Preservation Storage for Objects

General preservation guidelines outlined in this video with additional details regarding specific object types

Proper housing (storage containers) is an essential part of preservation.

  1. Only archival (chemically safe) materials, such as acid free tissues, folders, boxes, etc., should be used for housings. If you are unsure about the composition of materials consult a conservator.
  2. Avoid stacking and overcrowding objects as this can cause physical damage such as chafing, crushing, or tearing and can also cause chemical damage like the transfer of acid, dyes, or inks.
  3. In cases where storage environments cannot meet proper requirements, housings should be provided that create the desired microclimate.
  4. Objects should be evaluated individually in order to create a housing (storage container) that meets each item’s unique needs.
  5. Housings should never be placed directly on the floor of storage. Ethafoam blocks or other inert risers may be used to raise floor level housings.
  6. When an item is made of mixed media, the housing should strive to meet the needs of the most fragile medium present.
  7. Where housings are impractical or where budget is limited, items may be covered with a Tyvek or muslin dust cover.

Because there are several types of objects, each with potentially unique housing requirements. The following section has been broken into two separate categories, Material Types and Object Types, each of which have been further divided into subcategories. The Media section describes different media from which objects can be made. The Object Types section describes objects that may have unique housing needs. Where items have been discussed in other posts, the reader will be directed to those posts. Ask a conservator if you have further questions.

  1. Objects Sorted by Material:
    1. Bone: bone, ivory, antler, horn, shell
      1. Items in this category are particularly susceptible to environmental damage (light, temperature, relative humidity) and will benefit from being housed in archival containers.
      2. Items in this category should be wrapped in acid-free, unbuffered tissue paper, and stored in an archival box.
      3. After wrapping the item in tissue paper, placing it in a polyethylene bag can add additional protection against environmental changes.
      4. Boxes and tissues should be evaluated and changed periodically to ensure an archival environment.
      5. If the item is an intricate carving then care must be taken to cradle or support any frail areas, otherwise the housing remains the same for all items.
      6. Shell collections are susceptible to Byne’s disease (identified by white powder or clumps of crystals on the surface of the shell), which occurs when acidic vapors react with the calcium carbonate of the shell. Extra care should be taken to ensure enclosures are acid-free.
      7. Note: several plastics have been made that imitate the look of bone, ivory, horn and shell. Care should be taken to identify the true composition of each item and treat it accordingly.
    2. Glass: glass, ceramic, clay
      See also the Pottery section of this post
      1. Baked clays are not as susceptible to damage from the environment as are other similar items and will therefore have less need of the microclimate provided by archival housings. However, all items in this category are fragile and very susceptible to breakage. For this reason, housings should be created that will cushion each item both from everyday bumps and earthquakes. This can be done by padding an acid free box with inert materials that will fit snugly around the artifact, or creating custom cradles from ethafoam or other appropriate materials
      2. Unbaked clays are susceptible to damage from the environment and will benefit greatly from the microclimate provided by archival housings.
    3. Leather: leather, skin, vellum.
      See also the posts on Book and Paper Care and Textiles Care
      1. Leather and skins are made in many different ways. Different methods of manufacture result in differing levels of weakness. This post will address them all in a general manner.
      2. Size permitting, leather objects should be wrapped in acid free tissue and placed in an archival cardboard box.
      3. Polyethylene bags provide an extra layer of protection in case of flooding or other water damage. Leather items should be wrapped in acid free paper or fabric before being placed in plastic because some tannages can react adversely with plastic housings.
      4. Some tannages will react with other tannages and metals. A layer of acid free board should separate leathers from each other. Barriers should also be placed between leathers and metals, such as swords and scabbards, and other mixed media pieces.
      5. Three-dimensional objects should be padded out with acid free materials (such as tissue paper, batting, or ethafoam) in order to prevent deformation.
      6. Because gravity can cause distortions to occur, heavier objects should be stored flat in a box, or on a specially made mount that will support their weight. Items such as tack can be hung on padded hooks.
    4. Metals
      1. Metals of all types are especially susceptible to water and humidity. When stored in humid environments, metal objects should be housed in a way that creates a dryer microclimate. This may include placing silica gel in housings.
      2. If a suitable environment can be maintained then most metals need nothing more than a dust cover.
      3. Silver is unique to other metals in that it tarnishes very easily. Keeping silver inside a silver-cloth bag will significantly slow the tarnishing process.
    5. Plastic
      1. There are many different types of plastics ranging from malignant to inert. Malignant plastics will speed the degradation of surrounding artifacts, especially textiles, paper and metals, and can be dangerous to staff health.
      2. Housings for malignant plastics should be well ventilated, or contain acetic acid scavengers if stored in unventilated areas. Malignant plastics should not be stored in metal housings.
      3. Cellulose Nitrate should be wrapped in buffered tissue paper and placed in ventilated acid free boxes.
      4. Badly degrading malignant plastics should be isolated from other artifacts.
      5. Non-malignant plastics should be stored in acid free boxes, when size permits.
      6. Larger objects should have a dust cover that also protects them from light exposure.
    6. Wood
      1. Wooden items should be placed in housings that create the desired microclimate to protect them from fluctuations in relative humidity.
      2. Enclosures and covers should protect wood surfaces from exposure to light, pollutants, and pests.
      3. Housing for wooden items should allow air circulation.
  2. Object Sorted by Type:
    1. Architectural Components 
      See also the Wood, Glass, Metal, Stone, etc. sections of this post
      1. Follow the housing recommendations for the respective media from which the object is made. A few specifics follow.
      2. Building Fragments: beams, pillars, plaster, brick, etc.
        1. The housing should prevent extra handling and protect against crumbling, especially for brick and plaster. The best way to do this is to place a piece of Tyvek, or another strong but flexible material, under the object. This will allow the object to be lifted out of its box, using the Tyvek as a lifting aid, without dislodging any loose pieces. Larger fragments may need drop front boxes as their weight may make it difficult and risky to lift them with Tyvek.
        2. Extra padding should also be placed in the box to prevent cracking and crumbling.
        3. Fragments whether large or small may also be mounted in a frame or other protective surroundings, in order to make handling safer.
        4. Very large items may require having a crate made.
        5. Where housings are unavailable, cover items with a Tyvek or muslin dust cover.
      3. Hardware
        1. Follow the housing recommendations for the respective medium from which the object is made
      4. Decorative Elements (Chandeliers, Banisters, etc.)
        1. If the item is made of multiple pieces, these should be kept together. Take care to house parts of the object in the same or conjoining boxes
    2. Dolls and Figurines: soft sculpture, crèche sets
      1. Items in this category should be housed according to the guidelines for the media from which they were made. A few specifics follow.
      2. Soft Sculpture
        1. Soft sculpture is a three-dimensional form made from soft medium such as fabric, fur, wax, or paper.
        2. A housing should be created that will support any weak portions of the sculpture and protect it from dust.
        3. Mixed media sculptures should be analyzed to see if an acid free tissue can be placed in between the media in order to provide some buffering. 
      3. Ceramic Figurines
        1. See the Glass section of this post.
      4. Crèche Sets
        1. Crèche sets tend to be fragile and have many pieces. Individual pieces should be kept together in boxes, in sets of boxes, or in conjoined boxes.
        2. Each item should be wrapped with acid free tissue, or other inert packing material. This should be done in a way that will support fragile pieces (such as extended arms, legs, etc.), and provide cushion for surrounding pieces. 
      5. Dolls and Stuffed Toys
        1. Acid free tissue should be placed between the clothes and body of the doll to prevent dyes from bleeding onto the body.
        2. Dolls should be stored in a box with acid free tissue or fabric.
        3. Dolls with inset eyes should be stored face down.
        4. Make sure the box is large enough not to smash the doll. Many of the fillers used to make dolls are acidic and the off-gassing needs an escape route. This can be provided with a ventilated box.
      6. Wood figurines
        1. See the Wood section of this post.
      7. Ethnographic Materials
        1. Follow the housing recommendations for the respective media from which the object is made.
      8. Furniture
        See also the Wood section of this post as well as the post about proper housing for Textiles
        1. Follow the housing recommendations for the respective media from which the object is made. A few specifics follow.
        2. Furniture should be individually housed and not stacked on one another. 
        3. Furniture should be kept off the floor to prevent transfer of moisture, dirt, dust, vermin, etc. 
        4. Housing for furniture may take the form of large wooden crates or cubbies sealed with a water-borne polyurethane.
        5. As furniture should be kept off the floor, flat carts with wheels are an excellent way to store furniture, especially heavy furniture that may need to be moved from time to time. 
        6. Where housings are unavailable, cover items with covered with a Tyvek or muslin dust cover.
      9. Musical Instruments: String, Wind, Keyboard, Percussion
        See also the Leather, Metal, and Wood sections of this post
        1. Follow the housing recommendations for the respective medium from which the object is made. A few specifics follow.
        2. Items in this category are highly susceptible to environmental damage, particularly to damage from high or fluctuating RH, and will benefit from being housed in archival containers.
        3. Original cases make an excellent housing so long as they are in good condition. Inspect the soft padding and lining fabrics to insure that they are suitable for storage. The case should also be inspected to insure that the instrument fits properly. 
        4. String Instruments
          String instruments are fragile by nature because they are generally made of organic materials that are kept under tension. Prior to housing, there are several questions that should be addressed. 
          1. Is the tension causing any damage? 
          2. Are the wooden parts of the instrument strong enough to maintain tension? 
          3. Is the instrument strung correctly with the right size of strings? Being strung incorrectly, using heavier strings, or winding the tension too much can cause distortion or breakage. If the strings seem to be causing damage, or are likely to in the future, it is advisable to slacken the tension. Be careful not to slack it too much since some parts are held together by tension alone. 
          4. If the original case is not available, or if it is too frail or too acidic to be used for the housing, a new housing should be made. The housing should support and cradle the instrument in addition to providing a dust cover and additional environmental controls if needed.
        5. Wind Instruments
          1. Wind instruments fall into two categories: woodwinds and metal wind instruments.
          2. Woodwinds are susceptible to changing humidity and special care should be taken to buffer them from these changes.
          3. Metal instruments are susceptible to corrosion. They should also be stored in a manner that will protect them from humidity. 
        6. Keyboard Instruments
          1. Cover pianos, organs, harpsichords, etc. with dust covers made from Tyvek or muslin.
        7. Percussion Instruments
          1. Percussion instruments vary greatly in their size and composition. Housings should be created that will support any fragile areas of the instrument, and protect it from dust.
      10. Pottery: pottery, ceramics, stoneware, earthenware, porcelain, glass, crystal
        See also the Glass section of this post
        1. Items in this category should be housed according to the guidelines for the media from which they were made. A few specifics follow.
        2. Pottery, ceramics, stoneware, earthenware, porcelain, glass and crystal are all included in this category. Although these objects differ in many ways, they are stored similarly. 
        3. All items in this category are fragile and very susceptible to breakage. For this reason, housings should be created that will cushion each item from both everyday bumps and earthquakes. This can be done by padding an acid free box with inert materials that will fit snugly around the artifact, or creating custom cradles from ethafoam or other appropriate materials. 
      11. Sculpture
        See also the Media Types section of this post 
        1. Items in this category should be housed according to the guidelines for the medium from which they were made. A few specifics follow.
        2. Table-top sculptures that are fragile may be placed in a padded box, or a partial crate (leaving the top exposed while protecting the sides and base from bumps). 
        3. Fragile free-standing sculpture may also need a partial or full crate to provide similar protection.
        4. Wheeled furniture carts may also be desirable if the sculpture requires moving. 
        5. Where housings are unavailable, cover items with covered with a Tyvek or muslin dust cover.
      12. Taxidermy
        See also the Leather section of this post
        1. Items in this category should be housed according to the guidelines for the medium from which they were made.
      13. Tools and Implements
        1. Items in this category should be housed according to the guidelines for the medium from which they were made. A few specifics follow.
        2. Prior to housing, care should be taken to protect handlers from sharp edges on tools. A piece of ethafoam, museum board, or other inert form can be used to cover any sharp edges. 
      14. Weapons
        1. Items in this category should be housed according to the guidelines for the media from which they were made. A few specifics follow.
        2. Weapons must be housed very carefully in order to prevent harm to individuals. 
        3. All weapons should be housed in locking drawers or cabinets. 
        4. Swords, knives, spears, bayonets, and other objects with sharp edges should be housed in a way that will prevent harm to handlers. A piece of ethafoam, museum board, cloth, or other inert materials can be used to cover any sharp edges.
        5. If weapons are stored upright in cabinets, care should be taken to secure the weapons with appropriate acid free materials. This will prevent weapons from bumping into each other, causing damage, or falling out of the cabinet. 
        6. Firearms should always be kept un-cocked, with the hammer down. Do not ever aim or pull the trigger!
        7. Firearms should never be stored with live ammunition. If a firearm is loaded, do not attempt to unload it without professional help! 
        8. Ammunition should be considered highly volatile and handled with extreme care. Only trained professionals should disarm and (if required) dispose of black powder, bullets, shells, grenades or other such devices. It is NOT appropriate to dispose of powder, or other such items, in the garbage, “out back,” or by lighting it on fire! Static electricity or sparks from tools may set off a charge. Contact a gun shop for help in unloading. Other professionals that could be consulted include: weapons historians specifically trained in disarming, the local police, or a bomb squad. 
        9. Communication with local police and/or other professionals should result in a clear understanding of the value of the artifact and the end results desired on both sides. (i.e. If you would like to keep the casing, talk to the professional about that possibility. If no instruction is given, the artifact may be blown up.) If the acquisitions committee votes to keep an item with explosive materials then that item should be stored separately from all other items. It should be stored in an appropriate safety cabinet, and should be kept as a high priority on an evacuation list. In the event of a fire, or other disasters, evacuating such items will minimize the potential damage to human life, other artifacts, and the facility.

Storage Mounts and Placement
This refers to the proper way to place objects in storage. Some of this is discussed in the previous section on Housing. Certain objects may not require housing but will still need proper support in accordance with the following guidelines

  1. When objects are placed in housings, in storage, on tables, in exhibits, etc., they should be placed in the most stable position possible.
  2. Items should rest on their most stable side, or be appropriately supported, within the housing
  3. Fragile or unstable objects may require a mount or housing custom made by a conservator to support the item.
  4. Shelves may also be lined with padding such as ethafoam to prevent damage from vibration.
  5. Where shelving does not raise objects from the floor, mounts or housing should be provided to keep objects from the floor to prevent damage from possible flooding.
  6. A few notes on specific media and object types are listed below:
    1. Media Type
      1. Avoid placing different kinds of metal in the same housing because they may cause each other to deteriorate.
      2. Avoid placing plastics against, or in the same container as metals.
    2. Object Type
      1. Large Musical Instruments such as pianos are difficult to move and should be placed in a permanent storage position upon acquisition. Original casters are usually inadequate for moving these objects and should not be trusted. Any loose or removable parts should be braced, both for a move and storage.
      2. Weapons: See section on weapons above.

For more videos like this, go to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints’ Church History page.

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