In conjunction with the exhibition All things great and small , Hurstville Museum & Gallery ran a workshop on ‘Looking after your family keepsakes’, providing some insights and guidance on caring for personal collections at home.

Most of us have some sort of collection. We would all have photos or photo albums, perhaps some family hand-me-downs, maybe some paraphernalia associated with our favourite hobbies, sports or teams. The participants in our workshop had some wonderful collections to share; from artworks, letters and diaries, to Elvis memorabilia and Japanese costume ornaments.

Whatever your collection is, it is important to know how to look after it so that our treasures do last and we can continue sharing them with others.

Here are some tips and tricks for looking after your keepsakes…

Understand what can cause damage to your keepsakes

Some of the most common causes of damage are:


Whenever people handle anything they leave behind small amounts of oils, salts and dirt as well as tiny creases. Dirt and damage accumulate over generations of handling. Try to avoid handling as much as possible and avoid touching sensitive areas entirely. It is sometimes helpful to make copies of documents, photos, etc. which you can use to share with others rather than over-handling the originals.

This much-loved Common-sense Household Cookery Book has been handled a few times too many. The spine is now torn, creased and coming away from the pages and the colour has faded considerably.  H2016.10 Common-sense cookery book, Hurstville Museum & Gallery collection.


Too many hugs for this teddy bear; the constant friction has caused his fur to wear away in patches. H2015.10 Teddy bear, Hurstville Museum & Gallery collection.


Rats, mice, silverfish, carpet beetle larvae, moths, termites, crickets and cockroaches will all feed on the organic material in collections and can cause considerable damage. All organic material in our collections from wood and textiles to books, papers and photographs are tasty to pests. Infestation is less likely to occur if the conditions in your home are not suited to pests. Keep the area where your keepsakes are stored as clean as possible.

Vintage pest control at the museum; a four-way mouse trap used in the 1950s.            1980.612 Mouse trap, Hurstville Museum & Gallery collection.

The environment

Factors such as light, temperature, humidity and dust can all spark different chemical reactions in your objects that lead to damage. For example, too much light can cause fading and discolouration. High humidity or fluctuating temperatures can cause warping and distortion, mould growth, corrosion or water damage. Ideal conditions are difficult to achieve in the home environment, but minimal exposure to light, dust, heat and damp will help preserve your keepsakes. Sometimes storing items in rooms towards the centre of the house, where the temperature and humidity tends to be stable throughout the day, can make the world of difference.

Storage in a damp and humid basement has caused water damage, discolouration and tears to this old record sleeve. H2017.18.4b Record sleeve, Hurstville Museum & Gallery collection.


A build-up of dust and grime has caused surface abrasions and stains on this 1958 vintage portable radio. H00.1 Transistor radio, Hurstville Museum & Gallery collection.


Over-exposure to light has caused the colours and text on this First World War cigarette card to fade. H2014.56.1 Cigarette card, Hurstville Museum & Gallery collection.

Store your collection properly

Archival storage containers with close-fitting lids will keep out dust, light, pests, & reduce fluctuations in temperature and humidity. Storage materials marked as ‘archival quality’ are usually less likely to contain harmful ingredients. But, be discriminating; there are no controls over the use of the words ‘archival quality’.

You don’t have to spend a lot of money on storage containers. Good quality products can be found at places like office works or craft stores as long as you know what types of materials to choose.

What you need to look for are:

  • Paper or cardboard envelopes, tissue papers or boxes that are labelled as ‘acid free’ or ‘PH neutral’.
  • Plastic storage containers, sleeves or zip-lock bags in materials such as polyester, polypropylene or polyethylene. Do not use polyvinyl chloride (PVC), as the chemicals in these plastics can be harmful to objects over time.
  • Photo albums where photographs can slip into pockets, or ones that use archival photo corners to hold photographs in place.

Select sturdy containers/enclosures that best fit your keepsakes without having to fold or adapt them. It is also a good idea to avoid over-filling boxes.

Also avoid using any household glues, sticky tapes, paper clips or pins, as these will all cause changes to the surface of your items over time.

For more information on caring for your keepsakes come and visit us at Hurstville Museum & Gallery  and check out our exhibitions while you’re here.  All things great and small is on show until 15 October 2017.



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