What to Do with Inherited Collections: Preserving Las Vegas

Do you care about your family history? This article is for you.

Inheriting a collection of photos, papers, books, and letters following the passing of a relative can pose both sentimental and logistical challenges. The question arises: What to do with inherited collections that may seem overwhelming due to space constraints, lack of personal interest, or inexperience in managing collections? At Fine Art Conservation Laboratories, we understand the delicate nature of such situations and offer solutions for preserving and valuing these cherished legacies, keeping the desert landscape of Las Vegas in mind.

blonde woman leans over a glass case in a museum

This woman marvels at the beautiful archive now in her possession. The question remains: What to do with inherited collections?

An inherited collection often forms an archive, a unique assortment of documents, photos, and three-dimensional objects, such as artworks, digital files, and manuscripts selected to preserve the essence of a person’s life. Our team specializes in the careful assessment of these diverse items, recognizing their collective power in narrating a captivating life history. Here are some tips for taking care of collections that you can do at home:

  1. Take Stock and Document: Start by carefully examining and documenting each piece in your newly inherited collection. Note any wear, tear, or damage, creating a simple list or using your smartphone to take pictures. This initial step helps you understand what needs attention.
  2. Find a Safe Storage Spot: Look for a cool, dry storage space at home, like a closet or under a bed. Shield the collection from extreme temperatures and moisture, using airtight containers or plastic sleeves for added protection. This storage approach can go a long way in preserving your items.
  3. Storytelling Preservation: Preserve the stories behind each item by writing them down or recording family anecdotes. This adds a personal touch to your collection, enhancing its value without any cost. Consider creating a simple digital document or a handwritten journal to capture these narratives.
  4. Regular Checks and Tender Loving Care: Schedule regular checks on your collection, ensuring it remains in good condition. Simple actions like dusting, adjusting storage conditions, and handling items with clean hands can contribute to their longevity. Consistent, gentle care is key, even if professional conservation is not immediately feasible.

Remember, even on a budget, there are practical steps you can take to care for your inherited collection, ensuring it remains a cherished part of your family’s history.

One interesting new way that people are preserving their family history is through genealogy sites. By photographing cherished heirlooms, digitizing important historical documents, and uploading them to genealogy websites, people have connected with long-lost relatives, shared family stories more easily via the internet, and improved their own family’s interest in family history. We can advise what to do with inherited collections in terms of preservation, restoration, and storage.

Although dry conditions are ideal for archival storage, the desert heat, dust, and pests are something to consider when handling collections. As you navigate the task of sorting through the archive, we emphasize the importance of maintaining the collection’s integrity, ensuring it tells a coherent and valuable story. While some may lament the decline of letter writing, we appreciate the intrinsic value of authentic signatures and the stories they tell. Recent auctions have demonstrated a growing market for entire archives, underscoring the enduring allure of tangible, historical artifacts.

Documents and books within the inherited collection hold particular significance. If they align with the individual’s work or training, they contribute to the archive’s richness. We encourage clients to preserve the archive as a cohesive unit, whether they choose to keep, sell, or donate it. By keeping records together, the unique perspective of one person’s life events is preserved, adding depth and authenticity to the entire collection.

Another significant part of any collection is artwork, such as paintings. It conveys the collector’s interests and even perspective of the world. Their value isn’t only sentimental; much artwork, especially if it’s old, has significant monetary value. It is important to consult an art conservation professional to ensure the proper storage and restoration treatments that each piece needs. Provenance, the history of ownership, plays a pivotal role in retaining the archive’s value, be it evidential or monetary. Our decades of experience in painting conservation have left many families with beautifully restored artworks that can be enjoyed by generations to come.

A portrait of George Washington, painted around 1800

Heirloom portraits, such as this one of George Washington, can be quite valuable. 

As you grapple with the identity embedded in the archive, we encourage thoughtful consideration of its entirety before deciding what to do with inherited collections. Rather than dissecting and selling individual components, or worse, discarding the archive, consider the option of donation. Fine Art Conservation Laboratories can guide you in preserving the structural and value-based integrity of the collection and even suggest potential donation avenues, including national archives, universities, community organizations, galleries, museums, and local institutions. Preserving your family member’s legacy becomes a meaningful endeavor, and our expertise ensures that the inherited collection remains a cohesive and valued representation of their life story.

an older, well-dressed white man with gloves on using a microscope to analyze a painting

Head Conservator, Scott M. Haskins analyzing the condition of the painting on the table

Are you also having trouble navigating an insurance claim that comes along with this inheritance? Fine Art Conservation Laboratories can help.

Fine Art Conservation Laboratories’ 45 years of expertise in preserving and restoring art offers invaluable help and practical knowledge for helping people through the insurance claim process for damaged collectibles and art pieces. Our experienced team understands the complexities of insurance claims related to art, heirlooms, and antiques, providing reports that are properly prepared with information that the insurance company never puts in doubt. Fine Art Conservation Laboratories charges flat fees for this work, not a percentage of the claim settlement, and our expertise is honored nationwide. Let us help make the art, heirloom, and collectible part of the insurance claim process as seamless as possible and preserve your peace of mind. 

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