23 Sep 2014

Tips for safe storage of collectibles

Storing collectibles properly takes careful control of three major environmental conditions:

  • light
  • moisture
  • temperature

Safe Storage Of Collectibles

Light

Light is bad for most collectibles, and good for none. Light exposure causes fading in wood, paper, and other organic substances. This is due to a process known as photodegredation. What we think of as color is actually just caused by a substance reflecting some of the light spectrum, while absorbing the rest. Unfortunately, when pigments absorb the energy from light, they also break down. Over time, this causes a steady shift towards less vibrant pigmentation.

Photodegradation is even more of a concern with plastics. Photodegradation is actually one of the few methods available to environmental engineers to decompose plastics: with enough light, most plastics and oil-based compounds will break down into a low-grade spongy vinyl. Needless to say, when this process affects collectibles with plastic components, the effects are catastrophic.

Consequently, it’s a good idea to store all collectibles in a dark place. If they are in your home, they should be kept in cases when not on display.

Moisture

Moisture is deadly to collectibles of all materials. Moisture sneaks into any crevices, causing mildew to build up even in water-resistant materials. Even worse, moisture can cause severe damage by expanding wood and fiber or by corroding metal. Ideally, collectibles should be kept at moderate level of moisture. In Eastern Canada, this means that the basement is not usually a safe place for collectibles. Instead, they should be stored at ground level or higher, and preferably in a building with air conditioning.

Temperature

Most collectibles were designed to last at standard room temperature. In general, keeping your collectibles between 20 and 25 degrees Celsius will have the longest lifespans. Some rapidly degrading collectibles might do better under slightly cooler temperatures.

As important as choosing the correct temperature is, making sure to avoid exposing collectibles to rapid temperature changes is even more crucial. Rapid temperature changes cause tiny fractures in ceramic glazing. This results in a network of fine cracks on the surface of ceramic components, called “crazing.” Glass is also extremely vulnerable to temperature changes, and can develop major cracks upon being heated or cooled quickly. Other materials can also cause problems. Metal components expand and contract more rapidly than wood, causing and joints between metal and wood components to strain under temperature changes.

As a result, having a perfect room temperature is not nearly as important as having a consistent temperature. Your storage location should be reliably heated or cooled, all year round.

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