Collection Storage Tips

Written by: Anne Ruta, DAR Museum Collections Manager
May 23, 2016

Many of us have inherited photos, documents, furniture, clothing and other items that we wish to keep and preserve.  Where do you store these mementos, souvenirs or family heirlooms? Most people use their basements and attics, but these can be the least safe storage areas because they leave items vulnerable to the agents that cause fragile materials to deteriorate. Basements often provide dark moist environments hospitable for mold growth and attractive to pests. Attics generally have little heating or air conditioning, so they are subject to wide swings in temperature and humidity. This can accelerate corrosion (tarnish or rust) on metals and dry out paper, wood and textile materials.  It’s not just where you store these items, it’s also how you store them that affects their ability to survive. The DAR Museum faces these same challenges when deciding how to store the roughly 70 percent of the collection that is not on display.

Although creating ideal storage conditions for all objects is a difficult task, we utilize protective measures that mitigate the factors that cause damage.  The best storage is where there is regular cleaning and where temperature and humidity remain relatively constant. In the Museum’s storage rooms, special heating and air conditioning systems keep the temperature at approximately 68°-70° and the humidity to about 50%. Staff continually dusts, vacuums and monitors these areas for insects to maintain a clean storage environment. Our Artwork Storage room has bins which provide vertical storage for paintings and steel cabinets with drawers which hold framed and unframed needlework.

Have you ever unpacked a quilt or clothing item stored in a wooden trunk and found that it had yellow or tan stripes where the folded fabric touched the sides of the trunk? Acids like those found in wood as well as other contaminants in storage containers can migrate to the objects stored in them. We prevent this kind of damage by using acid free materials to wrap and store items in the museum’s collection.  Acid free boxes, tissue paper, and folders are made with paper that has the acidic parts of the wood pulp removed. Acid free tissue paper pads the folds of quilts to prevent deep creases and large acid free boxes allow for less folding of the quilts. 

Our storage methods, as well as the containers we use, protect objects by shielding them from dust and breakage. Each item we store has a specific assigned space and visible identification tag which make it easier to retrieve them for examination and exhibition.  Photos and small paper items fit in polyester envelopes inside an acid free shoe box. Trays with compartments organize small items and keep them from bumping into one another.  The trays stack inside a larger storage box to make compact storage.  Silver benefits from storage in zip top acid free polyethylene bags which create a barrier that helps prevent tarnish.  A small strip of Corrosion Intercept®, a material that scavenges corrosion producing materials from the air, also retards tarnish. 

We strive to preserve our DAR Museum collection every day and these are a few of the techniques we use to create barriers between fragile historic objects and the agents that can harm or destroy them. These techniques can also be used to preserve your personal collection for future generations.

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