Personal Effects, Dec. 23

Published 9:15 am Thursday, December 28, 2017

Question: Mr. Sampson, I’m not asking for an evaluation but some conservation help. I’ve collected old Christmas ornaments for a few years now. I prefer the glass ornaments from the 1920s to the1950s. I’ve got German, Polish and Japanese ornaments and a few Chinese novelty pieces. But I’m noticing that over the past years they are beginning to loose their sparkle and gold and silver lustre.

In the past, unless it was bright and eye clean, I passed on it. I see a noticeable difference in my collection. I mean I still love them but what can I do to stop them from tarnishing and flaking? Thanks for answering this for me.

Answer: I kind of knew what I was going to tell you when I read this. However, I contacted a few fellow collector, just to see what they said. 

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Pretty much in a nut shell — there’s not a lot you can do. It’s just the materials and the age that has effected them. All items will age and patina over time. Remember, these items were inexpensive when made and let’s face it, they weren’t made to archival standards. 

I gauge that you’re not just someone who decorates but collects. Here is what I can tell you for your current collections and your future acquisitions. Keep your ornaments in a warm, dry location. A first floor closet is ideal. NOT a basement or an attic.

Invest in archival storage boxes and tissue paper to pack and store with. Places like Hobby Lobby, Michael’s and the internet can help with this. Avoid using rubber bands or any non-archival plastic near them. They can emit gases that harm delicate finishes. Use silica gel packets in your storage boxes to keep them dry. Use gloves when handling. 

When displaying don’t let them touch other ornaments. Don’t hang them too near lights or insert lights into them. You’d be surprised how hot lights actually can get. Avoid sunlight. And lastly, DO NOT try to clean, wash, wax, lacquer, re-paint or gild your ornaments. This is never successful and ruins the value. Just enjoy their 60- to 100-year-old appearance. Thanks for a great question.