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Display Your Treasures

Proper display of valued objects will help prevent damage and loss. We have all seen textiles that have faded due to overexposure to light and paper objects rusted by thumbtacks. These types of damage can be reduced by using safe materials and methods, and ensuring safe environmental conditions for our items on display.


All materials used in the display of objects should be acid-free and lignin-free. This includes materials like mat board, fabric, stuffing, supports, cases, and shelving.

Wood is neither acid-free nor lignin-free and is not a preferred material for exhibiting valued objects. Painting wood does not stop the emission of acidic gasses from wood. These gasses attack nearby objects and cause damage. Often, the paint applied to wood only adds its own volatile gasses to the mix, accelerating or exacerbating the damage. Wood surfaces can be covered with a barrier film like Marvel Seal®.

There has been a lot of research into the safety of materials for use in museum exhibits and some of this information can be extrapolated for use in smaller museums and in the home.


  • Matting
    Safe matting for paper objects and textiles involves the use of acid-free, lignin-free mat board, cardboard, fabric, paper, and other materials. Adhesives should never be applied to the object itself, except in the case where wheat starch paste is used to adhere Japanese tissue hinges to paper objects. (See below.) Liquid adhesive and self-adhesive tape should not be applied to textiles, metals, or any other object materials.Textiles should never be stapled to backboards.
  • Framing
    The parts of a well framed object include the frame, the frame rabbet lined with inert felt, glazing of either glass or polyester sheet (Plexiglas®), a window mat, the object, a back mat board, a thin sheet of inert vapor barrier, an acid free lignin free cardboard backing board, two mounting brackets, perimeter tape to seal the backing to the frame, and two d-rings for hanging. See the information listed below for detailed information about this sequence.
  • Mounts
    There are many good references that describe safe mounts to use for three dimensional objects on display. Mounts can be complex and expensive, but if your item is rare and valuable, you should consider a museum quality mount.

Environmental Conditions
Light, temperature, relative humidity, and atmospheric pollutants make up the environment that surrounds an object on display. Low light levels, short exposure times, moderate temperature, controlled relative humidity, and clean air are all needed for objects to be safe on display.

Maintaining Your Collections:

  • Moderate temperature.
  • Keep relative humidity level constant, with few fluctuations.
  • Don't crowd objects.
  • Store dolls face down to protect eye weights.
  • Protect from light and dust.
  • Don't hang textiles.
  • No pins, tape, or ink.
  • Don't place in or on wood.

Light Levels and Exposure
Light causes significant damage to textiles, works of art on paper and other sensitive materials. Often, one coloring materials will fade faster than the others, causing color shifts in works of art and other objects. Even seemingly hardy objects like finished wooden furniture will fade in extreme exposure.

Electromagnetic Spectrum

  • Radio Waves (Radar, TV, FM, AM)
    The amount of energy carried by these waves is relatively small. Radar, TV, FM, and AM Radio waves are flying around in the air all of the time. They are low enough energy that they don't hurt us. The wavelength of these energy waves is very large. TV waves are about one foot in size, which is why when you move about a room in your home you can interrupt TV interception. TV antenna branches are about a foot apart to catch as many waves as possible for better reception. Radio waves are even larger, as much as many feet in size, which is why when you drive around tall buildings in a city your radio reception can be interrupted.
  • Light
    Exposure to visible and ultraviolet radiation can be a significant factor in the survival of objects. It is important to limit the level (foot-candles or lux), type (visible or ultraviolet) and length of exposure (minutes to days of illumination) to visible and ultraviolet radiation in order to protect objects. Generally accepted levels of visible illumination for preservation range from 2 to 5 foot-candles for sensitive materials like watercolors and silk textiles, to 30 to 50 foot-candles for materials that are not as light sensitive like paintings or furniture. Only the materials most resistant to light damage such as ceramics, metals, or stone can withstand light levels above 50 to 60 foot candles. Even these materials will be damaged if they include organic resins, paints, or repairs.

Temperature and Relative Humidity
Temperature that is too high or too low can damage objects on display.
Relative humidity that is above 55% and below 25% can damage items on display.


Preservation Principles


Types of Material

Types of Objects
   Books / Bibles / Scrapbooks
   Works of Art
   Textiles / Clothing / Uniforms
   Tools / Mechanical / Instruments
   Dishes / Glassware / Silverware
   Native American Items
   Natural History Specimens

More Resources
   Preservation Documents  (pdfs)
   Glossary of Terms
   See what we've done

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