Preserving Family Heirlooms

Dear Donia,
How do I preserve valuable family heirlooms?

Bible box


Q. Dear Donia,

My uncle just passed down his grandfather's family Bible to me. It is from the mid to late 1800s, not leather but wood, and has fragile papers. It also contains the old-style tin picture slates. How should I store it? I also have large pictures from another grandfather that are too fragile to frame. How do I keep those safe? Thank you, Jacklyn

A. Dear Jacklyn,

What a wonderful family piece of history to have—I am glad that you want to do what you can to preserve it! The best way to protect the Bible and its contents is to get a custom-made clamshell box made. This box can be made from simple corrugated cardboard and purchased from CMI or Gaylord. When measuring your Bible, be sure to measure at three points along each dimension to ensure you get the tallest tall, the widest wide, and the thickest depth so the box fits.

If you want something a bit fancier, you can have someone make you a cloth covered clamshell box. I recommend contacting your local library conservation departments at Michigan State or the University of Michigan to find someone who can make this box for you. 

Once boxed, the Bible should be stored somewhere that has stable temperature and relative humidity such as a bedroom closet or on a bookshelf. Please do not store it in an attic or basement as the environment is not good for the book or the tintypes.

The large photographs can be stored in Pamphlet binder with a polyester L-sleeve (like this one from Hollinger Metal Edge) so that you can see and enjoy them while still protecting them. Like the Bible, these should also be stored somewhere with a stable environment.

If you want to frame the photographs, you can scan them and have them printed out and framed. The scans and prints can also be shared with other family members so they can enjoy them too. As an aside, you can also have the tintypes from the Bible scanned so they can be seen and enjoyed without having to open the Bible too often.

Thank you for asking such great questions!