How to Protect Antique Papers

Antique papers, photos and cards should be handled carefully.

Family histories can be wonderful things to compile. They allow you to explore your roots, and become familiar with family members and events that are long past. Documenting your history may mean handling and preserving papers, photos, letters, cards and the like. Here are just a few ways to protect those antique papers and preserve them for generations to come.

Antique papers, photos and cards should be handled carefully.

Things You'll Need

  • Archival Folders Or Envelopes
  • Acid-Free Storage Boxes
  • Alkaline Buffered Paper
  • Inexpensive White Photo Gloves
  • Mylar Film
  • Double Sided Tape
White cotton gloves are available at most photo supply stores.

Reading old letters and cards can be very enlightening giving you a hint of the past. However, they must be handled carefully in order to protect them. Before handling any antique or vintage paper, make sure your hands are well washed and covered in a soft white cotton glove. This will prevent the very real danger of dirt, skin oils, acids or other chemicals that might be on your hands from damaging the paper you are handling.

Preserving family heirlooms can be a tremendous task. You want to make sure they are sealed and protected. However, in no case should they be laminated! Lamination is a heat process that by its very nature will cause damage to your keepsakes. An alternative is to use 2 sheets of mylar film. Close the edges with double-sided tape (archival tape if possible), making sure that no part of the papers you are protecting will come in contact with the tape. In this way, your document is safely protected, ready for display and no further deterioration can occur. This is specially important for any newsclippings or newspapers you might find that you want to protect. Newspaper is not designed to last long, and can damage photos, letters and other paper if not separated and protected. Make sure you protect newsclippings by using the mylar "folder" and put pages of alkaline buffered paper behind each clipping before sealing. Store them in an acid-free box in a cool, dry room.

Book collectors should take special care with antique books.

Make sure you display your papers properly. They should kept away from direct sunlight, high humidity, high temperatures and any place where moisture may be prevalent (outside walls, basements, etc). This is true for books and photos as well. Sunlight will quickly damage ink and dyes inherent in most paper and cause it to become brittle quickly. Protecting your papers from direct sun, may not always be practical, however storing them in an acid free box, in a cool, dry closet, will go a long way to help preserve them properly.

Framing is another option for protecting your papers. Again, make sure anything that comes in contact with your keepsakes is acid-free or archival quality. There are special plexiglass or acrylic items available to use that also filter UV light. Acid-free boards can be used for mounting, but make sure you place spacers between the items you are preserving and the glass you will use. Again, make sure to hang or place your framed treasures out of direct sunlight. Make sure the frame is completely sealed to prevent dust from entering under the glass.

Despite the warnings about direct sunlight, if your antique papers already have a dry mold on the item, bright sunlight is the best way to kill the mold spores and prevent them from spreading. First, clean the paper gently with a soft cloth or brush. Then, simply place the paper on a piece of acid-free paper and rest it in bright sunlight for about an hour. Brush off once more, then seal as soon as possible.


  • Comic book collectors use Mylar envelopes to protect and preserve their collections. These work great for encasing and protecting antique papers, vintage photos, etc.