Learn the best way to display, clean and store heirloom ornaments.
Once our ancestors started decorating Christmas trees in the mid-1800s, trimmings were fanciful and frugal, handmade and store-bought.
Victorian trees bore colorful glass ornaments and chromolithograph (early color print) collages. During World War II, paper caps and hangers replaced metal ones, and glass balls went unsilvered.
If you own such holiday treasures, follow these guidelines to ensure they bring joy for many Christmases to come:
- Display: Place cotton batting or foam padding under your tree in case an ornament falls (you can cover it with a tree skirt). Check ornaments’ caps and hooks before hanging to make sure they’re strong . Wrap thin hooks around branches for support, or add new wire hooks.
- Clean: After taking down the tree, gently dry-dust old glass baubles—detergents and even plain water can remove paint. Wipe paper or cardboard surfaces, with a slightly damp cloth, but to prevent warping, clean a small area at a time and let dry.
Avoid washing antique fabric ornaments such as velvet and crochet. Instead, take them to a professional conservator for treatment. It’s OK to polish metal ornaments if they’re colorfast (test a tiny area first). Clean wax ornaments with warm water and a soft cloth; if they’re bent out of shape, use a hair dryer on low to soften the wax and reshape it.
- Pack: Wrap each ornament in acid-free tissue paper, then place them in a single layer in an acid-free box. Keep the box on a sturdy shelf, and don’t store heavy objects above it. Avoid areas with moisture and extreme temperatures—glass can crack if it’s moved suddenly from a cold environment to a hot one.