Tips For Storing Your Family’s Heirloom Papers on the Cheap


            We are going to be talking about what are called paper collections. Paper collections are unbound paper, with some sort of writing on them: letters, memos, writings, lists, notes, etc. When you have paper collections in your family, it is sometimes hard to know what to do with them. How do you store them? Letters, which are I would guess, are the main form paper collections take. I have developed a few tips on some things to think about when you are thinking of storing your paper collections. These are tips that will allow you to not break the bank, but understand what to prioritize.


            But it’s expensive!

             While it is important to keep your paper collections as pristine as possible. Keeping your family heirlooms in museum quality condition is expensive. I really encourage you to keep as close to best practices as possible. That means buying acid free, lignin free boxes and folders from a reputable resource. But best practices are expensive. And not everyone can afford it, and money shouldn’t stop anyone from being able to preserve their family heirlooms. So, here is an affordable tip.

            Keep It Separated

             If you can’t afford an archival box, the most important thing is that your paper object is not touching anything that could have acid or chemical in it. If your letter/paper object is on the smaller side. Find some acid free, lignin free paper. You can use what is known as resume paper and fold it in half. This paper can be found at bookstores, even Target or Wal-Mart might have some. Put your family heirloom in the paper and put it in a folder. Make sure the folder does not touch the heirloom. If you can find a way to make sure your heirloom is touching nothing but acid free, lignin free paper, that is the next best thing.

             For larger items you can find larger acid free lignin free paper at a reputable dealer see below for websites, or they also sell tissue paper, which would help create a buffer for your object. Tissue paper will be even larger and while thinner, would still help buffer. Of course the best course is to put it in the acid free box, but the paper will help. Also of note, if you only have paper separating your object from possible contamination, you will have to refresh it every few years because the paper will be absorb the acids.


            Say No To Plastic

             Don’t use plastic bins. You don’t want your paper collection to not be able to breath. This means off gassing, from the plastic, or other chemicals will be able to get out. Your heirloom likes to be able to breath, just like you do. So if you can’t afford an archival box, find something that that can breath. Cardboard has a high acid count, so your shoebox is not the best choice. But no matter what, don’t have the photos just strewn about in the box. If you make sure they only touching acid free and lignin free paper, that will be one step closer to best practices and help your heirlooms last longer. 


            Put That Pen Down

            Use Pencils. Everything we do we want to be able to undo. That is the mantra we live by. This is why using pencils is important. Even if you just have a pen in your hand, moving around you might accidently nick the paper and leave a mark. If you ever go into an archive, pens are not allowed, for this reason. Plus pencils are cheap. —Also of note. If you are trying to label or write on the back of a photo always use pencil if you can, and on most old photos the backing is paper and pencils work just fine. —More on this later.



Reputable Archival Storage Websites--These are the companies museums and archives use to buy their storage boxes, and archival implements, Most of the items these company sells are  "archivally" trustworthy.

TipsCarolin KautenStorage