Preserving Old Letters from your Family Archive

1. First Things First
Before you open that old shoe box full of letters that have been stored in the attic or basement, clear off the dining room table or set up a space in an unused corner of the living room in order to spread your collection out. Always wash your hands before handling old letters, photographs, and documents, as you don’t want to damage these irreplaceable artifacts with dirt, lotions or the naturally-occurring oils on your hands and fingers. And, as a perennial rule of thumb, never have food or beverages near your old letters and artifacts, as an accidental spill could spell disaster.

2. Handle With Care
Consider placing your letters and documents in acid-free envelopes, archival crystal clear bags, or three-ring [archival quality] page protectors all of which will keep delicate papers from being exposed to harmful dust, moisture and household pollutants. Most archival-quality clear plastic storage is made from polyester. Polyester is the clearest, most chemically inert of the plastics used for archival storage products. Many vinyl and other low quality binders are responsible for problems such as image transfer and acid migration. Its one thing if you are filing office papers, but if you are organizing collectibles and important memories, you should only use binders that meet the very highest archival standards.


Depending on how many letters you have, you can place them in elegant three-ring binders and slipcases if they are in 3-ring page protectors, or in acid-free boxes that come in a variety of sizes, depths, and colors to match any taste or decor. You can also keep your letters safe in acid-free file folders, or a document storage kit, which has everything you need in an all-in-one kit.

3. Store Well
Keep all of your historic and contemporary letters and documents in a cool, dry, dark place away from excess humidity, water and light. While perhaps stored for years in the attic or basement, these locations are not ideal for preserving old letters as the wide fluctuations in temperature and humidity can harm papers, inks, photographs and other such artifacts. The ideal place to store a set of letters is in an indoor closet or shelf (away from direct sunlight) in your “living space,” not the attic or basement, as the temperature and humidity variations are less drastic. This storage placement will also prevent excess moisture from wrinkling the pages or perhaps causing the ink to run, and the lack of excess light will keep the letters from fading over time.

Excerpted from “Preserving Old Letters in the Digital Age.” Archival Methods, 4 Jan. 2017, www.archivalmethods.com/blog/preserving-old-letters/ (with additional information about polyester binders from https://www.archivalmethods.com/product/collector-grade-ring-binders and page protectors from https://www.archivalmethods.com/product/3-ring-page-protectors)