How to Preserve Old Letters

You’ve found or inherited old letters. Congratulations! You have a real¬†family treasure. Now you need to learn how to preserve those old letters. I recently spoke with Denise Levenick, the Family Curator, for her tips on preservation.

(First step: Don’t burn them.)¬†

How to Preserve Old Letters – Highlights:

  • Putting all of the letters in chronological order might not be the best solution.
  • Keep paper happy. (Hint: don’t put it in the attic.)
  • Plastic bins are not good for storing old letters.
  • Take notes while you’re organizing. (Sticky notes are fine on the folders, but not on the letters!)
  • Keep everything from one envelope together.
  • Using sheet protectors and 3-ring binders isn’t the best way to preserve them. (Learn Denise’s trick for keeping paper straight and not slumping.)

Resources Mentioned:

(Note: the links to Denise’s book are Amazon affiliate links, meaning that Amazon pays me a little bit when someone purchases through those.)

How to Preserve Old Letters - Tips from Denise Levenick, the Family Curator

Posted: March 17, 2016.

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  • Thank you for sharing this great interview. I recently inherited a very large collection of items including letters, photos, albums, etc. It kind of has my head spinning because it needs some help desperately and I am struggling with where to start. This interview gave me a few ideas – and contradicted some advice I was given… So much to learn and do, so little time!

  • Thank you for all this information! I have letters that my father wrote to his grandparents while he was in the Navy during the Korean War. I have them in a binder in plastic sheets. Oops. Looks like I have some work to do. It is better than the way I found them though. My dad threw the stack of letters in the trash when I was younger and I spotted them while I was cleaning and tucked them away. He is still living and was thrilled when I pulled them out and told him what I did 30 years ago. I’ll get to work on making that paper happy. Thanks again!

    • That’s great, Susan! And you’re exactly right — in 3-ring binders is definitely better than in the trash!

  • So, the “archival safe” sheet protectors are NOT the way to go? Moisture is the issue? When I went to, I got the impression that they were OK. I’ve got some letters that are close to tearing or are already partially torn and the sheet protectors seem to keep them more in one piece than a folder would. Can someone elaborate on this?

    • The archival sheet protectors themselves are fine. The issue is when you don’t have enough pages to fill out a binder (like 1/2″ of papers in a 3″ binder). What happens is that the pages don’t have enough support and they end up curling. If you match the pages to the correct size binder, it’s fine.

      • Thanks for the clarification! I actually tend to put them in folders after I’ve put them in the sheet protectors. My folders at tightly packed so they definitely are not curled or slouching! I could use more storage containers! It’s actually that I need to digitize less critical items and get rid of some paper I don’t really need to keep. The family letters are definitely keepers. Thanks for this video!

  • I have my great grandfathers love letters to my great grandmother in sheet protectors for 25 years…I noticed that the writing is fading pretty badly. I can barely read it. It is from the 1800s and beautiful old style handwriting! What should I do?

    • Old ink can fade dramatically when exposed to the elements. You don’t say how the letters have been stored, but you can slow down the deterioration by opening the pages to store them flat, and place them in acid-free folders inside an archival box. The box is probably the most important layer because it keeps out light, pollutants, and dust. Remember to scan them before storing and transcribe from the digital image instead of the original.

      • Thanks, they are in sheet protectors in a notebook in a plastic tub… but they were not real good to start with.

    • Great question! I would scan it in color at either 300 dpi or 600 dpi. Then I would use a photo editing program like Photoshop Elements and play with the contrast, color correction, etc. You might be surprised with what you’re able to pull out of it.