Displaying Family Heirlooms

By Fern Glazer Premium


In this article:

It’s possible to preserve your memories and use them, wear them or hang them on your walls. “If you’re not using it and enjoying it, what’s the point?” asks Sally J. Jacobs, owner of Jacobs Archival Services and blogger at the Practical Archivist. These easy tips will keep your displays worry-free.

Paper: To keep your paper treasures on view, Jacobs advises scanning the documents and printing high-quality copies for display on the wall or in a scrapbook. You’ll still want to frame them with photo-safe materials so the copies last and you don’t have to keep subjecting the originals to the intense light of a scanner. Display framed copies out of harm’s way, adds Jacobs—away from direct sunlight, radiators and air conditioning vents.

In addition to creating display copies of select items, send copies to a number of relatives. “The more copies of an item, the more the item is likely to survive the long term,” says Jacobs.

Photos: When it comes to mounting and framing photographs for display, follow these two key pieces of advice from Ed Earle, curator at the International Center of Photography in New York City: Use only archival materials for anything that touches the photo, and make sure the glass doesn’t butt against the photo’s surface (emulsion), or it could stick. Framing stores sell spacers to keep that from happening. You also can frame copies of your photos.

Textiles: Museums display textiles on special mannequins made of foam and polyester batting—a relatively expensive option. As an alternative, Mary M. Fahey, head of preservation at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Mich., suggests arranging clothing on a Plexiglas rod inserted horizontally through the sleeves or a padded hanger (like those recommended for storing garments in closets) and placing it away from direct heat or sunlight. People tend to show off quilts and linens by using them, says Fahey. That’s fine, she says, as long as you’re aware that “if you’re going to use it, you’re taking a chance” it could get damaged. Minimize wear and tear by rotating vintage items in and out of use and treating spills immediately.

How do you display your family heirlooms? Share your tips on our Forum.