Tips and advice on caring for family treasures and collectables
Let there be low light
Light whether natural or artificial can cause damage to most family treasures. Photographs, letters, certificates, wooden furniture, any textile item such as a sampler, watercolours and even some synthetic materials such as Bakelite, will be affected by the action of light and the heat it gives. Keep precious objects out of direct sunlight and do not use spotlights over pictures.
Keep it cool
Temperature and humidity will have an impact on how quickly an object will age. High temperature and little moisture in the air will cause certain materials to crack, and too damp an atmosphere will cause mould to grow. It is better not to store objects in a loft, garage, shed or near a direct heat source such as a radiator.
Pack for the future
If storing any item for safekeeping it is always worth remembering about what it is stored in. Acid-free tissue paper and boxes protect against damage. Plastic containers are not always suitable especially plastic garment bags as they can cause discolouration.
What’s eating your treasures
Certain insects can cause damage to many family treasures. Wood, paper and textiles are vulnerable to attack from clothes moth, wood worm and silver fish. Traditional methods of preventing insect damage such as lavender bags and cedar wood balls can be effective but vigilance is the best deterrent.
Surface dust can have an impact on certain objects. Dust is acidic and if left in place for a long time can be very difficult to remove completely and can damage the object. Remove dust carefully by brushing the surface of an object lightly with a soft bristle brush.
To clean or not to clean
No matter how tempting, cleaning can cause problems so consider if it is safe to clean an object without damage occurring. Always test a polish or cleaner on an unobtrusive area of an object in case of problems. If cleaning metal items such as silver, check that residues from cleaners are not allowed to build up in crevices. Never over-clean otherwise surface finishes, makers marks and the object itself can be damaged. If washing ceramics or glass always take care to protect objects from hard surfaces such as sinks and taps by using a soft cloth around the bottom of the sink and take care with proprietry cleaners. If in doubt, check with a conservator!
Cut or other gemstones mounted in rings or other pieces of jewellery are susceptible to dirt contamination. Dirt can cause loss of brilliance so to restore brightness brush gently using an old toothbrush with mild detergent and water over a bowl (in case the stone drops out!)
Repairing the past
If an item is damaged it is not advisable to rush in to repair it. Poor repairs can cause more problems for an object and so contact a conservator for advice before starting any treatment.
All dressed up
It is always worth remembering that wearing historic clothing will have an impact on how long and well it will survive. Family wedding dresses and christening robes are often re-used by one generation to another. Perspiration and deodorants will stain and eventually rot textile fibres and sewing threads will weaken over time so seams could be vulnerable to damage if strained.
Handle with care
If you need to handle or move a fragile or heavy object from one place to another, make sure it is well supported and that the way through is clear. Accidents can happen if thought isn’t given to careful handling.
Suppliers of conservation materials
These specialist companies will supply a wide range of materials including acid-free boxes and tissue paper.
Conservation by Design Limited
Timecare Works, 5 Singer Way
Woburn Road Industrial Estate
Kempston, Bedford MK42 7AW
Conservation Resources (U.K.), Limited
Unit 2, Ashville Way, off Watlington Road
Cowley, Oxford OX4 6TU
Preservation Equipment Limited
Shelfanger, Diss, Norfolk IP22 2DG
Howlett Way, Thetford, Norfolk IP24 1HZ
G Ryder and Co Ltd
Denbigh Road, Bletchley, Milton Keynes MK1 1DG