How to Preserve Old Letters & Pictures

by Maria Ciubotaru ; Updated September 28, 2017

Well-preserved old letters and photos are cherished by many generations to follow.

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Pictures and letters are precious keepsakes that help us know our history and immortalize unique moments in our lives, such as a child's birth, a wedding or a first kiss. But these beloved memories are perishable and need special care in order to keep them intact. Here are a few things you should know about how to preserve your old letters and photos for generations to come.

Preserving Pictures

Take the photos out of their boxes and albums sitting in your basement, attic, under your bed or even mounted on the walls. The light, humidity, temperature differences, the acids in papers, plastics wood and even pests can damage your photos, causing them to crack, peel or curl.

Store your photographs in a climate-controlled environment, preferably in an air-conditioned, dark room or a safe deposit box in the bank. The optimal temperature is 68°F (20°C) with humidity levels of up to 50 percent.

Place the pictures in archival acid-free albums that have picture-pocket pages made of a safe plastic. Avoid albums with magnetic pages as they contain a high acid glue that will deteriorate the photos, depriving you of your past. Alternately, use a filing system and acid-free boxes custom-made to accommodate between 500 to 1,000 prints. Last but not least, you can encapsulate the prints in Mylar film, an acid-free polyester film.

Preserving Old Letters

Use the same tools and procedures when storing old letters as for the photographic materials.

Photocopy or scan all original documents to ensure at least you have a copy.

Dust the letters gently with a clean, dry cloth and place them in an acid-free box for storage. Alternately, file them by date and place them in acid-free folders or notebooks. These make it easier to organize and preserve them, as they are portable and easy to read.

Protect the letters by using top-loading Mylar sheet protectors. If storing more than one document in a sheet protector, separate them with a sheet of acid-free paper.

Tips

  • Buy plastic folders from polyester, polypropylene or polyethylene and avoid PVC (polyvinyl chloride) plastic that are usually found in "store-bought" binders. These emit hydrochloric acid and cause irreversible damage.

Photo Credits

  • Jupiterimages/liquidlibrary/Getty Images

About the Author

Maria Ciubotaru has been writing on foreign politics, lifestyle and social topics since 1994. Her writing experience includes website copy, features, interviews, newsletters and blogs. Holding a B.A. in journalism, Ciubotaru specializes in topics related to healthy living, parenting, yoga and alternative medicine, culture, arts and music.