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Seven hazards to historic artefacts

How to protect your artefacts against seven everyday threats


Too much light speeds deterioration of photographs, textiles and printed or handwritten paper, furniture, etc. Historic objects should be protected from excessive light levels, and especially from sunlight and florescent light, which contain high amounts of ultraviolet radiation--which is the most harmful form of light. Place furniture, antique quilts and other memorabilia out of direct sunlight and/or florescent light.


Too high or too low a temperature (or rapid temperature swings) can damage rubber, wood, metal, etc. Store or display historic memorabilia in spaces that have climate-control systems (heating and air conditioning). Do not store in sheds, attics and basements.


Humidity that is too high encourages pests and mold growth on paper, textiles and parchment, and promotes rust on metal. Humidity that is too low can cause objects to become brittle. Organic objects in particular absorb and release moisture depending on the relative humidity of their environment and need a stable humidity. Store historic memorabilia in an area that has a steady, constant humidity (35%–45%), and store or display historic materials away from heating and air conditioning vents.


Different types of historic materials attract different types of pests. Roaches and silverfish are attracted to paper and books. Moths are attracted to protein fibers such as silk and wool. Termites are attracted to wood. Conduct regular inspections of historic objects that attract pests.


Human beings are one of the greatest threats to historic objects, not only due to surface compounds, such as oil, sweat and make-up that they carry on their skin, but also because we continue to use historic objects. These oils and other surface substances are transferred to the object during handling. Wear cotton or nylon gloves when handling historic paper, textiles, photographs, and wooden and metal objects. Many objects are damaged because people handle them in inappropriate ways, such as trying on clothing, taking items to show-and-tell at school or even using them for their original purposes. All of these uses put undue strain on the objects and put them at risk for loss or damage.


Certain types of materials, such as metal and marble, react to chemicals present in the air. This is a particular concern for outdoor objects such as marble statuary, iron architectural elements, etc.


Some objects that are composed of incompatible materials, such as wood and leather or wood and paint, have built-in deterioration risks. Conduct regular inspections of these objects for any changes in condition.

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