, celluloid toys, PVC fashion dolls, or mid-century kitchen chairs, plastics can be particularly tricky to store and preserve long term.

The quick version:

  • Don’t store them in sealed plastic containers or bags
  • Store them flat and avoid jostling or temperature fluctuation
  • Avoid cleaning with water or other wet solvents. Wipe with a dry micro fiber cloth
  • Odor indicates active degradation: sickly sweet “plasticy”/camphor/vinegar

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Collections 102, part 1: preserving family treasures at home

So you’ve inherited family heirlooms. Now what? This post covers the most cost effective supplies to preserve your treasures and the best places in your home to store them. Next week’s post discusses specifics for books, photos, textiles, jewelry and plastics.

If you just want the quick version, remember two things:

  • Archival supplies will preserve your treasures. Regular office supplies will destroy them (I’m looking at you, cellophane tape, rubber bands and paperclips).
  • Your heirlooms are most comfortable at room temperature.

Want the scenic route version? Buckle up, let’s go! Continue reading

Collections 101: part 2

This post answers the question of what happens to stuff when you donate it to a museum. If you missed Collections 101: part 1, quick check it out before you continue with this one. Don’t worry, I’ll wait… Caught up? Okay. The next step in the process is to cart the item downstairs to storage for glamour shots and wrapping. Continue reading

Collections 101: part 1

2014-02-001-open-caseHave you ever wondered, “what happens to an item when I donate it to a museum?” Well, you’re  in luck because that’s just what this post is tackling. Take a (geeky and technical, but hopefully not too boring) behind the scenes look at how objects are processed and join the Raupp Museum’s permanent collection and stored for future study and display.
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Five tips to preserve family keepsakes

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.

This document is part of a list of building materials needed to build the Schmidt house that used to be on Buffalo Grove Road on east side of the road near St. Mary’s Church.  The list was found in this house before it was demolished in the fall of 1999.  Ed Brehm who was a Buffalo Grove carpenter built the house and probably wrote the list. Its poor condition could have been avoided or slowed down with proper storage in the first place.
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.

Tip 3: Mark archival boxes and bags with archival PIGMA pens. Using Sharpies and other permanent markers will eventually fade and acidify.  PIGMA pens can be purchased at most craft stores. Also, never ever use color gift tissue paper, rubber bands, paper clips or clear pressure sensitive adhesive tape on your keepsakes. These materials will cause discoloration and eventually lose their integrity.
Tip 4:  Resist the temptation to write on the backs of photographs. Writing can cause indentations and ink will eventually bleed through to the front and ruin images. If you must, write lightly in pencil near the edges.  A good alternative option is to place photos in individual sleeves with a piece of acid-free paper with penciled notation.  Sleeves will also prevent photos from sticking together.
Tip 5: Although scanning family photos is often a laborious task, it is well worth the effort since scanned images are preserved even if the originals are destroyed. Don’t forget to save them to an external source like a CD, external hard drive or USB flash drive in case of computer crashes.
These basic and easy changes will help to preserve family treasures well into the future. Be sure to consult with a conservator for any extensive repairs or questions.