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preserve your collectibles

Art, antiques, jewelry and collectibles are often irreplaceable. So, making sure your valuables are properly protected is of the utmost importance. This MasterKit will shed light on common specialty items that need additional insurance coverage and provide expert tips to make sure they'll last for generations to come.
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Article / 3 MINS

Expert Tips to Care for Collectibles

It's only natural to worry that your most treasured possessions could get damaged or destroyed when they're stored away. But you can take extra care with fragile antiques and heirlooms to ensure they are safe when they're not on display.

When you've worked hard to pull together an impressive array of collectibles, the last thing you want is for them to deteriorate through exposure to the elements or from wear and tear. Here are some expert tips on how to store and protect your valuables for maximum safety and longevity

  1. Jewelry
  2. Photographs
  3. Works on Paper
  4. Textiles

 

1. Jewelry
Whether your jewelry includes precious heirlooms or new pieces you purchased yourself, taking a few basic steps can help keep it all in pristine condition, and also maintain its structure and integrity.

  • Diamonds: Clean any jewelry with set diamonds by soaking it in warm water mixed with a few drops of dish soap. Then brush the diamonds with a clean, soft-bristled toothbrush. Rinse the jewelry in clean water and wrap it in a paper towel and shake it for about 10 seconds to make sure you remove all leftover water. Be sure to store jewelry with diamonds separately from other pieces because the hard stones can scratch softer metals and gems.
  • Sterling silver: Use a special silver cleaning cloth to remove tarnish. You can also try using a small amount of silver polish on a microfiber cloth. Silver should be stored in tarnish-proof cloth to avoid exposure to the air, and to minimize tarnishing and scratching. Boxes lined with tarnish-proof fabric are ideal for storing your silver safely.
  • Gold and platinum: These metals are soft and can be easily bent, so to achieve the right results without doing damage, consider finding a local, reputable jeweler through jewelers.org to clean your jewelry. For minor buffing, you can use a soft microfiber cloth to gently clean. Store gold pieces together and platinum pieces together, either in soft jewelry bags or in the original jewelry boxes they came in to avoid scratching from harder metals or stones.
  • Pearls: Pearls are so delicate, even the oil on your skin can damage them. That's why it's important to put them on after you apply hairsprays, perfumes, etc. And when you're changing out of your clothes, always take your pearls off first, before you remove anything else. To clean them, gently rub the pearls with a soft chamois cloth. Hanging pearls while storing them can stretch and weaken the string holding them together. Instead, store them in a cloth-lined jewelry box or wrap them in a soft cloth.
  • Vintage costume jewelry: Jewelry made of non-precious materials like Bakelite, brass, enamel, colored glass, and crystal is often handed down in families just like precious jewels. Keep your best pieces clean using a soft, damp cloth, and dry them right away. Be careful when exposing them to strong cleaning solutions as even water can cause oxidization and rust and can affect the adhesive. Store your costume jewels like you would your precious jewels — in a fabric-lined box or soft jewelry bags.

 

2. Photographs
While most of our photographs are now stored digitally, memories from the past are typically printed on paper, a material that's vulnerable to aging and environmental factors like light, heat, and humidity. Here are some tips to ensure they stay protected:

  • Before handling any photos, make sure your hands are clean, and for best protection, wear non-scratching gloves made of microfiber or nitrile (a synthetic rubber). Make sure your work area is free of dust and dirt as well.
  • Never use paper clips, fasteners, rubber bands, tape or other materials to organize photos, and avoid marking them in any way, even on the back side.
  • To properly preserve photos, make sure you store them in a cool, dry environment that's unlikely to be affected by severe temperature or humidity changes — that means basements and attics are not ideal.
  • If you're storing photos in an album, make sure the paper is acid-free and lignin-free, and don't buy albums that advertise "magnetic" or "no stick" pages. Any plastic touching the photos should be made of uncoated polyester film, uncoated cellulose triacetate, polyethylene, or polypropylene.
  • If you're storing photos, use an archival storage box that's acid-free and lignin-free, and if possible, keep your prints separate from your negatives as a backup.1
Pro Tip: If you want to display important photos in frames, make a copy of the original and use that, as exposure to all kinds of light can be harmful to old photographs.

 

3. Works on Paper2
As time goes on, all paintings age and deteriorate, regardless of the medium. Whether you've purchased an original work from a renowned artist or a unique piece from an unknown talent, taking the right measures to minimize and slow the natural aging process will help keep your painting in good shape for as long as possible.

  • Before handling artwork and paintings, be sure your hands are clean and remove any accessories like jewelry or watches to avoid scratching the piece. You may also want to wear cotton gloves for added protection.
  • Never carry a painting from the top — always use two hands to hold it from the sides of the frame or stretcher. If the painting is especially large, it should be handled by two or more people.
  • Most works on paper require matting and framing — be sure all materials are acid free or archival. And select glass with conservation glazing (it blocks 97 percent of UV light) or museum glass, which is more expensive, but the best option for UV and dirt protection.3
  • Make sure the hardware you're using to hang your painting is sturdy and appropriately sized. Always check hardware periodically to make sure items aren't loose or deteriorating.
  • When choosing a location to display paintings, avoid walls that are close to heat sources (i.e. fireplaces, radiators, etc.) or exposed to direct sunlight. Heat of any kind can dry out the painting and expose the surface to dirt.
  • Moisture and humidity are also extremely detrimental to paintings and can cause paint loss. Avoid extreme highs and lows when it comes to humidity: Low humidity can make paint brittle, while high humidity can encourage organisms like mold to grow.
  • You can occasionally dust your paintings with a clean, soft artist's brush made of natural hair if the surface doesn't show signs of loose or flaking paint. Use slow, gentle strokes in one direction first, and then follow up by brushing in the opposite direction. If your painting has a matte surface, however, you should avoid brushing completely, since it could change the painting's finish. And don't use dust cloths, feather dusters, or any other kinds of brushes to clean your paintings.
Storing fragile antiques can be tricky. Click here for the best ways to ensure your delicate valuables are safe when they're not on display.

 

4. Textiles4
Antique cloths or woven fabrics can be made of a variety of natural or synthetic fibers including silk, cotton, wool, rayon, and more.5 Everything from air pollution to insect infestations can affect the appearance and structure of these delicate goods, so it's important to keep them clean and protected.
  • Store quilts, fabrics, rugs, and other textiles in a cool, dry, dark place that's clean and won't be affected by drastic changes in temperature and humidity (i.e. not the attic or basement).
  • Rugs can be particularly challenging because they're a prime spot for moth and carpet beetle infestations. To prevent an infestation, unroll your rugs once a month to check for evidence of insects, and keep the surrounding areas clean by vacuuming thoroughly and wiping away dust.6
  • If your items can be cleaned, wash them professionally or by hand, but don't iron or starch them before storing. Make sure they're lying flat and avoid folding if possible.
  • If your items can't be cleaned, vacuum them when possible since dust particles can cut through fibers and damage textiles. However, if your pieces are painted, embroidered or beaded, avoid vacuuming and consult a local professional for advice.
  • Instead of wrapping textiles in paper, which is typically acidic, use a clean, white cotton sheet. Avoid sealing them in airtight bags or containers to allow the textiles to breathe.
  • Another great way to store fragile fabrics is to roll them over cloth-covered cardboard tubes like paper towel or mailing tubes. Be sure to roll loosely to avoid tearing.
  • Ideal temperature for textile storage is 65° to 70° with humidity between 40 and 50%. These conditions will make mold and mildew less likely to form.
Whether you've inherited family heirlooms or carefully curated your own personal collection, taking the right measures to maintain the quality of your delicate collectibles can help slow down their aging process and preserve their appearance for years to come.
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