Have a house full of heirlooms? Take an hour to tackle the task of cataloging your valuables.
1. Write what you know. Who started the collection and why? Who added to it or maintained it over the years? What personal connection do you have to it?
3. Give some background. Add other documents and items that tell the story of the collection: sales slips, inquiry letters, product advertisements or brochures, journal entries, inventory lists, photos or news clippings.
4. Label individual items with archival artifact tags (see Resource Roundup). Sample label: “Wooden mallet, circa 1865, Ashtabula, Ohio. Collected by Leonard Ridings, early 1900s.” Include whatever details you know. Tie the tags loosely; don’t staple or tape them to the artifacts.
5. Number the items. If your collection is large, consider numbering the lines on the Heirloom Inventory Form and writing corresponding numbers on artifact tags.
6. Pack it up. Cushion or wrap fragile and three-dimensional objects with acid-free tissue. Package flat objects (coins, papers, photos) in polyethylene sleeves or bags, acid-free folders or envelopes. Protect the entire collection in acid-free archival containers.
7. Record yourself. Add your name, the current date and your contact information to the Heirloom Inventory Form and other documents you created in steps 1 to 3.
8. Stay safe. Store these documents with the collection, and a second copy in a secure location. Label the containers and stow them safely as described in Ask the Archivist, above.
Heirloom ID: Slippery Slope
Inclinometer, circa 1866
An inclinometer measures a surface’s angle of slope. There are many types, but in this one, the center chamber is filled with liquid and the angle is read at the intersection of the liquid level and the chamber rim. The cover is held by a single screw, and pivots open and close from the center of the right side of the level.
The construction of the fluid chamber is somewhat mysterious. The type of fluid originally used in the chamber and how the seal was constructed are unknown. Many known examples have been damaged by efforts to get into the chamber or by drilling a hole at some point to attempt to fill the chamber without opening it.
Made by the Patent Level Company of Bridgeport, Conn., this level is marked “patent applied for”—similar models have patents dated 1866. This example, especially in excellent condition, is pretty rare.
Don Rosebrook » author of American Levels and Their Makers