As we begin a new year here at the WSHC Conservation service we have decided to have a spring clean and re-organisation of our materials cupboard. At this point, a new Conservation Corner idea was inspired…
There are particular materials that we always stock that can also be extremely useful for packaging and storing your own precious items at home.
Conservation and archival grade storage materials are free from harmful ingredients that can react with and cause damage to objects they are close to. For example, certain plastics can breakdown and release harmful gases that can increase deterioration of the materials inside. Similarly, newspaper becomes acidic over time and can transfer this to whatever is near it causing damage to paper, metal, plastic, textile and many other materials. To keep precious items safe over the long term the use of suitable packaging is crucial. Below are some examples of these materials and some common precious item storage examples:
Acid Free Tissue:
This is a conservation staple, an excellent packing and padding material for a variety of materials including textiles, most plastics, books, most metals and ceramics.
This kind of board comes in various thicknesses and can be used to make folders and boxes to protect books, documents, photographs and textiles.
Sealed Plastic Boxes:
Polypropylene (PP) or Polyethylene (PE) storage containers are widely available in shops and provided they are made of only the plastics mentioned, are inert and therefore suitable for long term storage of materials that do not need breathable packaging such as metals (including jewellery), ceramics and some plastics.
Polyester pockets are inert and will not yellow or breakdown (please note that pockets made of alternative plastics such as standard stationary plastic pockets are not suitable for archival use).
These pockets are great for storing paper, parchment and photographs. They make them easy to handle and as they are clear, the document can be viewed without removing from the pocket which in turn reduces damage caused by handling.
Archival Photographic Paper Envelopes:
These paper envelopes are made from very pure cotton paper pulp without harmful additives such as Lignin – one of the ingredients that makes paper yellow and brittle quickly. They are great for storing negatives or photographs to protect them from damage.
Always look for storage materials that have passed the Photographic Activity Test (PAT) as photographic materials can be damaged by using the wrong materials.
This acid free cotton tape can be used to tie around books with loose covers and boards or to tie around archival boxboard folders and enclosures to secure them when closed.
Some Common Precious Item Storage Examples:
A Fragile or precious book or document
Use an archival enclosure made from archival boxboard. You can find instructions for making ‘four flap folders’ and other archival enclosures online or alternatively ready-made archival quality boxes in varying sizes can also be purchased through conservation suppliers online.
If you have a book that is generally in good condition by has loose boards or covers, you can tie cotton tape around it to hold the boards in place.
Create a cushion with acid free tissue and place medal on top within a Polypropylene (PP) or Polyethylene (PE) storage container
Put photographs in an archival paper album using archival photo corners or put photographs in polyester pockets- these can be purchased in various sizes and with multiple compartments and holes down one side so that they can be stored in an archival ring binder or box. Further information can also be found in my blog here
Wedding dress or special textile item
Line an archival boxboard enclosure with acid free tissue. Place the textile item in the box using acid free tissue to pad out folds so that you avoid creases. Cover with another layer of acid free tissue.
Where to buy archival materials:
There are several places online that sell archival storage items. Some well-known suppliers include PEL (Preservation Equipment Limited), Conservation by Design and Secol but there are other options available. The key thing is to check that they are a reputable retailer and that every item you purchase is of genuine archival quality.
If you have an item that you think may need conservation work or you want more information on how to safely package your heirlooms and precious items come along to one of our FREE conservation surgeries at WSHC from 2 – 4pm on the second Thursday of every month. The next one will be on Feb 13th. Book your appointment by calling 01249 705500.
Sophie Coles, Archive Conservator, Conservation and Museums Advisory Service
Wiltshire Conservation and Museums Advisory Service is based at Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre. We preserve the Wiltshire and Swindon Archives and provide support to museums, heritage organisations and individuals to care for and conserve historic collections and meet professional standards.