How to Preserve Antiques and Collectibles



When you purchase an antique and keep it safe, or rescue one of grandma's collectible treasures from the trash heap, you're acting as a preservationist whether you see yourself that way or not. 

For a number of years now, the American Library Association has fostered Preservation Week® as a way to encourage the conservation of collectible treasures as well as family records, video footage, and other valuable materials that will be important for future generations. It’s a time when libraries across the United States focus on how to preserve everything from dolls to textiles to photos, and more. All topics of interest to antiques enthusiasts and collectors.

While the types of resources highlighted during Preservation Week are available year-round, a special effort is made to introduce more people to the importance of caring for heirlooms and historical memorabilia through special library programs. And since so many resources are found online today, it's a great way to get folks back into libraries to explore all that is available for preservationists. 

“Libraries play a key role in helping us understand and preserve history,” said Mary Page, president of the Association of Library Collections & Technical Services (ALCTS) through a press release on the topic. “We risk losing decades of digital history, and more than 1.3 billion priceless treasures held by public institutions are at risk of being lost forever because of preservation ignorance. During Preservation Week® libraries demonstrate what we can do, individually and together, to preserve our personal and shared histories.”

Quick Preservation Tips

One of the best suggestions offered through the library “Quick Preservation Tips” materials is to take the first step: 

“The most important part of a preservation effort is taking the first step. Don’t let the pursuit of perfection be an obstacle to getting started. A simple first step like moving photos out of the attic or basement to a bedroom closet will have a significant impact.”

Keep in mind also that temperature and humidity are the keys to conservation. Attics, basements, and garages aren’t the best places for storing many varieties of antiques and collectibles if you want to avoid ruining them. Also remember that dust, light are common culprits of condition issues, and seek out the best storage materials (often those free of PVC) for the type of item you’re trying to preserve.

Visit your local library during Preservation Week or at any time to find out more, and take a look at these helpful articles online as well:

  • Cast Iron: Special care needs to be taken to keep cast iron cookware ready for use. And yes, you can use your old, collectible pans without hurting them. Just be sure to learn how to correctly clean and season them beforehand. 
  • Linens: Vintage linens need a bit of extra care if you actually want to use them in your home. Some, in fact, are too delicate for everyday use. Learn how to clean and store linens properly before you pull them out for a special occasion and make sure you're not destroying something very valuable before employing old linen for day to day use in your kitchen or bathroom. 
  • Photographs: Old photos are some of the most important parts of family history, but also some of the most neglected. Labeling them and storing them properly will help future generations enjoy them just have you have. Learn to be a good steward of your families memories, and they will love you for it later.
  • Postcards: Postcards from the early 1900s are beautiful reminders of our past. Many of them were collected and stored in albums back when they were new, and they still look really good for being more than 100 years old. Find out more about how to keep them safe and in great condition for posterity if you've accumulated your own collection.
  • Quilts: Quilts serve as a way to preserve family history when the old textiles great-grandmother made are preserved and passed down from generation to generation. They also demonstrate a handicraft that way once commonplace but is lost to many these days. Be sure to learn about the best ways to keep your quilts beautiful so they can continue to keep your loved ones warm.

With some help from both online resources and your local library, you can accomplish all your preservation goals with ease.