Preserving Family Treasures

The Four Enemies of Paper, Photos & Textiles

Categories: Archival Preservation, Tags: how to preserve documents, how to preserve photographs

by William D. Welge, CA *

Most people, who are the keepers of family treasures, may not be aware that, the air we breathe, the light we allow in our homes, the settings on our heating and air conditioners are causing damage to important documents, photographs or clothing.

Since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution in America during the 19th century, air borne pollutants have been, and continue to be, one of the major components that attack and can damage heirlooms in your possession. Dust, exhaust fumes, smoking, and microscopic contaminates are harmful.

How to minimize the risk can be simple, if applied on a regular basis:

First, change the filter in your heating and air system every 30 days.
Second, vacuum regularly to minimize dust, pet dander and other pollutants.
Third, check for leaks around windows and doors and seal with chalking materials.

No matter how much we think we are preventing air borne pollutants from coming inside our homes, we must stay diligent in adhering to regular housekeeping chores that will reduce the effects from pollutants that will damage our family treasures.

The next major enemy of paper, photographs and textiles is the amount of light coming through windows in your home. The sun contains ultraviolet rays (UV) that are extremely harsh on paper and etc.

Over time allowing great-great-grandfather’s Civil War discharge record to hang in a frame directly across from a window with the curtains wide open, is a recipe for disaster. The sun rays will cause the ink and color to fade and increase the rate of the paper’s deterioration; therefore, you must remove the treasured, family item to prevent this silent, yet devastating, destruction. This also includes paintings, photographs, newspaper articles and a host of other items.
It is never good to display a family heirloom in front of a window. Ideally, placement should be in a hallway away from direct contact with sunlight.

What does one do if your painting or photograph has been compromised by too much light or even fluorescent lighting? By the time you notice, it is probably too late, but you may want to seek out a qualified conservator.

Look for the next installment on The Four Enemies of Paper to be posted soon!

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*Certified Archivist