Rescue Your Heirlooms

By Allison Dolan Premium

Although logic tells us that dark, musty basements and dusty, moth-ridden attics are the worst locales to store heirlooms, somehow that’s where many end up. Do you know what treasures your (or your relatives’) home is hiding? Be an heirloom hero—invade your closets! Rescue those riches! Follow these steps:


  1. Get it out of harm’s way. No matter what you’ve got—furniture, clothing, art, photographs, books—excessive sunlight, extreme temperature, moisture, dust, bugs and mold are its enemies. Remove heirlooms from places where they’re subject to those conditions.

  2. Assess the condition. Sometimes your efforts to save a piece could actually damage it. Before you do anything, learn how to care for that particular object by reading a book on preservation or contact a conservator (especially if the piece is in bad condition).

  3. Clean it up. Use your newfound knowledge to revive your heirloom carefully. Be wary of using polishes and cleaning products. Never alter furniture’s original finish.

  4. Store or display it properly. Unfortunately, usage often shortens an object’s life (as well as decreases its value). Keep books and furniture dusted and protect objects from getting scratched, dented or broken. Store papers and photographs in acid-free containers.

  5. Tell its story. Don’t leave your descendants in the dark: Identify the heirloom, record its condition and take pictures. Explain what you know about the item and its owner, and add the story to your family history.

For guidelines on preserving specific types of heirlooms, see Caring for Your Family Treasures: Heritage Preservation by Jane S. Long and Richard W. Long (Harry N. Abrams).

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