Whether you’re an amateur collector of antiques or the proud owner of an old family heirloom, the restoration and preservation of antique items can quickly get confusing and overwhelming. If you’re looking to preserve family heirlooms or other types of antiques, here is some helpful information about the process, including a list of preservation resources in the area generously provided by the Conservation Technicians at the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh!
In the world of antiques, three terms that are often thrown around are conservation, preservation, and restoration. Understandably, the difference between these three terms can get confusing.
- Conservation typically refers to the maintenance and care of pieces of art, and is most often associated with paintings, frames, and other pieces. The main goal of conservation is to ensure and lengthen the future life of a piece.
- Preservation similarly concerns itself with maintaining a piece for the future, but is sometimes used as a bigger umbrella term for all types of antiques. For antiques, preservation and conservation are often considered to mean the same thing.
- Restoration is a process that is a part of conservation and preservation in which antique items are returned to their original states, often through varying techniques based on the individual item. For books, this can often mean rebinding, while for art it can be removing signs of age from an old painting.
Types of Preservation
There are several preservation practices for books, with an even mix between preparative measures to avoid deterioration and restoration from a presently deteriorated state. Book preservation deals with the storage conditions of antique books, along with the various repairs for possible types of deterioration, including rebinding, surface cleaning, backing weak paper, and removing harmful agents such as mold, insects, and acidic adhesives. For more information, here is a guide provided by the Library of Congress on the handling and storage of books for preservation.
Art (Paintings and Sculpture)
Art conservation typically deals with various artistic mediums, but is most commonly associated with paintings and sculpture. Conservation of art typically requires more upkeep, as many paints and varnishes used in the past are deteriorating agents. In many cases, restoration is required, in which a painting or sculpture can be returned to its original state, or to a closer resemblance of it. There is a large cache of art restoration videos on YouTube, such as this painting restoration done at Baumgartner Fine Art Restoration.
Photograph preservation deals largely with preventative measures, as restoration of photographs is rather difficult. There are many threats to the lifespan of a photograph, especially light, heat, humidity, and substances introduces through human handling, such as oils and acids. For more information, here is a guide provided by the Library of Congress on the handling and storage of photographs for preservation.
Like other types of preservation, much of textile preservation deals with the safe storage of antique textiles. In many cases, washing or dry cleaning can be damaging to the material, so it is often recommended to leave that process to a professional textile preservation specialist. The preservation of textiles can also at times include minor mending and sewing to repair small damages. For more information on the storage of textiles, here is a guide provided by the National Archives.
Preservation of audio/visual works tends to be much different from other forms of preservation. Since the work is something to be heard or viewed, often preservation includes making a more modern copy of the piece. For some, this means transferring old VHS home videos to DVD or computer video, while for others it could be transferring cassette recordings or vinyl records to a CD or digital medium. This is largely because, unlike many other antiques, to experience an audio/visual item it must be used (playing a record, playing old film on a projector, etc.), which exacerbates the deterioration.
Local Preservation Resources
Graciously provided by the dedicated Conservation, Preservation and Access Department of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh!
Local Binderies (Book restoration and binding services)
- Ace Bindery Corp.
2323 Main St. PGH, PA 15215
- Steadfast Book Bindery
333 Meade St. Wilkingsburg, PA 15221
- Pittsburgh Binding, Inc.
2538 Mission St. PGH, PA 15203
- Wert Bookbinding, Inc.
9975 Allentown Blvd. Grantville, PA 17028
Conservation Services (Objects, Paintings, Frames and Gold Leaf)
- Alba Art Conservation
- Bernicky-Belman Fine Art Conservation Services
- Patricia Buss (painting)
- Emilie Cohen Studios
- Daulton Fine Art Conservation (painting)
- Foulke Fine Art Conservation
- Hartmann Conservation
- Patty West (painting)
- Rhonda Wozniak
Conservation Services (Books, Paper, Photographs and Textile)
- Wendy Bennett (paper)
- Jim Burke (photo)
- Csilla Crisanti (book/paper)
- Jamison Art Conservation
- Mark S. Johnson & Associates
- Christine Maurhoff Textile Conservation
- Textile Conservation & Restoration Studio
Audio, Video & Film Transfer Services
- Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh REcollection Studio
- Preservation Technologies – The Media Preserve
There are also many web resources and local organizations with plenty of preservation information.
Community Preservation and Disaster Recovery Organizations
- Alliance for Response – PGH Chapter Disaster response/education
- PA Cultural Response Team (PaCRT) Statewide response team for disaster recovery for cultural institutions
- Young Preservationists Association of PGH 412-342-8972
- PA Cultural Resilience Network Disaster response/ education through Philadelphia’s CCAHA (See below)
- Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation 412-471-5808 Local organization committed to historic preservation for sustainable communities
- Sewickley Valley Historical Society 412-741-5315 Local organization dedicated to the history of Sewickley and the surrounding areas
- American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works Contains information on selecting a conservator and covers many current topics in the field
- Conservation Center for Art and Historic Artifacts (CCAHA) Resources for collection care, services, and education opportunities
- CoOL – Conservation OnLine Includes conservation resources, names of people and vendors, events, and publications
- Conserv-O-Grams – National Park Service A series on preservation and conservation topics in short leaflets
- Library of Congress Reference to many storage and care concerns and photocopying issues
- National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) Offers tips on storage and preservation on a wide range of media
- Northeast Document Conservation Center (NEDCC) Their “Technical Leaflet” series discusses preservation concerns and offers conservation services. For a list of leaflets available, search under the link “Caring for Your Collections”
You may always contact Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh’s Conservation, Preservation and Access Department (CP&A) for questions and guidance as well!
- Preservation Lab: 412-622-5785 (Tara Walsh, Preservation Librarian)
- Preservation Office: 412-622-5599 (Jackie Mignogna, Coordinator)