Saving history from father time

by Sara Hacking, Staff Writer Saving family heirlooms from the destructive effects of time was the subject of a workshop at the Wadena County Historical Society last Thursday. A group of local citizens interested in caring for and restoring famil...

by Sara Hacking,

Staff Writer

Saving family heirlooms from the destructive effects of time was the subject of a workshop at the Wadena County Historical Society last Thursday. A group of local citizens interested in caring for and restoring family photographs, dishes, letters, maps, books and textiles attended.

WCHS Executive Director Sandi Pratt contacted the Minnesota Historical Society about organizing the event.

"I'm just a real fanatic when it comes to preserving history," Pratt said. "I think that everyone should preserve their history."


MNHS Outreach Conservator Bob Herskovitz provided the presentation that is part of the Minnesota's Greatest project to record the history of the World War II generation.

"Our history defines who were are, where we come from," he said. "If we don't capture history, we lose it."

Attendees were invited to bring family heirlooms for advice on how to care for them.

Elaine Schmitz brought a Junior Classics book that belonged to her father titled "A Library for Boys and Girls." It is one of a set of about 10, she said.

She also brought a letter edged in black. It was a death notice that was sent in 1914, she said.

"It was the only way they communicated these things to people who were far away," she said.

Schmitz brought another letter, although it contained a happier message. It was a valentine sent to her grandmother in 1881 in Iowa.

"They're just family heirlooms," she said about what the objects mean to her. "I keep everything as did my mother."


Herskovitz offered this advice on caring for family heirlooms in the form of photos, silver, textiles and books:


Storage: Photographs can be placed in albums with photo corners on acid-free paper, Herskovitz said. Plastic pages organized in a loose leaf binder are another good option. Although the plastic must indicate that it does not contain polyvinyl chloride (PVCs), which let off chemicals that can damage photographs and slides over time. A binder that is not filled with pages should be stored with the spine up to prevent the photos in the pages from becoming bent.

All photos and slides should be stored in a cool, dry environment, he said. For every 10 degree drop in temperature the chemical reactions that cause photo deterioration are cut in half. Attics and basements are not good places to store photos.

Mounting photos: Herskovitz recommended using sleeves with double-sided tape, photo corners and see-through mounting strips for holding photographs. The mounting strips work well for very thin items like tissue paper as well as for items that are too thick to fit in photo corners, he said.

"Whatever you do, make sure that you don't put adhesive on original items," he said.

Digital vs. print images: Digital photography is a developing technology and conservationists have differing opinions on its storage value, Herskovitz said. Printed photos have a longer life than digital images. Digital files won't be readable after 20 years, he said. They depend on continual transfers to new technology before becoming obsolete.

"It you wait too long, you're out of luck and you have nothing," he said.


Printed photos will last a hundred years or more, he said. They can be scanned, restored and reprinted by future generations.

Color vs. black and white photographs: Black and white images are more durable, as a rule, than color images, he said. Photos that have experienced alterations in their color over time can be scanned and digitally corrected, however.

Identification: Herskovitz emphasized the importance of writing names on family photographs.

"A photograph without identification is useless," he said.

He recommended writing names on old black and white photographs with a number 2 pencil. The resin coating on modern photographs doesn't allow for marking with a regular pencil. For new photos, use a special pencil available in stores. Pencil is better than ink because it doesn't fade over time or bleed when it gets wet like ink does, he said.


Cleaning: It is best to avoid polishing silver because harsh cleaners wear away the surface of the metal, Herskovitz said. If polishing is necessary, however, he recommends 3M Tarni-Shield.

Storage: To avoid tarnish, store silver in bags made from or boxes lined with specially treated Pacific Silvercloth. Corrosion intercept bags can also be used to store silver and other non-ferrous metals.


Frequent use and gentle cleansing of silver prevent the build up of tarnish. Silver should be washed with mild soap and warm water and dried completely with a dry cloth.


Storage: Textiles should be stored in a dark, dry environment with moderately cool temperatures, Herskovitz said.

Use thickly padded hangers to protect clothes stored in the closet or hung on display from obtaining damaging creases from hangers. To create a padded hanger cut the hanger so that it does not extend beyond the shoulder seam of the garment. Wrap the properly sized hanger with polyester quilt batting and cover batting with a four-inch width poly/cotton orthopedic stockinette. The padding should be three or four inches thick.

A metal hanger is not the best choice for this technique because it may not be sturdy enough to bear the weight of heavy garments. It may also rust.

Cleaning: To clean off dust from textiles, vacuum on low. If cleaning delicate sheer fabrics, wrap and secure a nylon stocking around vacuum hose before vacuuming.

Wedding dresses: Properly dry-cleaned wedding dresses can be stored in archival boxes with acid-free tissue paper. Lay out the dress and stuff crumpled acid-free tissue paper in the sleeves and shoulders to give them dimension so they don't lay flat. The objective in storing textiles is to have as few folds and creases and possible, Herskovitz said. Use tissue paper to create a rounded fold when folding the dress to fit in the box.



Books should be stored so they are not leaning, Herskovitz said. This can damage the pages. If an open book is on display, alternate the page is it turned to, he said. Books are not made to stay open all the time.

When dusting off the tops of books, hold them tightly shut so the dust is not forced into the pages.

Damaged books may be sent to professionals for repair or stored in acid-free book boxes to prevent further damage.

Vendors of archival supplies


For more information about preserving family heirlooms go to . Specific questions can be e-mailed to .

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