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Storing Collectibles & Artifacts

Collectibles and artifacts are some of the more difficult items to store due to their varying size and dimensions. Typically, the size, shape, and material of each individual artifact will dictate its storage. Small collections, such as shells or baseballs, can be easily organized in divided boxes, while larger items, like helmets or jerseys, may need individual boxes and extra support.

Protect artifacts from physical damage by cushioning containers with crumpled tissue, batting or foam. Objects should be boxed individually or, if grouped, separated so they won’t come in contact with each other. Minimize handling by using clear boxes or by placing labels prominently on the outside of containers.

Many plastics are chemically unstable and are quickly deteriorated by light, temperature, relative humidity and pollutants. They can also adversely affect neighboring objects and archives by releasing corrosive gases. You should house plastics separately in inert, acid-free containers and away from metals and organics, such as wood.

Any damage done to an item by light exposure is irreversible. If possible, store your collection in opaque boxes in a darkened area. If you choose to display your objects, put UV-filtering film over windows and fluorescent lights, draw shades when possible and turn off lights when the room is not in use. You can also use light monitoring devices, such as blue textile fading cards, to assess the net light exposure for an item or as an alert adjust the intensity of light on the object.

Choose a storage area away from extremes of heat and humidity. Cool temperatures and moderate humidity (around 50%) is a general guideline. Avoid storing items in areas that have large swings in temperature and/or humidity. Never store collectibles in the attic or basement.

Keep your collectibles clean. Storing them in archival boxes will help, but if they are on display and do get dusty, gently dust them with a soft brush.

Handling increases the chance of damage, so it should be kept to a minimum. Hands can transfer dirt, fingerprints, oils and other contaminants to an artifact’s surface, so wash and wipe your hands thoroughly before handling any objects. If wearing gloves, be aware that you may lose some dexterity and may not be able to pick up or hold the paper safely. When handling unstable plastics, always use nitrile gloves, not cotton.

If you collect autographs, whether on balls or photos, always use a pen with archival ink; some inks begin to fade very quickly.