Light exposure and humidity aren’t the only environmental threats to antiques. Thankfully, a keen eye – and preparedness - can prevent disaster.
Dust: Dust and other airborne pollutants can generate inside or outside your building. While much interior dust is contained within carpets or rugs, the solution is simple - vacuuming. Exterior dust is also easily reduced just by limiting amounts of outside air entering the house via doors, windows, and other openings (a principle also applicable to outdoor chemical pollutants). Further problems can be eliminated with well-maintained, properly-filtered air conditioning.
Smoke: Keep valuable pieces away from tobacco, fireplaces, oil-burning heating units, and kitchen cooking areas where deposits of tough-to-clean grime accumulate.
Chemicals and Gasses: Many paints, floor coatings, and other household products emit powerful fumes that can damage sensitive finishes. As a general rule, if the fumes are bad for you to breathe, don’t expose them to valuable objects, either.
Pests: Many antiques – especially ethnographic decorative artworks – are food sources for insects. Regularly monitor your environment for dead insects and droppings. Wood is a particularly tasty snack for a variety of insects. Search atop and beneath wooden objects for “frass” – a powdery substance left by burrowing pests. Insects bore in wood to lay eggs and - when they hatch - new insects bore out. Because many antiques have bore marks from prior years, the presence of holes alone doesn’t indicate active infestation. Instead, ongoing assessment should differentiate old, harmless holes from those needing attention.
If you find signs of active insects, immediately isolate the infested antique from other objects by wrapping and sealing it in a plastic bag. Avoid bug sprays; their chemical compounds can damage material. While fumigation is the best route, be aware that fumigators and fumigation methods aren’t identical. Many treatments “overkill” the infestation, destroying the antique along with the insects. Luckily, larger extermination companies often feature antique-specific divisions.
Though not a topic for the squeamish, the presence of rodents can also pose problems. Traps are preferable to poison, as a poisoned rodent’s carcass often ends up in hidden areas like walls. This invites insects and, when done with the rodent, their next target may be your valuable objects.