A link to the past

Owner of Heirloom Preservation turns her passion for family history into a business

Great-grandma’s wedding dress, the family bible that predates the civil war and generations of family portraits tucked safely away in cardboard boxes in the attic may not be so safe after all. Jennifer Cobb first became interested in preserving historical materials as a biological anthropologist at the University of Alaska in Anchorage. Archeologists would store excavated materials at the university lab, but once their research was complete the artifacts were left to decay in boxes on shelves. Because of her desire to preserve the past, Cobb took it upon herself to become knowledgeable about archiving and properly stored the materials. She then began to preserve her family history, fearing it was not being properly taken care of. Cobb is descended from a Portland pioneering family of Swedish immigrants that farmed orchards on Mt. Tabor.

“I realized no one was providing this information (on safe preservation) to the general public,” said Cobb.

“I really get concerned about losing history and losing information. So much is lost because of ignorance and neglect. You really have a responsibility to the next generation to preserve your family history.”

Besides her desire to preserve history, Cobb needed a job after moving to the area a few years ago. Instead of teaching, like she imagined she would, Cobb sought out advice on starting a business, including from the local SCORE chapter, and began Heirloom Preservation. She specializes in preserving and archiving items such as photos, letters, documents, textiles, books and artwork. She charges an initial consultation fee of $150 to assess a client’s materials and provide advice on how to proceed with preservation. Clients are then able to purchase proper storage items from Cobb to preserve their materials. Otherwise, she will direct them to a local conservator or restoration expert for further work or advice. And for a negotiable fee, Cobb will work with clients to archive the items for them.

She began her business two years ago, but it has really taken off in the last six months, said Cobb. To get her name out, Cobb has spoken to a number of groups, including retirement homes and genealogy clubs. In addition, she appears frequently on the local radio program Beyond 50 on KPDQ AM 800 to talk about preservation and to interview local historians. Cobb dreams of exploring the idea of a television show focused on discovering families’ historical artifacts and how to properly preserve them.

Cobb tends to see a lot of wedding dresses, family bibles and letters and photos that families wish to preserve. Sometimes the greatest challenge is to get people to realize that doing nothing is the best thing to do in some cases. Framing an item and displaying it or laminating an item can do more harm than good.

Still, ordinary cardboard boxes and plastic tubs contain chemicals and acids that will contribute to the breakdown of items stored in them. And instead of simply marketing the materials used in proper preservation, she emphasis the consultation and education side of her business. Her mission is to bring the research, materials and methods used by museums to the general public.

Cobb’s emphasis is that today’s photos and documents are the heirlooms of tomorrow. Many women want to preserve their grandmother’s wedding dress, said Cobb, but may not preserve their own wedding dress for their granddaughter.

“Individuals forget that their stuff is an important story, too,” said Cobb. “It’s part of the tapestry of their family.”

Cobb’s biggest challenge was her lack of business experience. She initially disliked the salesperson role she had to take on, but quickly learned she couldn’t be profitable if she gave away her services and products for free. She has seen a steady increase in business and is nearing a full schedule of clients.

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