Caring for Family Papers

Imagine you’ve discovered old family documents like a marriage certificate, letter, photograph or family Bible. You are understandably proud and want to display this piece of history in your home. How do you do so without damaging it? 

The National Library of Ireland’s website houses much valuable information, including advice about proper care in displaying paper heirlooms: 

Ideally display a copy and store the original in safe, dry, dark, cool conditions using acid free packaging material. Do not photocopy historic documents (which will expose them to damaging levels of light) but take a digital photograph in good natural light without using a flash. To prolong the life of paper objects on display use these guidelines:

  • Minimise exposure to light (which causes paper to discolour and some inks to fade): avoid display near windows or lights. Consider the use of UV filtering glass if framing original pieces as this will block the most damaging wavelengths of light.
  • Display in cool stable temperatures: avoid hanging on the interior of external walls or locations near radiators, windows or fires. (Central heating usually provides overly warm and fluctuating temperatures which accelerate the rate at which paper becomes discoloured and brittle).
  • Choose dry environments as moisture encourages mould growth and causes paper to warp (avoid hanging pictures in bathrooms or kitchens, for example).
  • Aim for stable environmental conditions; fluctuating temperature and moisture levels are usually more damaging than ones which are consistently unsuitable. Something to remember is that modern houses can be very dry and very warm which is also not ideal.
  • Make sure mounts for original pictures/photographs are made from acid free board and that the picture does not come into direct contact with the picture frame or the frame’s backing board (which are usually made from acidic materials).

More on the subject can be found at the NLI website: http://www.nli.ie/en/faq/caring-for-family-papers.aspx

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