Effective Ways to Preserve Your Family Heirlooms

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Family heirlooms remind us of our lost loved ones. These items hold special moments and emotional value that can tell you plenty of stories. 

If preserved properly, heirlooms can stay in good condition for decades. But before talking about ways to preserve them, you need to categorize the items.

Categorize Your Heirlooms 

Clothes of similar material should be kept together. Newspapers should be separated from other papers since they are acidic, and can damage other papers. Items like albums or scrapbooks which can fall apart should be separated as well.

You can attach nameplates or cards with the stories or descriptions of the heirloom with each item. The descriptions will help spread the memories attached to the objects and will give meaning to the object, otherwise, these items may not receive their full significance.

To safely preserve your family heirlooms, you need to see what the items are, and the condition they are in. Then make a list of materials needed for preserving the heirlooms. You may require archival grade acid-free paper, files, UV protected screens, acid-free boxes, pure cotton bags, archival grade scotch tapes and high-quality ATG Tape, etc. ATG tapes can be used to repair broken photo frames or to adhere to paper, metals, plastic films, foils, and other materials.

You can get these online or, from shops that sell materials to preserve antics.

Now let’s move on to preserving different types of items.

1. Preserving Clothing Items

Clothes need to be cleaned before they are preserved. Clothes such as wedding gowns or expensive dresses should be washed at cleaners that specialize in washing such materials. 

Quilts and linens can easily accumulate dirt. Even oils from hands while handling the item for preservation can cause harm in the long run. Hands should always be washed and gloves should be used. The clothes need to be kept in acid-free boxes with paper between the folds.

2. Preserving Certificates and Letters

Paper material should be preserved with care. Certificates, deeds, newspaper clippings, photographs, and books fall into this category. For certificates, you need flies or plastic bags that are archival standards. They can be transferred on sturdy acid-free papers to provide better support. 

Extra copies should be made of papers you will need frequently. The original should be stashed away in a dry place with ample ventilation. Certificates that cannot be folded should be kept flat. Letters, however, can be stored in files and kept upright.

3. Preserving Newspapers

Newspapers should be preserved separately because their acidity is harmful to other papers. You can clip the papers together, or you can take large acid-free board papers and preserve newspaper on them. You can also make copies or scan them to preserve digitally. 

Buffered papers or buffered sleeves have calcium carbonate in them. This helps in preserving acidic papers such as newspapers.

4. Preserving Old photographs

Photographs should be preserved in albums. Glues, tape or pins should not be used on the photos while preserving. 

You can use archival albums that come with sleeves that keep the picture in place due to static. Scan the photos and make photocopies that you can use for a casual event. Use clean rubber gloves while preserving old photos.

Restoring Damaged Photos

Damaged photos require professional restoration. However, proper steps should be taken as soon as possible to avoid damage from storms, water leaks, etc. To prevent the growth of mold you need to act fast. Air drying is best to dry wet photos. Carefully separate the pieces and lay them flat on an absorbent acid-free paper. Make sure the room is well ventilated by putting a fan above the photos.

You can also hang the photos on clothes hangers with clippers to dry them inside the house. You can temporarily freeze the items if necessary steps cannot be taken immediately. Put detachable wax sheets between each photo and put them in a freezer to slow the growth of mold. Later take them out for drying.

5. Preserve Jewelry or Watches

You can polish and keep jewelry in small soft bags made of velvet or cotton. Jewelry can also be kept in the boxes they originally come in. Put the specifics and backstories for each heirloom piece. 

Important details regarding quality, history, and authenticity can save an old item from getting pawned at a low price. To preserve watches, make sure they are well maintained and the battery is not left inside.

6. Preserving Old Furniture

Furniture preservation is a hard task to do by yourself. It is better if a professional is consulted in this case. Do not use modern polishes on old furniture. Do not try to repair them yourself because it may reduce the antique value of the piece. Do not keep the furniture in direct sunlight.

Try to keep them covered with cotton clothes to reduce the accumulation of dust. Use a microfiber towel while wiping or cleaning. Keep them in a place that has less traffic to reduce the potential of damage and use wax to polish.

Now that you know how each item should be preserved, here are some generic tips that you should always follow.

Keep the Items Away from Light

Sunlight and even regular light can damage the quality and looks of old heirlooms. Sunlight is very damaging to items like clothes, furniture, porcelain dishes, toys, plastic, etc. Make sure the cabinet you store heirlooms are away from the sun and direct light. Don’t use glass cabinets since they let in light easily.

Keep Your Storage Clean

The place you keep heirlooms must be dry, dark, and properly ventilated. Do not vacuum too strongly directly on any pieces. It will damage the fibers and quality of the heirlooms. Watch for insects such as moths, beetles, and silverfish. Keep the quilts out in the open on a spare mattress or bed. Do not hang the carpets and tapestries. Keep them gently rolled with acid-free paper in between. Use naphthalene or mothballs to keep out pests.

Take Extra Care While Handling Everything

Papers can turn brittle over time. Old documents should be handled carefully. Brittle paper can be kept in a humid place to gently relax a little. The folded paper should not be flattened roughly. Unfolded documents should be kept flat, not upright. 

Final Thoughts

You should wear a mask and rubber gloves to handle items you want to preserve. Everything you use should be of archival quality. Do not use duct tapes, glues or pins since they do irreversible damage.


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