Caring For Your Treasures: Fire & Water

Fire and water might seem like obvious agents of destruction. Many of us have witnessed first-hand the effects of these elements. But there is more to them than catastrophic damage.


For instance, many of us have fires in our homes daily; candles, fireplaces, cigars/cigarettes, and even cooking. Over time, the smoke from these fires can cause damage to objects. Porous objects will collect the ash, soot, and smoke, textiles gain a smell, and painting varnish gets darker. Even glass items can gain a cloudy appearance. Below are some smoke damaged objects at the Corning Museum of Glass before and after conservation - a dramatic difference! If you would like to know more about cleaning smoke-damaged glass, I recommend the Museum’s blog post on the subject, found here.

Courtesy of the Corning Museum of Glass.

So what can we do about fires? First, have working smoke detectors and know your evacuation plan. If your hobby includes working with paints, electronics, or batteries, keep them stored safely and know how to safely dispose of them. Be proactive and think about the placement of your objects. That painting may look nice over the fireplace, but its placement is likely causing it to deteriorate faster.


In case of a catastrophic fire, the most important thing to remember is objects are just things. Your life is far more valuable. Get out safely, and do not risk your life trying to save or rescue objects from a fire.


When it comes to water damage, our minds usually think of flooded basements. But just like fire, water damage is more likely to occur from something far mundane in your house. Pipes can freeze in the winter. Objects stored in attic spaces are subject to potential roof leaks and humidity fluctuations. Again, the key is prevention and thinking about where your objects are located. Are they under a bathroom? Is there an HVAC unit or hot water heater above it? Are they in the kitchen, or next to a laundry machine? Are you pipes located in the basement? Are your objects stored on the bottom shelf or the floor?

Seriously, water damage can happen to anyone! Even at the William Paca House, we’ve experienced a leak from a burst pipe, an old water heater, and an HVAC water-catching tray overflow...and that’s just been in the last 3 years.

Then - what preventive measures can we take? If an area of your house is prone to leaks/flooding, you can purchase a water sensor that will alert you when water is present. Some models are as cheap as $12, and can even alert your smart phones. Try to store objects in water-safe containers and if possible, off the floor. If the house is feeling humid during the summer, you can run a dehumidifier in the area. Having a dehumidifier is also a great preventive measure to protect against mold growth.

Do you have any collections care questions? Comment below, and your question might just be the subject of the next blog post!


Robin Matty Curator of Collections


#history #collections #collectionscare #decorativearts #yourhistory #heirlooms #historicannapolis #curator #curatorscorner

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