Preserving Memories: Storing Flags, Chipboard Books, Black Scrapbook Pages

By Grace Dobush Premium

Safe Keeping: Old Flags

With the Fourth of July approaching, you may be tempted to find the flag Grandpa gave you and run it up the pole. But flying Old Glory-if it’s truly old-could irreparably damage your family heirloom. Even washing the flag is a no-no. Your colors may indeed run, and the stress could cause tears in the fabric.

Textiles are especially vulnerable to light, dirt, extreme temperatures, humidity, bugs and pollution. The best course of action is to buy an acid-free flag box and interleave the fabric with acid-free tissue paper. Some climates require different methods of protection, however. In desert areas, use unbleached cotton instead of tissue paper; in semitropical and tropical climes, you need to take extra care to keep insects away. The Smithsonian Museum Conservation Institute says using tin containers has been successful in some places.

If you’re considering having your flag cleaned or appraised, consult a conservator. The American Institute for Conservation of Historic & Artistic Works offers online tips for finding one. The institute also has helpful downloadable guides to caring for textiles on its website.

Showing Your Stripes

Hollinger Metal Edge sells acid-free triangular boxes with self-locking lids you can use for storage or shipping. A plain corrugated flag box costs $16.30; a box with a display window is $17.65. You can also buy unbuffered, acid-free tissue paper in 100-sheet packs from Hollinger Corp. for $22.75.

Ask the Archivist: Blacking Out

Q. I’ve heard that black scrapbook pages are acidic. Should I remove my ancestors’ photos from these albums?

A. Generally speaking, it’s best to leave vintage albums intact. You don’t want to separate the photographs from the captions that provide the important who, what, when and where. Yes, the black paper might be acidic, and acids can damage photographs. But removing glued photos is extremely difficult, and trying to do it yourself can cause more harm in the long run.

My advice: Store your delicate photo albums and scrapbooks in archival boxes that closely match the size of the book. Place sheets of acid-free tissue paper (trimmed to size) between the pages as a buffer. Tissue paper is thin enough that it won’t create too much bulk, which would put extra stress on the binding. Add tissue paper around the sides to create a snug fit so the book doesn’t shift within the box. This method will protect your treasured photographs from light, dust and grubby hands.

If your ancestor glued sparingly (a small dab on each corner) or if the glue has dried out, you can use a microspatula to gently remove the prints. Archival suppliers such as Talas and Gaylord sell these stainless steel tools for less than $10. But don’t attempt more-drastic measures if the microspatula doesn’t work. I’ve seen terrible advice on the Internet, including freezing, soaking with water and applying harsh chemical solvents. In all of these scenarios, the cure is worse than the disease.
—Sally Jacobs