American History Through an African American Lens

Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture

Preservation Tips For Your Personal Treasures

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“It is our sincere hope that you will take time to collect and preserve the treasures in your homes and communities.  Now is the time to capture this history, before it disappears.”  Lonnie G. Bunch III, Founding Director, Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture

Part of our mission at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) is to work with individuals, organizations, regional museums, and historical societies to identify treasures and reclaim them for future generations to enjoy.  In 2008, the museum launched Save Our African American Treasures, A National Collections Initiative, a traveling program that helps participants from around the country identify and preserve items in their personal collections.

As part of the program NMAAHC publishes information for attendees and other members of the public interested in learning how to take care of their personal collections. The first thing to know about caring for your treasures is this: Do no harm.

Here are the five basics of preservation:

  • Avoid bright or direct light. Light is Enemy Number 1 for sensitive materials. Color photographs are especially vulnerable to fading when they are hit by light of any type. Do not store films, prints, or fabrics in direct sunlight. Avoid exterior, south-facing walls or other locations that receive direct sunlight.

  • Maintain a consistent temperature. If you choose the right setting for your storage, you have won half the battle in preserving your treasure. Do not store objects in attics, where the temperature varies by season and where, in the summer, it is far too hot and humid. Also avoid placing treasures near heaters, radiators, chimneys, vents, electrical sources, and open windows.

  • Keep objects clean and clean them with care. Dust can actually scratch delicate surfaces such as photographs and textiles. When dusting, use a soft, lint-free cloth, and avoid rubbing. Always clean gently and avoid harsh commercial cleansers or cleaning solvents.

  • Guard against insects and pests. Keep the area around your treasures clean and food-free. If you are concerned about bugs, consider using pest traps to alert you to their presence.

  • Avoid excess moisture. Do not store your treasures in areas that may experience water damage, such as near plumbing pipes, sprinklers, open windows, vents, or sinks. Avoid storing items in the basement — or anywhere in your house where humidity and mold are common and where flooding might occur.

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Use the links below to look for specific details about preserving various objects.

Preserving books:http://nmaahc.si.edu/Programs/PreservingBooks

Preserving paper artifacts:  http://nmaahc.si.edu/Programs/PreservingPaper

Preserving furniture:  http://nmaahc.si.edu/Programs/PreservingFurniture

Preserving photographs: http://nmaahc.si.edu/Programs/PreservingPhotographs

Preserving textiles and clothes: http://nmaahc.si.edu/Programs/PreservingTextiles

For additional preservation resources: http://www.conservation-us.org/about-conservation/caring-for-your-treasures#.UrTAbfRDvTo

Save Our African American Treasures is made possible with generous support from the Bank of America Charitable Foundation and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. The grants also support the pre-design and construction of the museum on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., scheduled to open in 2015.

Our next Treasures event will be held in Fort Lauderdale, FL
January 11 and 12, 2014! 

Compiled by Lanae S., Digital Content Specialist, Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture

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