Dinosaurs to dolls: Children's museum shares secrets to store your treasures
You cherish your antiques and keepsakes. The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis cares a lot about its artifacts, too. We met with the museum’s director of collections, Chris Carron, to learn more about how to preserve your treasures at home.
I found Carron in the facility’s secure, climate-controlled basement, where it stores everything from bygone G.I. Joe action figures to Native American artifacts and dinosaur bones. One of the latter — the giant femur of a Tyrannosaurus Rex estimated to once stand at 35 to 40 feet — felt cold to the touch. I imagined from the fossilized remain, a ferocious specimen putting all its terrifying weight on that bone as it stalked its prey.
That was the gravy on the tour. The main course: Learning about how to safeguard a family heirloom. Carron notes the museum has 120,000 objects in its collection, more than any other children’s museum in the world. “We have the same concern for these as you do for your grandmother’s wedding certificate. It’s a matter of magnitude,” Carron says. “What we do here at the museum are the same basic rules people can follow at home.”
Some points to consider when storing your antiques and treasures:
To start, look for a secure location in your home to store items. “Our challenge is always balancing access and preservation,” Carron says. The museum provides items for display for use in preschool classes held on site, and for other interactive purposes. Just as curators carefully handle objects, and stow them away sometimes, too, he recommends picking a location in your home where items won’t likely be messed with. In short: Forget the coat closet.
Temperature and humidity
For your own comfort, its likely you run A/C or heat depending on the weather outside. That’s good because keeping conditions constant inside helps in storing antiques and fragile keepsakes.
“If humidity is too high then we run the risk of mold and mildew. If the humidity is too low, like with wood or cloth, then it will dry out and become brittle,” Carron says. And rather than move items in the garage, he says to seek storage space in a central area of the home, such as closets in an office or spare bedroom where you can keep conditions consistent.
Protect clothes from dust but don’t seal clothes in an airtight plastic bag as that can invite mold growth, Carron says. Use generously padded hangers that spread out clothing weight and help protect fibers in the shoulder from added wear resulting from the weight of the clothing.
Get help from the pros! Hire a home organizer on Angie’s List to organize and share tips on storing your old keepsakes.
Though a common practice among collectors, keeping a toy sealed in its original plastic container can actually speed deterioration, since plastic in many containers off-gas. With no way to escape, chemicals in both the container and the toy itself interact. That speeds breakdown.
“[Plastic] toys are not made to last a long time,” Carron says, pointing to an older version of a doll that remains widely popular today. “Barbie still has all those chemicals in her. She’s still off-gassing. Sorry, Barbie.”
Keeping toys and dolls in acid-free or acid-neutral storage boxes can prolong their life.
Carron, who donned surgical gloves to handle items in the museum’s collection, advised using plastic or cotton gloves, or at least handling items with washed hands, because oils and dirt can also speed deterioration.
“We try to minimize exposure to light for all objects,” Carron says, adding that’s true whether it comes from a lamp, ceiling fixture or ultraviolet rays. “It fades ink on paper, ink becomes invisible and starts eating into paper, it fades dye on paintings and clothing.” That’s the reason galleries with older paintings routinely discourage flash photography.
The museum uses specialized sleeves to dim lights and keeps lights off when storage rooms aren’t in use. “We don’t store our objects near windows,” Carron says — another take-home tip.
Moth balls may keep moths away, but they permanently interact with items, such as a wedding dress. “You can’t get rid of the smell, it’s bad for your health and it will cause the dress to deteriorate,” Carron says. “My suggestion is rather than closing in chemicals around your object, keep the pest out of your house altogether.”