Melissa Barker, The Archive Lady, shares her tips on how to preserve a cherished high-school letterman’s jacket!
Joey in Arizona asks: “It has been many years since I graduated college and my letterman’s jacket has been hanging in my spare closet and the leather sleeves are starting to get sticky. What should I treat it with and how best to store it in the future?”
Joey has asked a great question about an item that might belong to many of us and not necessarily to our ancestors. While we as genealogists are about the business of collecting and preserving our ancestor’s documents, photos, and artifacts, we should also be about the business of preserving our own records and memorabilia. Sometimes we can be so focused on our ancestor’s really old stuff that we forget that our not quite so old stuff needs archiving and preserving as well.
Erin High School Letterman’s Jacket, 1965, Houston County, Tennessee Archives
A letterman’s jacket with sleeves made of leather requires special attention. The jacket is considered a textile, and in this case, it is a mix of two different kinds of materials. Most letterman’s jackets are made of wool with leather sleeves. Each of these materials are very susceptible to insects and mold and must be store properly.
Joey asked about what to clean his leather sleeves with and I would recommend he wipe them down with a clean, damp cloth. No need to use any kind of chemicals or cleaning solvents. Most likely, there is nothing sticky on the sleeves, the leather is probably just breaking down from age and improper care. It is also important that these jackets not be hung on hangers in closets. This will cause the jacket to deform and that deformity could become permanent with no ability to correct the damage.
Erin High School Letterman’s Jacket, Houston County, Tennessee Archives
The archival items Joey will need to purchase are unbuffered archival tissue paper and an archival box with a lid that will fit the jacket without it being folded. When purchasing archival tissue paper, there are two kinds, buffered and unbuffered. In the case of these textiles being wool and leather, the unbuffered kind is best. You can read my previous column Buffered vs Unbuffered Archival Tissue Paper: What’s the Difference here.
The actual steps to preserving the jacket are simple. Line the archival box with the unbuffered archival tissue paper. Place the letterman’s jacket in the box, carefully folding the sleeves across the chest. I would also recommend to Joey to stuff the sleeves with unbuffered archival tissue paper to keep the integrity of the sleeves, especially in the shoulder area. Lay another layer of unbuffered archival tissue paper on top of the jacket and place the lid on the box. Once the jacket is boxed, it is important that Joey write-up information about the jacket and tuck it in the box too.
Information that should be included are things like: College or high school he attended, years he attended, his academic major, and how he earned his letterman’s jacket. Joey surely knows this information, but years from now his descendants may not have this information. We should always try to leave documentation with our artifacts so our descendants with have it. Also, produce a label for the outside of the box so anyone who looks at the box knows the contents.
Archival Tissue Paper and Archive Box, Gaylord Archival
The last important step: storage conditions. Always store any documents, photographs, and artifacts in a cool, dark, and dry place. The cooler the better. Find a place where the humidity levels are low. A dark closet or under a bed where it is dark would be a great place to store Joey’s letterman’s jacket.
So, remember to take care of your ancestor’s treasures but do not forget that your treasures are just as important and should be preserved too!
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Melissa Barker lives in Tennessee Ridge, Tennessee. She is the Houston County (TN) Archivist and a Professional Genealogist. She writes the blog, A Genealogist in the Archives, and has been researching her own family for over 26 years. She lectures, teaches and writes about researching in archives and records preservation.
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