Protecting Your Family Treasures

Objects have meaning.  We all have objects that remind us of a special person, place, or event that has a special meaning to us.  With special care, objects can be preserved throughout our lifetimes and beyond.  The Decatur County Historical Society would like to offer the following tips on preserving your treasures for you and your family to enjoy.

If at some time in the future you or your family are not able or are no longer willing to care for these treasures, please consider making a donation to the Decatur County Historical Society.


The most thing you can do to safe guard your treasures is to store them in a stable, cool, and dry environment.  Spaces with high temperatures and humidity or fluctuating conditions, like most attics and basements, are unsuitable for long-term safekeeping.  If you must store in the basement or attic, place the items in plastic tubs or bins and ensure that lids are secured tightly.

Overly dry conditions cause leather to crack.  Damp conditions cause mold.  If you are unable to store your materials under ideal environmental conditions (68F and 40% relative humidity), incremental improvements can still be beneficial.  Simply moving items from an attic with 85F and 80%RH to a room that has 75F and 60%RH conditions can increase the life of your treasures by 3 1/2 times.  Moving things from such hot and humid attic conditions to an environment of 68F and 40%RH provides a tenfold improvement in the life of paper artifacts, such as family photographs and Bibles.  Using an air conditioner or a dehumidifier may be a cost-effective way to achieve a stable, cool, dry environment.

Direct sunlight can cause fading.  Try not to place any family treasures in direct sunlight.  Sunlight and fluorescent lights emit high amounts of ultraviolet (UV) radiation.  Glass and acrylic can both be bought with an added UV filtering component to reduce the damaging effects from UV.  Include UV filtration in the glazing to protect the object from UV radiation.  It should be noted that UV filtration does not eliminate the damage cause by visible light, so avoid placing objects in any intense light source.  Occasionally rotate framed objects to cut down on the duration of light exposure.

Avoid hanging framed objects above a working fireplace or radiator.

Good housekeeping is also important.  You should dust objects and keep storage areas clean.  This will help prevent insect infestations.

Handling Tips

  • Books
    • Shelve upright supported by book ends if needed
    • Store large volumes flat
    • Don't pull on the headcap (top of the spine) of a book to remove it from the shelf
    • Don't press the pages of a book down to provide a flat opening if there is resistance in the spine
  • Paper
    • Store paper items flat, rather than folding and unfolding
    • Paper materials may be stored in acid-free file folders
    • Avoid using pressure-sensitive tapes (including those called "archival") as they can cause irreversible disfigurement, embrittlement of paper and alteration of inks
  • Photographs
    • House photos in protective enclosures to keep out gritty dirt and dust which can scratch images
    • Avoid pressure-sensitive tapes and rubber cement
    • Remove materials such as cardboard, rubber bands, and paper clips
    • Suitable storage materials are made of plastic or paper. Enclosures should be acid-free
    • Commonly available PVC slide pages, easily identified by their strong plastic odor, should never be used because of their extreme chemical reactivity.  Look for plastics marked polyethylene and polypropylene.
    • Store all prints and negatives in acid-free boxes.  If possible, keep negative separate from print materials.  Store color transparencies/slides in acid-free or metal boxes or in slide pages made from polypropylene.
    • Place early miniature-cased photographs carefully into acid-free paper envelopes and house flat.
    • Storage of family photographs in albums is often desirable, and many commercially available albums utilize archival-quality materials.  Avoid albums constructed of highly colored pages.  Never use commercially available "magnetic" or "no stick" albums for the storage of contemporary or historic photographic prints in black-and-white or color.  These materials will deteriorate quickly over time and could damage photographs.
  • Paintings
    • Display all paintings with a protective backing board attached to the back.  An acid-free mat board screwed to the reverse of a painting will keep out dust and foreign objects, and protect against damage during handling.  Be sure that the backing board covers the entire back of the picture.  The backing board should be attached to the reverse of the stretcher or strainer, no to the frame.
  • Textiles
    • Wood, cardboard, and many plastics and metals are considered unsatisfactory storage materials because they emit volatile acids or chemicals.  If these materials are the only ones available, place a barrier, such as heavy-duty aluminum foil, between the object and the support.  Avoid tightly sealed cases, plastic bags, or frames, since they can trap damaging vapors and provide an environment associated with high humidity problems.
    • Storage materials, such as archival-quality rolling tubes and storage boxes, are available through art supply stores and conservation supply catalogues.  Contact your local museum for sources near you.
    • Vacuuming is the best way to clean textiles.  It is effective in removing dust and other physical contaminates and discourages insects and mold as well.  For may fragile or three-dimensional textiles, dusting the piece with a soft brush directly into the nozzle of a vacuum may be recommended.  For large or more sturdy textiles, vacuuming with an up and down motion (lifting, not dragging the nozzle) through a sheet of flexible plastic screening may be suggested.
  • Furniture
    • To limit the effect of light, move furniture out of direct sunlight, use blinds or curtains to help diffuse sunlight.
    • Wood will react to rapid changes in humidity by expanding or contracting which can result in the cracking or splitting of the surface.  Try to maintain a constant environment with the use of air conditioning or dehumidifiers and humidifiers for dry air.
    • Furniture oils are not recommended for maintenance as many of them contain linseed oil or other drying oils, and when used repeatedly will create a sticky surface that darkens the wood.
    • The best way to care for clear varnished furniture is with a coating of good paste wax.  Good quality paste wax is available at most hardware stores.  Do not wax furniture that is painted or has a flaking finish.
  • Recordings: Cylinder, Discs, and Tape
    • Store all discs, tape and cylinders upright.  Do not lay any recording flat, not even audio or videocassettes.
    • Do not touch the playing surface of any recording.  For cylinders, handle by inserting middle and index fingers in the center hole then gently spreading them to just keep the cylinder from slipping off.