Family heirlooms may be your only connection to past generations. You might possibly have possessions that once belonged to your great-grandparents or, even, great-great-grandparents.
It is a privilege to hold jewelry your great-grandmother wore, a journal your great-great-uncle wrote or early photographs taken by your grandfather. These family heirlooms deserve the honor of preservation so future generations have the same opportunity to enjoy their heritage.
Treasures that have been passed down through the years may be damaged or in frail condition. The method of preservation depends on the type of material, such as fabric, gold, paper, canvass or wood.
Fabric and paper, in particular, are especially fragile and may need to be kept in certain storage conditions to prevent deterioration. For instance, paper should be handled as little as possible to prevent oil transfer from fingers to the paper. Acid-leaching is another consideration. Acid-free sheets should be inserted between each piece of paper. Fabrics should not be exposed to direct sunlight, as they will fade and decay.
Paintings require special care, which is best left to an expert. Watercolor paintings are especially sensitive and the painting itself should never by touched. It is recommended that all paintings be either protected by an appropriate glass (watercolors) or varnish (oil), as well as framed. If you plan to hang your heirloom painting, do not place on high traffic walls where they may be brushed against or knocked, such as hallways. Correct humidity and temperature are essential. Oil paintings require periodic cleaning with a soft cloth. Once again, it might be best to ask an expert to clean your painting.
For jewelry items, contact a jeweler experienced in antique jewelry. Modern day repair techniques may not be suitable for old pieces. Wood objects require a restoration specialist. Both jewelry and wood restoration involves in-depth knowledge of techniques used at the time of the original design and construction.
If you would like to learn more about a family heirloom, a local museum or historical society may have valuable information that gives your heirloom a personal connection.
Choosing to preserve your family heirlooms is a gift that your children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren will be grateful to receive and should always be part of your estate planning strategy. Building an estate plan that incorporates family history and heirlooms is a wonderful way to pass on your family’s legacy.