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Protect Your Treasures

It is in the nature of all materials to deteriorate. All deterioration is due to the natural forces of physics and chemistry. The scientific law of Entropy states that nature will tend towards a state of maximum disorder, or in other words, minimum energy. Disordered systems require less energy than ordered systems. Deteriorated materials are less ordered than new materials. This natural order of things means that all materials will deteriorate and they will deteriorate through chemical or physical mechanisms.

Physical damages are caused when "work" energy, from handling, moving, bending, flexing, and other manipulations, is transferred to the structure of a material like wood or metal.
This energy causes wear, tearing, fraying and other breakage that results in damage to the physical structure of the material. Chemical mechanisms for deterioration involve chemical reactions that break down the structures of materials and molecules. For example, fading results when light causes chemical bonds in a colorant molecule to break down.


 Other chemical reactions that cause material deterioration include attack by water or moisture and attack by acids. Newsprint fibers are attacked by the acids in the newsprint and become brittle and yellowed within a few days after the paper is made. Chemically induced deterioration often results in physical changes in the material. Physical changes in deterioration do not change the chemical make up of a material undergoing alteration. They only affect the properties of the material. Chemical changes during deterioration alter the actual chemical make up of the materials. Both kinds of changes are permanent and cannot be reversed.

It is not possible to stop deterioration or to reverse changes that have already occurred in the materials of objects. It is only possible to use preventive methods to interfere with the process of deterioration to slow it down. We can also use conservation methods to minimize the effects of what has already occurred. This preventive interference is positive in that it slows the deterioration process. Interference can also be negative and can accelerate deterioration. Positive interference in deterioration is preventive conservation or preventive care.

One can protect objects from this natural course of deterioration by practicing preventive care. The major areas where preventive care is useful include the following:

  • Environmental Control
    Controlling the temperature, relative humidity, and light is the best way to prolong the life of objects.
  • Water and Humidity
    Keeping water and high moisture content air away from objects will prolong their life.
  • Acids and Chemicals
    Preventing exposure to aggressive acids and other chemicals will lengthen the survival of collections.
  • Fire/Soot/Smoke
    Particulate pollution from fire, smoke, and soot is very damaging to valued heirlooms.
  • Dust and Dirt
    Preventing exposure to dust and dirt will help you objects last longer.
  • Pests
    Controlling pests to avoid infestation will protect objects from pest damage.
  • Handling
    Careful and proper handling will prevent damage from moving and examining objects.
  • Home Repairs
    Avoiding home repairs and repairs by non-professionals will prevent some of the most serious damage to objects.


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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