A great many people ask us, “How can I best store my antiques and collectibles?”
Suffice it to say that there are proper and improper ways to store things. (You’d be appalled if you saw how many valuable items are ruined on a regular basis because someone somewhere didn’t take the time or trouble to look into proper storage.) Learn a few quick tricks, though, and you can save yourself a great deal of heartache and expense.
Let’s go over just a few of the basics, starting with your silver, china and crystal.
Silver is best stored in flannel or Pacific Cloth© bags, or at least Pacific Cloth©-lined drawers. (Pacific Cloth© is a patented, flannel-like fabric that has tarnish-preventive qualities. It can be purchased from jewelers, silver companies, in many online stores, on eBay and — naturally! — at estate sales.) Avoid newspaper — the sulfur dioxide in newsprint can (and often does) wreak havoc on sterling, coin silver and silverplated wares alike. NEVER place rubber bands on or near your silverware, and NEVER leave salt in silver containers for more than the duration of a meal.
Cushion your fine china with padding. Wash your fine china in a padded sink and NEVER place your fine china in a dishwasher. Dry with soft, dry cloths — preferably something with little to no “nub.” The padding you use for storage need not be fancy padding, either — even paper plates work fine between salad and dinner plates. You can also use hot pads, flannel rags, or any soft, non-abrasive fabric for cushioning china in storage. Again, avoid newspaper — it can stain gold trim and permanently blacken bisque rims and designs on your fine china. NEVER place rubber bands on or near your fine china.
Crystal is best stored away from harsh sunlight. As with your fine china, good crystal is best washed in a padded sink. NEVER place fine crystal or cut glass in a washing machine. Use lint-free cloths to dry. Newspaper will not harm crystal unless the crystal in question has acid-etched or frosted designs. (In these cases, newsprint can stain such designs.) Don’t place your crystal close under bright lights, as the heat can crack it. It (bright light) can also fade flashing and other painted designs on some crystal. NEVER leave wine, juice (or really anything!) in lead crystal decanters or cruets for more than the duration of a meal. Why? Simply put: lead poisoning can occur. (Highly acidic and alcoholic substances in particular actually leach lead from the crystal itself. The longer the liquid sits, the more lead it can leach.) Also, many a decanter has suffered from “sickness” — a trade term used to denote those often permanently damaged pieces that have heavy alkaline deposits or acid etching from something that was placed in them.
American pattern glass produced after the Civil War (and up until 1915 or so) often contains manganese. Don’t place it in direct sunlight unless you want it to turn purple over time.
Firearms are best stored in their original cases. Should you not have the original cases, visit your local gun dealer for top quality, cloth-lined cases. Never handle the metal parts of a gun without either wearing cotton gloves OR later wiping the barrel and other metal parts with a soft, non-abrasive cloth afterward. (The oils and moisture in our hands can cause pitting and discoloration.) Naturally, you should always store your firearms safely away from little hands. Don’t store them under beds or mattresses, either, as many nasty accidents have occurred when unwitting friends and relatives have reached under a bed and accidentally pulled the wrong end of a shotgun!
Books, paper goods and works on paper (e.g., lithographs, woodblock prints, serigraphs, etc.) are finicky. They like to be in a fairly temperate environment that is not too humid and not too dry. Those “picture lights” one sees on many oil paintings and works on paper? Avoid them like the plague. Keep vintage books out of direct sunlight and away from household moisture (e.g., showers, sinks, washing machines etc.) Remember, books and works on paper (like textiles, ivories and leather goods) are made from organic substances. As a result, they’re prone to everything from foxing (a type of bacterial growth) to warpage and splitting. Handle very, very old texts with cotton gloves whenever possible. Always ask a professional before you have a book re-bound, too — some texts are more valuable in their original states, while others need to be re-bound. Never place newspaper clippings inside your vintage books, as (again) that pesky newsprint can leave permanent damage — unsightly staining at best and nasty acid burn at worst.
Ivories (be they elephant, mammoth, walrus or whatever) need to be stored away from natural sunlight if possible. It’s also advisable to keep a vase or glass filled with distilled water somewhere in a cabinet filled with ivories, as ivory is an organic substance that requires a certain moisture level. Should the moisture level drop precipitously and stay too low for too long a period, the ivory can (and often does) crack.
As we all know, vintage cast iron cookware should never be washed. It should be seasoned only and scrubbed and dried after use.
Keep celluloid, Bakelite and Catalin wares out of direct sunlight and away from household heat sources (e.g., radiators, wall unit heaters, stoves etc.). Not only can these vintage thermoplastics warp and discolor with exposure to heat and sunlight, they’re even combustible under the right circumstance!
As for textiles, well, it’s truly sad to think of how many great quilts we’ve seen ruined from foxing, fabric stress, acid burn and outright mildew. Always store your fine linens, quilts and other good textiles on paper rolls or wooden dowels that have been covered with acid-free tissue paper. Folding causes fabric stress, and the acid in wood pulp and many woods alike can cause acid burn. Keep your fine textiles away from household sources of moisture, too. Samplers and other framed textiles should be mounted by professionals; professionals use spacers, UV protective glass, acid-free mattes and other things which prevent damage.
Vintage dolls and toys? Again, as with so many other things, avoid direct sunlight and inside sources of heat, as well as exposure to household moisture. Composition dolls are especially fragile and prone to mildew, foxing and other bacterial growth. Keep your composition dolls dry and safe. Only let older children play with your vintage dolls, and then only with supervision.
We could go on about this subject for days; however, we try to keep our blogs short and to the point. There are many types of items we’ve not covered here, so should you have a question or questions about a particular antique or collectible and how best to store it, please feel free to take the time to e-mail us at Oklappraiser@aol.com. We’ll be happy to answer your question(s) in short order.