Preserving Your Heritage: Care of Artifacts, Heirlooms, and Keepsakes in Your Home

Family heirlooms as well as contemporary keepsakes are an important part of a family’s history. These items can link generation to generation. Proper care is important in the preservation of these items.

Care and Handling and Procedures Handout

There are simple, inexpensive ways to preserve these precious heirlooms and keepsakes.


Both sunlight and artificial light are enemies to precious items.

THE PROBLEM: Exposure to light is damaging not only to paper, photographs, textiles, but also to film (videos), DVDs, and CDs, reel-to-reel, video, and cassette tapes. Light exposure leads to fading, discoloration, and brittleness due to heating.

THE SOLUTION: Don’t store or display items in direct sun orbright light of any kind. If you can’t avoid displaying items across from a window then close curtains when the sun is bright. A hallway that has no windows and where artificial lights aren’t constantly on is one of the best places to display items. Make copies of photos you wish to display and display the copies. Believe it or not light exposure will also cause wood to fade.



THE PROBLEM: Textiles and quilts need to “breathe” and they can’t when stored in plastic bags, dry-cleaner bags, or airtight containers. Such storage also causes excess heat and moisture resulting in mildew and damage.

THE SOLUTION: Store textiles and quilts away from outside walls, attics, basements, garages, storage units, anyplace that experience extreme fluctuations of temperature and humidity. Wrap them in a piece of clean, un dyed, un bleached muslin or in an unbleached white cotton sheet or pillowcase. This allows air to circulate and for them to “breathe.” Remove them from storage periodically to unwrap and unfold them. Then, refold– along different lines–rewrap, and return them to the storage area.



THE PROBLEM: A poor storage environment can damage heirlooms and family keepsakes.

THE SOLUTION: Keep heirlooms and family keepsakes in a stable environment. Avoid storing items in places that experience extremes of temperature and humidity, such as basements, garages, and attics.

Don’t store items above radiators, fireplace mantels, or near water sources. Avoid placing and storing items against outside walls where humidity and condensation can occur. Heat and humidity will cause mold growth and insect activity.

An ideal storage environment is clean, cool, and dark. Such a place may be difficult to find, so ask yourself. “Is this environment, location comfortable to me?” Your heirlooms and family treasures can be preserved in an environment comfortable to you.


Do no harm – Reversibility

THE PROBLEM: Heat lamination is a process which isn’t considered reversible. During the lamination process the plastic coating is permanently bonded to the document by heat. Attempts to remove the lamination will destroy the surface of the original document and the heat used to create the bond can accelerate deterioration of the document. Keep this principle, “Do no harm,” in mind as you store and display your collections.

THE SOLUTION: Whatever steps you take to protect your heirlooms and family keepsakes should be reversible.

Archival Protective Sleeves can be used instead of lamination for document protection. Enclose paper items in archival quality transparent sleeves made of polyester, polypropylene, or polyethylene. These sleeves can be found either through a mail order supplier or local hobby, craft, or office supply stores.

Don’t use sleeves made of polyvinyl chloride (polyvinylchloride, PVC) which contains chemical chloride. It emits damaging hydrochloric acid as it deteriorates.

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