Published On: August 9, 2022Categories: Article

Safe Storage Vital for Preserving Precious Antiques

In 1985, two school teachers, Jerry and Rita Alter, walked into the Arizona University Museum of Art in broad daylight and stole a 1955 painting by Willem de Kooning entitled Woman-Ochre.  The painting’s essentially disappeared off the face of the earth until a New Mexican antique dealer bought the Alters’ house contents after they both passed away in 2017. Hanging on a wall in the antique shop the painting, which was now worth more than $100 million, was soon recognized. Unfortunately, it was badly damaged as a result of the theft and incorrect storage. But thanks to conservators at the Getty, the painting has been restored to its former glory and is currently on view at the Getty Centre before returning to Arizona University in October. If you want to preserve your antiques so that they don’t suffer the same fate as the De Kooning painting, you need to make sure they are stored in a safe and secure manner. Here are a few helpful guidelines on how to store and keep your antiques in tip-top shape.

Start with a Good Clean

The first thing you need to do before storing any antique is giving it a good clean. This will ensure that your valuables go into storage into the best possible condition and remain that way for the duration that it is in storage. Start the cleaning process by gently removing any dust and loose grime with a feather duster or soft cloth. Avoid any harsh chemicals that can damage your antiques and refrain from completely submerging them in water too. Depending on the nature of your antiques, you can also provide added protection by treating the surfaces with a suitable product. A quality wood polish or wax can help preserve antiques and prolong the life of pieces of furniture, while applying oil to certain metal items can help prevent rust.

Opt for Temperature-Controlled Storage

When it comes to how to safely store your antiques, careful attention needs to be paid to both the temperature and the humidity. Metal tends to rust in spaces with high humidity while low humidity can damage the wood. Where possible, opt for a storing solution that is climate controlled. While refrigerated and frozen food is typically stored in temperatures between -22 and 50 degrees Fahrenheit, the perfect temperature for antiques is approximately 76 degrees Fahrenheit.  If you are opting to preserve your antiques by storing the items in your own garage, basement, or attic, make an effort to limit exposure to extreme heat, cold, and humidity levels as best you can. Cover furniture with a furniture pad or drape cloth and invest in a hygrometer to keep an eye on humidity levels.

Wrap with Care

Before you can safely move an antique, you need to make sure that it will not get dirty or damaged during the move. The easiest and most effective way to do this is by wrapping and packaging your valuables with care. Although bubble wrap may seem like the perfect packaging solution for breakables, it should not be used for lengthy periods as it can hinder airflow which can lead to mold growth and discoloration. Instead, make use of soft sheets of fabric that will keep your antiques dust-free without suffocating it. Use boxes that are specifically designed for the packing of breakable items. Try to pack each item in such a way that it does not move around in the box but also does not have to be forced inside. If you do not have any confidence in your own wrapping and packing capabilities, consider enlisting the services of a professional to help preserve your precious antiques.

Avoid Stacking at all Costs

As tempting as it might be to stack your antiques on top of one another to save space – don’t! Stacking puts extreme pressure on whatever is at the bottom of the stack which can result in severe damage.  Instead of stacking items of top of each other, look for an alternative that does not place strain on any item. Items such as stained glass windows, paintings, and mirrors can, for example, be stored in a horizontal position while crockery should be packed with cardboard portioning in between to reduce any pressure.

Steer Clear of Bright Lights

Although bright lights can be very useful, they do not mix particularly well with antiques. Both artificial and natural light can cause significant damage to your antiques. Apart from warping wood and completely drying out fabric, exposure to bright light can also fade the colors on a host of items.  Where possible, keep your antiques out of direct light when stored in display cases. If it is not possible to dim the lights or angle it away from your antiques, consider placing UV-blocking film over your windows and the glass of the display cases to decrease the light.

Whether you plan to eventually sell your antiques or simply want to keep it safe for the time being, safe and secure storage is of the utmost importance. By making an effort to learn how to clean, pack, and store and preserve your antiques properly, you can ensure that their value is retained and they are preserved for many more years to come.

Guest Blog provided by:
Jacqueline Gilbert