Preserving a Steamer Trunk

steamer trunkDear Donia,
How do I safely clean stamps on an old steamer trunk?

Q. Dear Donia,

I am trying to breathe some life into an old battered leather steamer trunk. It has a customs stamp on it (I think somewhere around 1909 to 1912) that I want to preserve and clean if possible (parts are somewhat illegible). So far I've been working around it. Is there any way to clean it and sort of make sure it stays in place without flaking off over time? Thanks, Renee

A. Dear Renee,

I love old steamer trunks, especially when they have all the stickers on them! I have one just like you describe. The best thing to do with the customs stamp, especially if it is paper, is to leave it alone. No liquid cleaning solution will help. However, you can try very, very, very gently cleaning it with a dry cleaning sponge such as this one from Amazon. They are used dry and can easily be cut up into smaller pieces using scissors so that it is more manageable in your hand and you can be more careful and delicate. Paper on leather can become very flaky so you don't want to apply much pressure at all to prevent taking off any of the label.

It is best to proceed slowly and gently. Think about the label as a newborn, you don't want to scrub too hard!