Virginia Marine Museum in Prince William offers a lesson in preserving military relics

If you’ve been wondering how best to preserve or showcase your U.S. Army uniform or your grandfather’s military artifacts, or wondering if you should proudly display them, the National Marine Museum in Triangle has a few tips.

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If you’ve been thinking about how best to preserve or showcase U.S. Army uniforms or your grandfather’s military artifacts, or wondering whether to proudly display them, the National Marine Museum in Triangle has offered plenty of advice in the first series, which continues. outreach conversations with communities called Operation CARE.

According to Owen Conner, curator of the uniform and heraldry of the Marine Corps Museum, one of the first considerations is intent: are you protecting this for investment, or is it something you are proud of and want to show?

The National Marine Museum keeps an army officer’s hat.

History and origin

Conner said the uniform, flight helmet or letter from the front is a simple artifact. The real value lies in the background story with the details of the person accompanying it. He suggested creating note cards detailing historical facts and storing them along with the artifact.

“Storing it in a database is good, but what happens if you die and your computer dies?” Conner argues that as you age and your collection grows, you may forget some small details.

Carrie Bowers, head of collections at the National Marine Museum, demonstrates how to use a window net to protect mold from a vacuum cleaner from dust and dirt.

“You may wonder, years later,‘ Where did I get this from? Is this my grandfather, or did I buy it at the flea market? ”

Whether it is part of family history or acquired, Conner said documenting who owned it, where it was obtained, the price and whether it is a reproduction or the original makes the difference between a museum-quality collection and an antique artifact shopping center.

“Every artifact has an origin. You have to determine its historical value, and curators do it every day, ”Conner said. “Whether you’re a professional curator or a curator of your family history, you have to make those decisions. This is a big debate – even in our own collections – what determines the value of history? ”

Unfortunately, when it comes to conservation, inertia is not on your side. Decomposition is already underway, and your careful efforts only prevent the inevitable. But there are some things you can do to slow down the process and preserve those cherished memories, and much of it involves keeping materials away from plastics and compounds that can interact with tissues:


  • Remove the mold from the dry cleaning bags
  • Keep textiles and artwork away from direct sunlight
  • Take pictures before packing and storing anything
  • Pack the relics as if no one has seen them for 10 years
  • Overhead hangers and boxes with inert materials
  • Use unbleached muslin or white sheets to cover stored textiles
  • Slightly line the shape to help the fibers maintain their proper shape


  • Store relics in attics, garages, barns or under beds
  • Show shape, skin or artwork in direct light or sunlight
  • Try any intensive or restorative measures without the help of a conservative
  • Use newspaper for packing material
  • Use double-sided tape, Velcro or glue
  • Hang textiles on thin, plastic or wooden hangers
  • Create an environment that can contain or stimulate moisture or bugs

Carrie Bowers, a collection manager at the Marine Corps Museum, said to fold the uniform into a box, fold it as few times as possible and use loose bundles of acid-free paper in the sleeves, shoulders and collar to keep it in its original shape. Work with layers of textiles, paper, textiles, paper. You don’t know what kind of soil or debris is on one piece that can move on to another.

Bowers demonstrated to the class how a piece of window netting purchased at a craft store and lined with scotch tape can help clean the mold. Place the screen on a cloth and then use a vacuum cleaner to pick up dust and dirt without touching the cloth.

Owen Conner (center), curator of uniforms and heraldry of the National Marine Museum, gives some advice on keeping fit.

Don Hogg and his son came from Aberdeen, Maryland to attend the session. They are avid military collectors, and he said he is already looking forward to the next session.

“I already learned that I don’t hang the form properly. I have a uniform in the basement on a hanger; I will probably move them to the closet upstairs and get rid of the hangers I use, ”Hogge said. “I like the technique they showed us to hem the pool noodle hanger to keep the shape in better shape. Only this information is worth the trip. “

Conner suggested appointing someone a “family curator” rather than handing out uniforms and memorabilia to different families, making it easier to maintain documentation. If it becomes controversial, Conner said it may be the perfect time to donate something cherished, such as the Medal of Honor, to a museum that can properly care for it but will still be available for viewing by family members.

“You have to keep this stuff and make it available to other people,” he said.

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