- The Washington Times - Monday, January 19, 2009

Saving this commemorative edition of The Washington Times and other inaugural souvenirs takes more than a cardboard box if you really want them to last.

Museum and library conservators who preserve fragile historic artifacts recommend protecting keepsakes from sources of heat, light and moisture in archive-quality receptacles.

The worst storage places, they say, are basements, garages, attics and other spaces where temperature and humidity aren’t controlled.

“It’s best to keep things in a cool temperature and stable humidity,” says James Thurn, a conservator at the Library of Congress. “Changes in humidity speed up the degradation process, and if humidity is too high, you’ll get mold.”

Newspapers in particular require special treatment to prevent yellowing and brittleness. Conservators say they should be stored away from sunlight in archival folders and boxes specially designed for preserving paper. “Look for products that say ‘acid-free’ and ‘lignin-free,” Mr. Thurn says.

He and other paper conservators say the most protective storage containers do not have acidity and impurities in wood pulp called lignin found in newsprint and cheaper papers that cause darkening over time. Acid-free folders and boxes won’t damage the stored document and will slow its discoloration and disintegration.

Mary Lynn Ritzenthaler, director of the National Archives’ conservation lab, recommends opening the newspaper to its full size before storing it. “If you keep it folded,” she says, “the areas along the fold line will begin to crack and break over time.”

She does not recommend spraying the newspaper with a “deacidification” solution to preserve it. “It’s not a good idea because you don’t know how the solvent will behave. It may cause the ink to feather and run,” she says.

For those who want to display a commemorative paper item, experts suggest framing it within a “conservation” or “museum quality” assembly. The mat and backing within the frame should be made of acid-free materials and covered with glass treated to filter out damaging ultraviolet rays.

Avoid laminating plastic to the paper. “Lamination uses heat, and heat will age the document and make it more brittle,” says Diane Vogt-O’Connor, chief of conservation at the Library of Congress. “Plastics can yellow and turn nasty.” And fusing plastic and paper changes the original artifact forever. “It becomes a plastic place mat,” Ms. Ritzenthaler notes.

For inaugural T-shirts, follow the same rules as for newspapers, the conservators say. “Store them flat, not folded, or the creases will become permanent,” says Ms. Ritzenthaler, who recommends wrapping and layering the fabric in acid-free tissue paper.

Inaugural pins and buttons also should be stored carefully with space between them so they don’t rub against each other and get scratched. Typically made of aluminum or tin-plated iron, newer buttons are covered in plastic-wrapped printed paper.

“The colors can fade, especially red, and the plastic can become yellow, so keep them away from direct sunlight,” says Beth Richwine, objects conservator at the National Museum of American History.

To display the buttons, she suggests pinning them to a color-fast polyester fabric within a shadow box made of acid-free materials and covered in uv-protective glass.

Newspapers, T-shirts or baubles, inaugural mementos should be handled carefully while being admired and shown off.

“If you’re picking them up, make sure you have clean hands,” Ms. Ritzenthaler advises. “Don’t hold them up in the air but support them on a table or a flat surface.”


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