Caring for Your Heritage: FAQs

Family taonga and heritage items are often passed down in the form of photographs and documents, paintings and artworks or textiles and furniture. Heritage conservation is a field that seeks to preserve these important treasures so that we can ensure they continue into the next generation.

Why do historic materials deteriorate?

Through decades of research, we now understand that the environment around an object has a large impact on its preservation. For example, high humidity levels can promote mould growth on organic materials and corrosion of metals. Additionally, textiles that are exposed to direct light can become weakened and brittle. This causes chemical and physical changes in the material. Conservators evaluate what environmental factors may be causing deterioration and attempt to mitigate or stop any damage.

I have an item that we use for ceremonies; do I need to stop using it?

Possibly. In many cases, the tradition of using a family heirloom for events is more important than the object itself. It may just be that you will need to reinforce the material the object is made from or use it in alternative ways. If preserving the object is of the utmost importance and it gets damaged with each use, you may also want to consider creating a replica. Contact a conservator for more advice! We are trained to consider the best outcome for an object while still respecting its purpose.

How do I protect my taonga?

Each material type is different and reacts differently to the environment around it. In general, it is best to:

  • Keep taonga away from direct light sources;
  • Store or display items away from fireplaces or cooking areas to prevent heat damage and soot or grease build up;
  • Store materials in archival packaging. For example,
    • roll textiles in acid free tissue paper and store in an archival box;
    • remove documents from cardboard boxes which can brown and become acidic over time and place them into archival storage products;
    • have artworks framed using conservation grade materials and UV filtered glass.
  • Avoid storing materials in damp areas. Try to store things on shelves rather than on the floor to prevent exposure to damp and drafts.

For specific advice on an object you have, use the Find A Conservator resource at the bottom!

I have fragile historic photos or documents; how can I preserve them?

Scanning two-dimensional materials is a great way to preserve the information printed on them! Be sure to use settings that are a high resolution. Guidelines can be found here: Once they are in a digital format, you can change the image and make the text more visible or make colour corrections to photographs. Print outs can also be made that can be displayed in place of the original. To preserve the original, consider storing it in an archival sleeve so that you can handle and view it without touching the paper. Keep paper materials away from direct light (i.e. don’t display framed photos on a table next to a window unless it is a replica that can be replaced).

I found something on the beach; how do I care for it?

Historic objects that have washed up on the beach have often been subjected to decades of exposure to seawater and a marine environment. It is very important that you do not allow the object to dry out completely or, when dry, the salts from the saline environment can cause some objects to burst apart or waterlogged wood can shrink and distort. Please contact a conservator to get advice on how to care for maritime materials.

Who do I contact to find out how much my historic object is worth?

Conservators cannot provide a financial value for an object; we place value on all cultural items. Appraisers, art dealers and auctioneers are a good place to start! Sometimes they can specialize in an area such as paintings or jewellery so be sure to ask beforehand.

My family taonga is made of plastic, is there risk of it deteriorating?

Early rubbers and plastics are known to be unstable as a material. Some plastics have what conservators refer to as ‘inherent vice’ where the plastic itself is unstable due to the formulation. Plastics and rubbers can yellow, become sticky, brittle or crack. This may not be due to the environment, but be the material itself decaying. The best technique to preserve plastics is to place them in an oxygen free environment. This uses an ‘oxygen scavenger’ in an enclosed container.

Additional Resources:

Do you have a question about your family treasures that we missed here? Contact us at or 022 033 7455 today and we can provide advice on your specific taonga!

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