When you have a historical artifact that you want to display for others to view, it is crucial to use the proper methods and materials to ensure the item is protected. The biggest enemies of older treasures are ultraviolet light, air, and being over handled by human hands.
Ultraviolet light can damage and fade items, especially cloth and paper. If you do display items, make sure that they have a clear cover that is UV resistant or reduces the amount that is allowed to shine on the item. This is also true of bright lights as well. By limiting this, you will prolong the life of the artifact. Air can also do damage, so using airtight coverings or storage can prevent further decay. Along with exposure to the air, humidity plays an equally strong role as too much can cause mold to form on items. Controlling the environment that it resides in helps to keep wear and tear to a minimum.
Handling an older artifact with your hands too much causes the oil from the skin to get onto the object, which for certain kinds of older things can cause damage over time. If possible, find some white cotton gloves to use when handling your treasure. When displaying cloth items, such as old quilts, keep them in great shape by putting them in an air tight container that will be free of moths that can cause holes. Also, never pin a sign to it, but rather display it to the side. Constantly poking holes in the fabric will cause possible tears and strain on the cloth that it may not be able to take.
Paper and picture artifacts, if framed, should have UV resistant glass in the front and be put on acid-free archival mat board. If you use cardboard behind the picture, the chemicals in it will over time leak into the paper and damage your precious item. Hang the picture or paper artifact out of direct sunlight, which can cause fading.
You can often find larger, plastic display cases at hobby stores that are wonderful for larger, three dimensional items that you want to show, and are usually at a reasonable price. Altogether, with a little careful planning, you can show the artifacts that have come down through your family safely and without causing them damage. Keep in mind that gentle handling will make the artifact continue to be a family wonder for years to come.