Preserve Old Souvenirs (and Start Your Own Collection)

By Denise May Levenick Premium

Sign up for the Family Tree Newsletter Plus, you’ll receive our 10 Essential Genealogy Research Forms PDF as a special thank you!

Get Your Free Genealogy Forms

"*" indicates required fields

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Typical souvenirs our parents or grandparents brought home from summer vacations years ago include postcards, salt and pepper shakers, paper weights, charm bracelets, snow globes, road maps, printed tea towels and hankies, and more. Here’s what to do with those inherited memories.

1. Use what materials you’ve got.

Let your inherited travel souvenirs shine! Take decor inspiration from the 47-room Porches Inn at Mass MoCA in historic North Adams, Mass. Developed from renovated mill workers’ homes, this boutique hotel is decorated with vintage paint-by-number pictures, collectible souvenir plates, ceramic lamps and the like. You can create a wall arrangement of platters or fill a coffee table tray with Las Vegas ashtrays. Frame printed tea towels or a collage of postcards or hankies. Show off seashells or pressed pennies in a shadowbox.

2. Share the stories of family travels.

Photograph vintage souvenirs and digitize family photos of the trip. Gather some details about the vacation destination at the time your relative visited, add a map from the time period, and put it all together an album or a slideshow.

3. Store souvenirs safely.

When you’re not displaying vintage items, protect them in archival boxes cushioned with acid-free tissue paper. Paper items like ticket stubs can go in acid-free paper or plastic sleeves in an album. These materials are available from suppliers such as Gaylord Archival. Store the boxes on a shelf in a closet off your home’s living area—not in the attic or basement.

4. Research the item’s value.

Your antique souvenir may have value if it’s associated with an iconic destination—think Route 66 or the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis. You can get an idea from antiques and collectibles price guides such as those by Antique Trader. To get a professional opinion, find an appraiser through the American Society of Appraisers.

Going on a vacay of your own? Follow these tips to start building your own souvenir collection!

1. Be a savvy souvenir shopper.

One unique memento will be treasured longer and stored more easily than a cabinet full of trinkets. Bring home a souvenir that reflects the local specialty, whether it’s an Amish quilt or Nantucket Island basket. Don’t fall for the tourist traps; instead, seek out art galleries and museum shops that offer paintings, ceramics and textiles for home décor. Notecards and scarves make useful gifts without breaking your budget. I love stopping at a local market—the smaller, the better. The shelves are often stocked with locally made preserves, seasonings, cookbooks and kitchenware, at prices lower than gift shops.

2. Curate a vacation memorabilia collection.

If you’re a frequent traveler, create a collection by purchasing one of the same type of souvenir on each trip: a kitschy magnet, a small print or photograph, a shotglass, or a postcard.

3. Send custom postcards.

Our ancestors printed vacation snapshots as real-photo postcards to send to friends and family. Nowadays, smartphone apps like Postagram and Touchnote let you mail a photo postcard right from your mobile phone. (Both are free for IOS and Android, with a small fee for each postcard sent.) Download the apps and note mailing addresses before you leave.

4. Go for nostalgia.

Kids seemingly beg to spend their pocket money in every souvenir shop you pass. Steer young shoppers toward the kinds of keepsakes you wish you had today. Charm bracelets never go out of style. Pressed pennies are inexpensive (and make fun DIY necklaces and key fobs). And it’s free to take snapshots with welcome signs. You also could bring a favorite stuffie and make a photo journal of the traveling gnome’s adventures.

5. Bring the outdoors in.

Save rocks, shells or sand in a mason-jar memory globe or shadowbox frame, along with a topographical map or photo. Of course, these mixed materials may deteriorate over time. They’ll last longer when displayed away from direct light and heat, with archival-quality framing materials from suppliers such as Gaylord Archival.