The Archive Lady: Preserving Grandpa’s Wallet

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Melissa Barker, aka The Archive Lady, shows us the best way to preserve an old leather wallet and its contents!

Mary from Nevada asks: “I inherited my Grandpa’s leather wallet which he always referred to as this pocketbook. It is full of photos and folded up documents that he carried with him all the time. What is the best way to preserve his wallet and the records inside so that my grandchildren will know about him and enjoy what he left behind?”

This past week I have been asked this question from two genealogists, so I hope this helps others who have a similar preservation challenge.

Mary has a wonderful treasure with her Grandpa’s leather wallet. Preserving the wallet and what is inside is something that can be done by anyone, not just archivists.

Melissa Barker, aka The Archive Lady, shows us the best way to preserve an old leather wallet and its contents!
Man’s Pocketbook from the Civil War era

The first step in this preservation project is to digitize the artifact “as is” before anything else is done to it. This is called original order and is defined as “the organization and sequence of records established by the creator of the records” by The Society of American Archivists Glossary of Terms. Taking the best photos you can of the wallet itself from all angles, inside and out, to document the wallet and its condition is strongly encouraged. Making a digital record of the wallet and its contents is one of the best ways to preserve the essence of this artifact.

The next step is to remove the photographs and documents from the wallet one by one. As you remove these items, compile an inventory of each item, list the condition and where each item was in the wallet. Be sure to unfold and flatten all documents, taking care to pay attention to any rips, tears or failing creases that need to be addressed.

Next, digitize each photograph and document being sure to include information about the condition of each item and where it was in the wallet. Also include information about who is in the photographs, where the photographs were taken, what are the documents, etc. This is called metadata and is important to include with your digitized scans. The Society of American Archives Glossary of Terms defines metadata as “a characterization or description documenting the identification, management, nature, use or location of information resources”

Next, digitize each photograph and document being sure to include information about the condition of each item and where it was in the wallet. Also include information about who is in the photographs, where the photographs were taken, what are the documents, etc. This is called metadata and is important to include with your digitized scans. The Society of American Archives Glossary of Terms defines metadata as “a characterization or description documenting the identification, management, nature, use or location of information resources”
Tennessee State Library and Archives Virtual Archive WWI Leather Wallet

Now we need to address the photographs and documents themselves. Each photograph and document should be flattened and not folded. Place them in archival sleeves, putting no more than two items in a sleeve back-to-back. It is okay to put two photographs in the same sleeve if the images are not touching. Once you have everything in sleeves, you can then choose to store them in archival file folders or in archival storage boxes. This is your preference as either would be appropriate and archival.

Preserving the wallet itself is also important. You will want to keep it with the photos and documents in an archival box or if it will fit you can put it in an archival folder. Wherever you store the leather wallet, it is important to lightly wrap the wallet with unbuffered archival tissue paper. To understand the different between buffered and unbuffered archival tissue paper, please see my previous Archive Lady Column here. Lastly, store the wallet and all its contents in a cool, dark, and dry place. A place where the temperature and humidity levels are consistent and do not fluctuate.

Preserving our ancestor’s records helps us to also preserve our family history so that our descendants will know the rich history of every family.

Preserving our ancestor’s records helps us to also preserve our family history so that our descendants will know the rich history of every family.
Image from page 4 of “Wholesale Prices: Seeds and Other Specialties” published 1899

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If you have a question about researching in archives or records preservation for The Archive Lady, send an email with your question to: melissabarker20@hotmail.com

Melissa Barker - The Archive Lady

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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