Preserving Old Games: Tips from Lindsey Smith of Exhibitsmith


My father just moved from the home I spend the majority of my childhood in to a new house recently and as the dutiful daughter, of course I helped him pack.  In addition to packing up far too many sets of dishes, I was also in charge of packing up the game shelf and as much as I hate to admit it, some of the games from my childhood and my mother’s childhood aren’t in the best shape.  Some of the boxes (especially ones from the mid-1980s and early 1990s) are just crappy boxes, but others just haven’t seen the love they deserve.  So I asked my museum friend Lindsey Smith of Exhibitsmith (who has a masters degree focusing on collections care and management) to give me some pointers on how to properly preserve games.  Here’s what she had to say:

First of all, I would like to thank Kim Vandenbroucke for asking me how to properly preserve aging games and their boxes; I am happy to share some “insider tips” with you. While many of our quick fixes such as tape, rubber bands and glue may seem like good solutions, these materials disintegrate faster than you might think. Using tape will leave a yellow, crusty residue and rubber bands dehydrate and stick to paper like glue. And speaking of glue, it can stain the boxes and contains acid that can break down the paper.

So what can you do? Well, start by examining the environment in which you keep your games. Is it hot? Cold? Particularly dry or damp? Always keep your boxes in a cool, dark, dry place, ideally under 65° and around 40% relative humidity. I recommend storing them in an interior closet, away from any water, heat or light sources.

I also recommend storing your games in acid-free boxes, ideally from reputable archival supply companies. You may spend a little more than you expected, but these products last for a long time and your games will thank you later. I typically purchase my archival supplies from Gaylord.com, although there are many other reputable dealers like University Products and Archival Products. These companies are committed to the preservation of historic materials. I recommend purchasing an acid-free box (they have a large selection of sizes and also offer custom orders) and some un-buffered tissue paper. Line the acid-free box with tissue and place the game in the box. If the game box is falling apart and requires some extra support, purchase some acid-free board and fold it to make some simple supports. Place the supports inside the game box.

 

Lindsey’s Quick Preservation Tips:

  • Store them somewhere cool, dark and dry, like an interior closet
  • Store them somewhere with a consistent environment
  • Store them in “archival” materials that let the game breathe and won’t further damage the pieces
  • If your boxes have tears, contact a paper conservator to discuss your options, or just be extra careful when handling them (rubber bands and tape can do more harm than good in the long run)
  • Do feel free to share your games to family and friends. Just because they’re in a box in the closet doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy them, too!

 

Thanks to Lindsey for the pointers!  You can find out more about Lindsey at her site Exhibitsmith you can also follow her on Twitter: @Exhibitsmith and on Facebook: Exhibitsmith

 

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  1. David McCord

    A couple of additional things:
    1. I’ve heard different arguments for storing game boxes stacked versus on edge (like bookshelf games). Stacked boxes of different sizes will obviously put uneven weight on the lower ones, warping and stressing them too much. Same-size boxes may not be such a problem, but gravity is not our friend in this regard.
    2. Repair of broken or worn boxes is a whole ‘nother topic. Library tape on the inside of tops does a nice job for the boxes of lesser value, but if you have “real antiques” I suggest researching box repair. Museums repair chipboard containers all the time – hat boxes, product containers, even chipboard suitcases – and there are very specific techniques for that which will not devalue or deface the collectible.
    (Thanks for this great resource!)

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