Save Your Family Treasures!

Preserving Collectibles: Some Basic Tipssaving stuff

These tips all come from the book Saving Stuff: How to care for and preserve your collectibles, heirlooms, and other prize possessions by Don Williams—who is a senior conservator for the Smithsonian Institution.   TSCPL has this book in our collection—check it out if you need more detail on preserving just about any type of collectible item.

These tips apply to some of the most common collectible items: books and other paper items, coins, stamps, glass, and pottery


Factors to consider: Light, temperature, humidity and protection from moisture, vermin, and handling.  Basements and attics are rarely good places for storage.china cabinet

China Plates: Stack with padding between each piece.  A cloth napkin, paper plate or coffee filter all work well. They display best in a glass cabinet or placed high on a wall using plate or cup brackets.

Paper items/Books: Williams writes: “Think of paper as a dried vegetable.  Dried vegetables do best when they are kept cool, dry and out of the light.” Get it out of the light, keep it dry and keep it cool.  Keep it out of the attic or basement. Don’t eat or drink around it and take measures to control pests.  Don’t fold it, glue it, tape it, staple or paper-clip it.  Don’t write on it and don’t laminate it. If it is a book, don’t open it completely flat.   Use archival or acid free sleeves or storage containers.
If you want to display it, consider making a high quality copy and displaying that insteadcoin storage

Coins/Stamps: DON’T TOUCH, Place them in a protective housing. If you must handle them, use clean, white cotton gloves. Keep stamps in the dark and in an area with low humidity. Coins are best stored in an unpainted metal storage cabinet, this works well for stamps too.  Stamps should also be stored in a fireproof box.

Ceramics/glass: Handle with extreme care. Never pick it up by the spout or handle. Display them in enclosed shelves or cases, with a support if necessary. Hand wash them separately. Never use newspaper to wrap or pad them. Display them out of direct sunlight


Assemble the tools you will need to clean and store your items.  Here are common tools used with books/paper, coins, stamps, glass, and pottery:

artist’s Brush

buffered boards

buffered boards

archival or acid free book jackets or sleeves

archival grade storage boxes

acid free folders

buffered boards (also called mounting or mat boards)

coin, stamp or card sleeves or polyethylene zippered bags

white cotton gloves

lint free cloth

distilled water

white gloves


cotton swabs

compressed air can

hair dryer


DOCUMENTATIONdocumentation sheet

For your most important items, you should record:

Who: Who owned it, who made it, who gave it to you, to whom would you want to leave it?


What: What is its financial value and emotional value?  What is its purpose and what is it made of?  What markings, signatures or unique features does it have?


When: When did you or your family acquire it and when was it made?


Where: Where did it come from?  Are there markings that identify this?


Why: Why is it important to YOU?

Here is a Collectible Documentation Sheet you can use to record this information about your family heirlooms.

Feel free to share your tips with other collectors by commenting on this post.