Family heirlooms can be passed down from generation to generation, if properly kept. These treasures mean more than any digital photograph from last year’s Fourth of July party. They are items that link us to our past in ways that are often indescribable and can often provide insight into our family history.
Perhaps you have a doll that your grandma used to play with or letters from your grandfather to your grandmother during the war or even a piece of furniture passed down from your great grandparents, through the generations, to you. Regardless of what it is, taking care of family heirlooms are the key to passing them on to the next generation.
Light and Heat
Antiques that have been passed down can be easily damaged by light, heat, and humidity, so preserving them because of utmost importance. The ideal atmosphere should be below 70-degrees Fahrenheit with humidity in the range of 40 to 50 percent, according to the Smithsonian. Storing items in the basement or attic are ruled out due to the constant temperature extremes and humidity as well as the likelihood of water damage in a flooded basement.
Ensure heirlooms are not in direct sunlight, but also keep them away from fluorescent lighting, which could also fade or discolor items such as paper, fabrics, and photographs. However, items that are boxed away and stored are often forgotten and certainly not as enjoyable as those that are shared with family and house guests.
Substances to Avoid
When it comes to family heirlooms, there are particular substances that are especially harmful to the antique. When storing, displaying, or cleaning your family treasure, avoid the following:
- Abrasive cleaners
- Dry cleaner’s bags
- Adhesive tape
- Acidic wood or paper
- Pens and markers
- Paper clips, staples, and pins
Protecting Your Antiques
It’s best to rotate items between storage and display to allow them to rest in a cool dry place without too much exposure to light and potential handling. However, when you do place family heirlooms out for display, there are steps to take to make sure they are kept in the best possible condition.
Photographs: Keep off of walls that receive a lot of sunlight and away from heat vents. A stairwell is often an ideal placement for photographs. Framed photos and textiles can receive extra protection with the use of ultraviolet, light-filtering glass.
Furniture: Professional pest control may be required if you notice droppings, holes, or wood shavings. These are evidence of bugs or rodents.
A conservator may be able to restore the piece of furniture to its original glory; however, some individuals choose to add their own touch to damaged pieces through re-upholstery. Choose a fabric that matches the period of the piece, but reflects your own tastes in order to add to the history of the furniture as it is passed down through the family tree. Only trust professional interior designers with your family heirlooms.
Metal: Avoid water, humidity, and areas with condensation such as the bathroom. While your grandfather’s old razor strap from the war would look wonderful on the bathroom wall next to his silver razor, those will both likely be affected by the severe temperature change and humidity caused by the shower.
Regardless of the type of antique you have, it is important to protect it from deteriorating so that it can be passed down to future generations. Nothing is more emotional than holding your father’s favorite record, displaying your great grandmother’s best china, or hanging the preserved drapes that your great aunt purchased for her kitchen. Not only should you cherish these special pieces of history, but you should begin making your own keepsakes that your children and grandchildren will forever treasure.