Preserving Memories: Vintage Shoes, Bibles, Scanning

By Grace Dobush Premium
Safe Keeping: Vintage Shoes

If your ancestor’s boots walked their way into your possession, you’ll want to learn steps for taking care of them. All the usual recommendations apply: Keep heirloom shoes out of the sun, away from bugs, protected from extreme heat or cold, and free of moisture.

You should always approach preservation projects case by case, especially when it comes to shoes, says Jean Druesedow, director of the fashion-focused Kent State University Museum. Footwear contains many layers of material, and possibly glue, nails or metallic threads. Late Victorian and Edwardian wedding slippers made of silk, for example, often fall apart because of the metallic salts, arsenic and other volatile chemicals used in silk production at the time.

Generally, the best course of action is to wrap the shoes individually in buffered, acid-free tissue paper. If the shoe doesn’t hold its shape, gently tuck washed, unbleached muslin or crumpled paper inside — don’t use wooden shoe trees. Keep footgear in a temperature-controlled environment in drawers coated with an inert varnish or in archival boxes. Tuck a card with the original owner’s biographical information into the box.

“When in doubt, don’t do anything,” Druesedow says. “But don’t keep anything in plastic, whatever it is.” Plastic bags and containers will disintegrate, damaging and discoloring the shoes.

And then there’s the question parents must consider when Junior outgrows his first booties: To bronze or not to bronze? This irreversible procedure “definitely breaks the golden rule of preservation — don’t do anything you can’t undo,” says Sally Jacobs, our Ask the Archivist expert. But, ironically, bronzing might make family members more likely to keep the booties around, she says. Shiny little shoes on a plaque with the wearer’s name could seem more valuable than a pair of anonymous, scuffed booties. You’ll find many mail-order bronzing services by searching Google <> for shoe bronzing.


Can you match the shoe with the time period?



a. 1920s

b. 1930s

c. 1940s
Answers: 1. b, 2. c, 3. a.

Sole Searching

Toronto’s Bata Shoe Museum definitely has its market shoehorned. The museum — founded with the collection of a businesswoman who would’ve put Imelda Marcos to shame — has 12,500 items spanning 4,500 years in its permanent collection, including Queen Victoria’s ballroom slippers and Robert Redford’s cowboy boots.

View the museum’s virtual exhibits of footgear your ancestor might have worn to crush chestnuts or plant rice at <>, and test your shoe knowledge at <>. Visit in person at 327 Bloor St. W, Toronto, Ontario M5S 1W7, Canada; call (416) 979-7799 or see <> to learn more.

Consult an expert before you take any drastic measures. The American Institute for Conservation of Historic & Artistic Works’ guidelines for selecting a conservator can help <>, and the Kent State Museum’s Care of Historic Costume and Textiles site <> gives sound advice on preserving all your ancestors’ apparel.
Ask the Archivist: Scripture Savers

Q. The cover is about to fall off our oldest family Bible. Can I fix it myself? If so, how?

A. To reattach a torn cover, self-sticking book tape from library supply companies (see box) is a simple solution. This strong, sturdy adhesive will keep that cover attached long enough for many future family members to enjoy.

But before you plunk down your money on a roll of tape, think about the big picture. If your goal is providing access to as many people as possible, tape’s a reasonable choice. But if your goal is preserving a treasured family heirloom, you’ll want to skip the tape — it breaks the golden rule of preservation: Do nothing you cannot undo.

Let’s look at your archival options. You can hire a professional conservator to reattach the cover or create a new one. Easier on the budget is a protective, archival box made from acid-and lignin-free boards.

For a more custom fit, create your own box (download the instructions at <> and watch a demonstration at <>), or use a handy phase box kit, available from retailers listed above. Phase boxes are created from two pieces of board folded around your book along scored lines. The boards attach to each other with Velcro buttons, so no glue touches your book.

Not sure which method is the best for you? Archivists have to make tough choices between preservation and practicality all the time. As the family archivist, you’ll occasionally have to do the same.

—Sally Jacobs

Archival Suppliers

• Gaylord

(800) 962-9580, <>

• Hollinger Corp.

(800) 634-0491, <>

• Talas

(212) 219-0770, <>

• Vernon Library Supplies


Scans in a Snap

When you fear a photo avalanche every time you open the closet door, it’s time to re-evaluate your preservation strategy. Even if you’re wary of sending your memories away or spending hundreds on a scanner, digitizing your photos is still within reach.

You can take matters into your own hands with the Photograph To Digital Picture Converter from Hammacher Schlemmer. The $149.95 gadget offers one-touch digitization of your photos with an easy USB hookup to your Windows PC. It uses the technology found in digital cameras to capture images, with resolutions of up to 1,800 dpi.

Find out more about the converter and Hammacher Schlemmer’s other media conversion tools — including slide-and negative-to-digital systems — by visiting <> or calling (800) 227-3528.

From the September 2008 Family Tree Magazine

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