How to Keep Your Antiques From Becoming Ancient History

Lubabah Memon |

When you’re entrusted with a family heirloom or you buy an antique, you want to make sure to preserve it as best you can.  Not only are you preserving a piece of furniture or a beautiful showpiece, but you’re preserving a story.  You can do this at home, but you’re definitely better off keeping your antiques in a storage unit.  Not only will this keep delicate items out of harm’s way, it’ll also preserve them for generations to come.

What to Look for in a Unit

The first and most important thing that you need to do is find the proper storage facility for your antiques.  You’ll need to find a facility that has climate controlled units, and have the facility staff keep the temperature of your unit between 50 and 80 degrees.  The ideal temperature for antiques is 64 degrees, so aim for that if possible.  You should also try to get a dehumidifier, especially if you live in a particularly humid area.  Humidity should stay at about 50%. ow humidity can cause things to shrink and crack, and high humidity can cause rust, mold, and breeding of insects.  Stable temperatures and humidity will help to prevent splits, cracks, and wilting in your antiques.

Check to see if the facility has a monthly pest control policy to help keep bugs away.  Besides making sure that you’re not leaving things like food in your unit, there isn’t much you can do to deter pests on your own.

Make sure to also find a drive up unit so you don’t have to carry your antiques very far.  The longer you’re carrying them, the more potential there is for accidents to occur.  Also, if you’re planning to store antiques with other items, keep them separate and clearly label your antiques so there’s no misunderstanding.

Lastly, lighting should not be an issue in your storage unit, but we want to mention it in case you’re deciding to store elsewhere.  Light can harm most materials like wood and textiles, fade colors in fabrics, and dry out materials, which can speed up chemical reactions that should occur naturally over time.  Keep your antiques out of sunlight, and expose them to artificial light as less as you possibly can.

How to Store Your Antiques

Now that we have discussed the big picture issues, let’s get into the details of storing particular items.  No matter what you’re storing, the first thing you need to do is make sure you have the proper cleaning items.  For very delicate items such as family heirlooms, use distilled water, isopropyl alcohol, soft bristled brushes, cotton swabs, and a can of moisture-free compressed air.

Mirrors

Clean your mirrors and cover them with a blanket or felt, and then bubble wrap them.  Never store them flat because they’ll collapse under their own weight.

Rugs

Clean and vacuum them, roll them up tightly, and double wrap them in plastic.

Lamps

Remove light bulbs and separate the shades from the bases so that you can wrap them properly.

Furniture

Before storing your furniture, dust, clean, and condition it.  Spray wooden furniture with furniture polish before storing it to give it some more protection.  Use leather conditioner on leather items, and wipe metal objects with some oil before storing them to avoid rust that can form because of low usage.  Invest in covers, bags, or sheets to ensure that they are properly covered.  For small parts like chair legs, cover them with fabric and bubble wrap.

Be sure to disassemble weak or heavy furniture, wrap and cover the separate parts, and keep all the assembly pieces together so you don’t have trouble finding them when it’s time to put things back together.  Don’t ever stack antique furniture.

Photographs

Of all antiques, photographs probably require the most prep work before storing them.  However, a picture really is worth a thousand words, so you want to make sure you can keep them for as long as possible. Handle your photographs as little as you possibly can, and wear clean, cotton gloves when doing so.  Touching the print can leave oils that will damage your photographs. Take photos out of any albums they are in because if you leave them in there, they will get damaged over time.

If you want to store them in a photo album, look for one that is acid-free. Remove any rubber bands, tape, staples, paper clips, and glue because they can dent, scratch or stain the photographs. The best way to store photos is in dry, clean metal or cardboard boxes that are acid-free.

You can label the back of the photo with a permanent marker if you want to write the date and put a small description.  Ballpoint pens can damage photos and the ink will fade over time.

Store photos individually in plastic sleeves or plastic sandwich bags for a cheaper alternative.  If you want to store larger quantities of photos together, layer sheets of acid-free paper between them and put them into metal or cardboard boxes.

All of the various steps required to store different items are a bit tedious, and very time consuming, but they are definitely worth it if they enable you to preserve your antiques.

Insurance

Our rule of thumb is that if it’s worth storing, it’s worth insuring.  After going through so much trouble to properly store your antiques, you should definitely get insurance on everything that you’ll be storing in your unit.  Make sure you keep an inventory by taking pictures and writing a small description of each piece.  It’s good to have everything on file.  Also be sure to get all of your items appraised for their value.  If disaster strikes and you have to say bye to some things, at least you’ll be compensated in some way so you’re not at a complete loss.