Tips for Preserving & Displaying Great War Relics

If you collect— either just starting to collect or already have a bit of a collection started— it is wise to display or otherwise preserve items in your collection.  Preservation of these items is a top-priority for collectors, though can be sometimes difficult to do at home.  Furthermore, it is necessary to display your items in some capacity, but this can be expensive.  So in this post I will list a few tips (from various sources, as you will see) to make sure that your items are preserved and I will list for you a few tips on displaying your items with style but that won’t be too expensive.

General Preservation Tips

Uniforms (Textiles)
Thankfully, the Smithsonian has made available online a brief document of ways to store textiles, of which I’ll recount some of these tips here:

•Ensure that your uniforms or other cloth items are clean, especially of dust.  Furthermore, keep the room/area that you store the items in free of dust, as the dust can be circulated through the building’s ventilation system (in fact, be sure that the whole building is dust-free because the ventilation system will recirculate the dust from other rooms in the building).  See the above link to read on how to clean items.
•Store items flat with as few folds and pressure as possible.  Additionally, do not store (uniforms, particularly) items on clothes hangars, as gravity will pull at the seams.  If folds are impossible to be avoided, be sure to pad these folds with old (clean, but un-bleached) bedsheets.
•For cotton items, do not place on bare wood.  For all textiles, avoid tissue paper, as it is more likely than not acidic.  Additionally, textiles should not be stored in any plastic bags or containers, as decaying plastics can give-off damaging by-products.
•Outdoor light and even indoor light can damage cotton and woolen products: avoid displaying or preserving items in too much light.
•In the room where you are displaying or preserving these items, maintain a temperature of 65ºF-70ºF and with a humidity between 40%-50%.  Keeping this temperature and humidity range can help keep moths and mildew away.
•Be sure to, every so often, take the items out of ‘storage’ so that they can be exposed to ‘fresh’ air and so that any folds can be smoothed-out.

Leather Items

•The preservation of leather items is oftentimes a losing battle.  Your best bet would be to seek-out specific instructions for the exact condition of your leather.  Do note that some leather treatments may cause the leather to become discolored due to age and the like, so do your research before applying any sort of leather treatment.

Paper Items
Some time ago I visited my friend’s office at the museum he worked at and saw a great infographic on the necessary humidity levels of various kinds of items.  I believe it was published by Penn Libraries.
•Color photographs, if you have them, are best stored in an environment of about 65ºF and 50% humidity.
•Black and white photographs should also be stored at a temperature of about 65ºF but with around 40-50% humidity.
•Paper should be stored at a temperature of around 65ºF and about 50% humidity.  If the paper is parchment, which would be rather unusual for a document of the Great War, should be stored at around 70ºF with a humidity of no more than 50% but no less than 40% humidity.

Weapons dating from the First World War should be stored as any other weapon with wooden furniture.  However, some WWI weapons may fire, if you so choose to shoot them, corrosive ammunition (as in that may be the only type of ammunition you can get) which would require more vigorous cleaning techniques.  If you use chemicals to clean your weapons, be sure to read any warnings about them so you can be sure to not cause damage to the old metal or the wooden furniture.

For other items, it is generally okay to put them in acid-free boxes for storage, assuming that the humidity and temperature is correct.

Display Tips

Uniforms & Equipment
•Mannequins are a great way to display whole kits, and can aid you in deciding what other items you want to collect for that particular display— it allows you to see what you have and what you don’t.  Mannequins are quite expensive, so a good way to find them for less is to check Craigslist— sometimes, closing stores in the area will post on there and you may find a mannequin.

Paper Items
•For prestigious documents and photographs and the like I would recommend framing the item.
For more numerous items, try buying a binder at your local office supply store and buying some clear pocket pages (I can’t remember the proper name for these) and putting your items in there.

•If you have the floorspace, go to the hardware store and buy a few dowel rods of suitable diameter to be cut-down in length and to fit into the trigger-guard to make the gun stand-up.  Doing this may cause some scratches or denting on certain surfaces (such as hardwood floors), so some padding may be necessary on certain parts of the weapon where it is on the ground.

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Garrett Moore

I, along with my brother, am a researcher, collector, and re-enactor of the U.S. Army in the First World War. Our blog is Follow me on Instagram: @thegreatwarwwi

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