Easy Archival Storage & Organization

If you’ve taken the correct steps to archivally store your artwork, photographs, family history artifacts, and collections can you actually find a specific item when you need to?

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You’ve done everything right. Your art and photography portfolios are archivally safe and sound! Your collections and family history archives are stored in acid-free boxes! But where is that item you need to find right away among all your different boxes and portfolios?

This blog post shows you how to organize and locate all your materials quickly and easily.

Document Your Materials in Quick Photographs

 A few of the two dozen antique prints we’re going to store in a single acid-free Drop Front Box.

While this blog will use a couple of dozen antique prints to serve as an example of what should be done for easy archival storage and organization, the suggestions that follow can be applied to everything you might have in your own art or photography portfolios, collections, and family history archive!

Drop Front Boxes are versatile and economical. They come in different colors, sizes, and depths. The metal-edging creates stacking strength. They’re archival, acid-free and made in the USA.

Similarly, while we’re going to use a Drop Front Box to store these prints (see image above), the same procedures apply to the materials you’re storing in Onyx Portfolio Boxes, Museum Drop Front Boxes, Record Storage Boxes, Document Storage Kits, even Archival Binders!

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Here is a visual inventory of some of the two dozen prints we’re going to store in a single archival box, laid out and photographed on a dining room table.

The first step involves making a few quick photographs of the prints that are going to be stored in an acid-free Drop Front Box.

When it comes time for you to do this, use the image above as a general guide and simply arrange your materials on the floor or the dining room table (place a bedsheet / blanket / or towel down first to keep things clean). These photographs can be of individual items or, as in the case above, shot as a group of materials that are all going to be placed in the same box.

You can use a digital camera or even your smart phone, as while care should be taken when arranging your materials to be photographed, the picture doesn’t have to be perfect.

At this point also jot down some quick titles of whatever you’re photographing.

So, why are we doing this?

The answer couldn’t be more simple: we now have a visual inventory of everything that is going to be placed in our Drop Front Box!

We’ll come back to these photographs & quick titles in a moment.

Place Your Materials in Archival Enclosures

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This 19th century print of a Renaissance fresco was placed, but not adhered, onto a sheet of White Card Stock and then inserted into a resealable Crystal Clear Bag.

In the case of our two dozen antique prints, we’re placing each one in its own individual Crystal Clear Bag. Archivally-safe Polyethylene Bags can also be used for this step. In either case, using a clear bag will allow us to see what is in each enclosure while still protecting the prints from fingerprints and outside contaminants.

We’ve placed a piece of archival Card Stock behind each fragile print for added rigidity and support—and while not absolutely necessary, it’s a good idea!

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Shown here are 3″-deep 8 x 10″ and 11 x 14″ Drop Front Boxes. Choose the right sized box to match the size of the prints you need to store. 

Next, we’ve placed the prints—in their individual archival enclosures—into an appropriately sized acid-free Drop Front Box.

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Done! Well, almost . . . as a week later we might not remember which artworks or artifacts we placed in this particular box. Especially if we have multiple boxes!

Here our box is all buttoned up and ready for both everyday access to our prints, and for long-term archival storage—or both!

Only one little problem: just what is in this box?

This question will, unfortunately, be multiplied by the number of boxes you might have.

Which brings us to the next step.

Archival Storage: Step 3 – Label Your Boxes / Portfolios / Binders

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Adding an Adhesive Backed Label Holder to your boxes can make your archival storage and organization much easier. 

The simplest way to identify your archival boxes, portfolios, and binders is to add an Adhesive Backed Label Holder, which are available in several sizes.

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These handy accessories come with pre-cut labels that can be used to write any identification or organizational information you’d like, or you can print this information out and trim it to size.

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Here’s an example of a label that lists the titles of 14 of the 24 prints we’re storing in our 11×14″ drop front box.

The glaring problems here are: the type font is unreadably small; and we can’t fit the titles of all 24 prints on this label.

An alternative recommendation? Just assign each box a number:

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Compared to the label on the smaller box, you can see this label from across the room!

The color printout in the 8.5 x 11″ archival Print Page that’s on top of the larger box is a simple visual inventory, as explained in the next step.

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You can use whatever other identification information you’d like such as “Grandma Barbara Clark’s Wedding Dress” or “Newspaper Collection,” etc. Yet however you label your boxes / portfolios / & binders, consider creating a “visual inventory” to accompany your materials to aid in your organization and retrieval efforts.

Archival Storage: Step 4 – Make Two “Visual Inventory” Sheets for Each Box

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This sheet of regular 8.5 x 11″ letter-sized paper shows the prints we photographed at the beginning of this blog, with each print’s title added at the bottom. A copy of this and the other visual inventory sheets we made – covering all 24 prints being stored in our box – will be placed in the top of the box before we close it. While this example is in color, a black & white version can also be used.

Here we’ve gone back to one of the photographs we made of the antique prints we’re storing. We downloaded this photograph from our camera or phone onto our computer, and then dragged it onto a word document so that we could add the titles we jotted down earlier.

Notice that we’ve named the box that holds these prints Box 3, but you can use whatever personalized descriptive information you’d like.

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To sum up, this archival Drop Front Box holds all two dozen of our antique prints in their individual Crystal Clear Bags, with Card Stock added to each bag for structural support. An Adhesive Backed Label Holder has been added to the box, and the visual inventory sheets we’ve made have been placed in archival Print Pages. These sheets will be placed on top of the prints before we close the box. By opening the box and using these visual inventory sheets as a reference, we can see exactly what the box contains without having to sort through every print.

Archival Storage: Step 5 – Create a Binder of Visual Inventory Sheets

As mentioned earlier, we’ve made two copies of the visual inventory sheets we’ve created. One copy went into the box, so that just by opening it we could quickly see a visual inventory of everything the box contains without having to shuffle through all the prints.

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All of our collections will have their respective visual inventory sheets placed in Print Pages in a single binder. Looking through this binder to find the exact box holding a particular print or object is much easier than looking through every box for a single image.

The second set of sheets is going into a binder that contains the visual inventory pages for all our boxes, portfolios, and binders.

This will allow us to quickly look through these pages to determine the specific numbered or labeled box that holds the specific print, photograph, or artifact we’re looking for on any given day.

All this makes the archival storage and organization of our materials super easy. Just as important, it’s super efficient.

And it will work for everything in your collection too, both 2D prints and portfolios and 3D objects and artifacts! 

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By following these simple steps for archival storage and organization, when you need to find a particular image or object in your collection all you need to do is open your binder full of visual inventory pages, find what you’re looking for there, and then track down the corresponding box number (or box name, depending on your own personalized system of organizing) to reduce your search to just that one box or portfolio.

You’re already doing the right thing by archivally storing your materials. Now make finding your materials easy.

Contact Us

If you have any additional questions, or would you like more information on any of our museum-quality acid-free storage & presentation materials, please contact us here at Archival Methods. We’re always there to help with any archiving, storage, or presentation questions you may have.