Preserving Old Letters in the Digital Age

If you have old letters in your family archive here are some tips to help preserve these wonderful treasures.

Find a Clean Place to Work

Before you open that shoebox full of letters, find a clean workspace where you can spread out your collection. Always wash your hands before handling old letters, photographs, and documents, or wear nitrile gloves. Never have food or beverages near your old letters and artifacts, as an accidental spill could spell disaster.

preserving old letters, archival, acid-free, genealogy
Hand-written letters often contain a wealth of fascinating information and they are worthy of the highest level of archival care.

A typical World War II-era letter, postmarked December 4, 1943. Many patriotic-themed envelopes and stamps were created during this period, thus the “Liberty Above All – For All” color imprint, and the “V for Victory” stamp. Nestled inside this envelope, almost as fresh as the day it was mailed, was a hand-written letter and a photograph of two soldiers. This family artifact has survived intact since the middle of the last century, and it is our job as family archivists to make sure it survives well into the next!

preserving old letters, archival, acid-free, genealogy

preserving old letters, archival, acid-free, genealogy
These letters are stored in archival Binder Pocket Pages, which allow one to read the front and back of each letter while protecting them.

Handle With Care 

Consider placing your letters and documents in acid-free envelopes, crystal clear bags, or pocket pages, all of which will keep delicate papers from being exposed to harmful dust, moisture and household pollutants. You can place them in elegant three-ring binders and slipcases if they are in archival binder pages. Another option is acid-free boxes that come in a variety of sizes, depths, and colors. 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.

preserving old letters, archival, acid-free, genealogy
Old letters safely stored in archival, acid-free open-end and flap envelopes.
preserving old letters, archival, acid-free, genealogy
Letters stored in clear, resealable archival crystal clear bags with card stock backing for strength and stiffening.
preserving old letters, archival, acid-free, genealogy
Collector-grade three-ring binder for safely storing archival page protectors. Many old family letters and documents can be stored in a single album. Three-ring archival pages provide front and back visibility, and protect against dirt, moisture and fingerprints.
preserving old letters, archival, acid-free, genealogy
Elegant slipcases for storing 3-ring binders add an additional layer of protection from dust, household pollutants and moisture.

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. This is because 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. 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.

Contact Us

If you have any additional questions on preserving old letters or would like more information on the archival storage and presentation materials that are right for you, please contact us here at Archival Methods. We’re always there to help with any archiving, storage, or presentation questions you may have.