Creating a Preservation Time Capsule

Firstly, time capsules are created to commemorate special events. For example, such as church, school or town centennial, the raising of a building. Or the dawning of a new millennium.  Or even First Birthday Time Capsule Printable.

Secondly, survival of the items held within the capsule is dependent on the physical quality of the materials selected. For example, the structure of the container, and the documentation of the event, contents, and location to retain a memory of its existence.

In addition, you must consider many preservation concerns when preparing a time capsule or First Birthday Time Capsule Printable.

What To Include in First Birthday Time Capsule Printable

The goal of a typical time capsule or First Birthday Time Capsule Printable is to share the future unique aspects of our lives.  As an example, we have no idea what items will provide the most valuable historical record. 

Nonetheless, we should remember that those items already being archived (for example, newspapers, currency, birth/citizenship records) you can access them elsewhere and likely will be in better condition.

The sublime and the trivial, rather than the obvious, may prove to be the artifacts of most interest and value.  As you select materials based on relevance to the project, assess each item for preservation concerns and readability.

Ask the following questions when choosing items for the capsule:

  • Is the piece relevant to the mission of the capsule?
  • Will it survive and can measures be taken to preserve the piece for capsule storage?
  • Will it be readable when the capsule opens?
  • Does the piece require specialized equipment to make it readable?

Remember digital images stored on floppy disks or compact disks (CDs) will not be readable in a hundred or a thousand years, although they may still be readable in ten to fifteen years, depending on how quickly technology changes.

The following materials have a higher degree of stability.  Other less stable materials can include in a capsule; however, proper preparation is required.

  • archival paper (papers with a 3% calcium carbonate buffer that are sulfur free and lignin free have a high alpha-cellulose content or are 100% rag)
  • cotton
  • polyester
  • fiber-based black and white photographs (archival processing with gold, selenium, or polysulfide toning)
  • Cibachrome prints (if color photographs are required)
  • polyester-based black and white negatives
  • stone
  • stable metals (e.g., gold, platinum)
  • glass, ceramics (these must be well padded)
  • Archival inks
  • Watercolors
  • Photocopies on archival paper (black toner only, no color)

What Not To Include in First Birthday Time Capsule Printable

Avoid including unstable items that may release gas or deteriorate.  If you do choose to include any such things, be sure to place them within a sealed, non-permeable enclosure, preferably with an oxygen scavenger, to isolate them and prevent harm to other objects.

  • rubber
  • non-archival plastics (e.g., PVC, PVAC)
  • fasteners (e.g., paper clips or different types of clips, twist ties, staples, rubber bands, pins)
  • acidic papers (e.g., wood pulp based, newsprint)
  • thermal facsimiles
  • diazo, cellulose nitrate, or acetate film
  • color prints or negatives (these fade in dark storage)
  • unstable metals (e.g., copper, brass, iron, lead)
  • electronic media that require a machine (e.g., CDs, video/audio tape, magnetic disks, software or files)
  • wool, hair, fur
  • foodstuffs
  • wood (especially oak)

Special Preparation Measures

The following preservation supplies can be useful for preparing time capsule or First Birthday Time Capsule Printable contents.  These items are available through mail-order suppliers listed below:

  • cotton gloves for clean handling
  • acid-free papers (e.g., envelops, folders, writing paper, journals)
  • graphite pencil (for archival marking)
  • polyethylene/polyester boxes, bags, sleeves
  • acid-free tissue (for wrapping, padding, and interleaving)
  • oxygen replacement/scavengers to slow oxidation and hydrolysis reactions that degrade materials (e.g., gasses- nitrogen, argon, or “Ageless”)
  • deacidification spray (e.g., Wei T’O, Bookkeeper)
  • silica gel (desiccant bags)

First Birthday Time Capsule Printable

Be sure all items are clean and insect free.  Use cotton gloves when preparing materials for the enclosure.

Choose archival paper materials over acidic papers such as newsprint.  Archival photocopies can use, or acidic originals can be spray deacidified to neutralize acids (consult a paper conservator).

Avoid folding paper documents as creases can result in fracture.  For cylindrical capsules, roll reports loosely.  For other materials that already fold, such as textiles, pad folds with acid-free tissue.

Interleave photographs or sleeve them with archival photo envelopes to keep emulsions from sticking together.

Avoid etching and corrosion of metals by decreasing them with acetone and only handle them while wearing clean cotton gloves.

If electronic devices placed in the capsule, do not include batteries.  Include information about the battery, voltage, and current requirements, as well as instructions for use.  Wrap devices in tissue and seal in polyethylene.

First Birthday Time Capsule Printable

Prepare the contents of the capsule in a cold, dry, environment.  To maintain the capsule’s dry environment, condition silica gel to a low humidity level.  This procedure should be carried out immediately before sealing the capsule.  As a general rule of thumb, one-fifth of the capsule’s volume should contain silica gel conditioned by heating for approximately eight hours at 150°C.  Place silica gel in a linen bag to isolate it from other objects.

Reducing the amount of oxygen within the capsule will slow deterioration.  A good seal is essential for oxygen-free containers because any opening will suck air, moisture, and dirt into the container due to the negative pressure created.  

One method to reduce oxygen is to insert a hose to the bottom of the container, placing the lid on it with as small a gap as possible, and fill the container with argon or nitrogen.  

This method is not entirely efficient so that some oxygen will remain in the container.  Or enclose an oxygen scavenger in the capsule to absorb oxygen.

Note: oxygen scavengers generate heat as they react; therefore, avoid placing them near heat-sensitive items.


Capsules traditionally have been buried in the ground, but thousands have been lost as a result.  The landmarks of today (buildings, trees, rivers) may not exist years from now.  Remember to make a detailed map of the capsule’s location!

If you choose to bury the capsule, choose a location with good water run-off.  Create a burial vault or contain the capsule within a waterproof barrier such as an asphalt coating, paraffin wax an inch thick, or seal in a waterproof, non-biodegradable material.

If you choose a location above ground, ideally it should be cool, dark, and dry, with minimal temperature and humidity fluctuations, and where it is unlikely to be stolen.  

To help ensure the capsule will be remembered by future generations, mark its location with a plaque describing the mission of the contents and the date to be opened.  Some popular areas include installation within a building’s foundation, in an exterior wall, display on a pedestal or behind Plexiglas in a lobby, or even an attic.


Appropriate Containers

Three essential characteristics of a suitable time capsule container or First Birthday Time Capsule Printable are that it be non-rusting (or non-deteriorating), leak-proof (impermeable to moisture and vapor), and be highly durable.  The interior should remain cool, dry, and dark for optimum preservation. Favorite construction materials include polypropylene, copper, aluminum, and stainless steel.

Plastic containers are not recommended for long-term projects or for those being buried unless placed inside another container.  The long-term stability of plastics (including archival grades) used for time capsules or First Birthday Time Capsule Printable is at a question.  

Plastics can crack in extreme cold, become permeable to vapor and moisture over time, and the seals can fail.  Avoid using polyvinyl chloride (PVC) containers, because the chemical components of this material are naturally unstable and release acids that damage capsule contents.  If unavoidable, caps on polyethylene can be heat-sealed, or threads can seal with Teflon tape.

Copper and aluminum containers can oxidize so the contents should be placed in archival storage enclosures.  Stainless steel is relatively inexpensive and easily fabricated, and its stability in adverse conditions is excellent.  

The container should be seamless with a threaded end cap (with gasket) that can be screwed on or welded shut.  Solder should not be used, for it deteriorates, allowing seals to break and moisture and vapors to enter.

What Have I Forgotten?

Remember to include a letter to those who will open the capsule.  Tell them why the capsule was created and who created it.  Include an inventory of the capsule’s contents with a brief description of their material composition, how the items were made, color, and other relevant information.  

Briefly describe how the capsule’s contents were prepared (including all preservation measures) and the composition of both the enclosures and the capsule. 

This information will help openers identify items and determine conservation requirements.  It will be especially valuable if a new time capsule or First Birthday Time Capsule Printable is created to include some or all of the original pieces.  Retain a copy of this information.

Prepare instructions for opening the capsule and if possible, affix them to the exterior of the capsule.  Retain a copy of the inventory and other documents.  Do not enclose the instructions in the capsule!

The instructions should include the following cautions with First Birthday Time Capsule Printable.

  • Handle with care. The contents are likely in fragile condition
  • Avoid shaking the container
  • Do not change the container’s orientation, for the materials have been in the same position for a long time and are most stable this way.  Shifting of the contents can cause damage (for example, a bulky item may collide with a delicate piece, or water leaks can wet previously dry materials).
  • Avoid using heat methods to open
  • For metal containers, grind welds off manually

How Can The Memory Of The Capsule Be Preserved?

Will anyone remember the capsule exists in fifty years? A hundred years?  Many creative ways are available to remind others of the capsule’s existence.  A commemorative plaque that identifies the capsule and provides dates of closing and for opening can sit at the capsule’s location. 

Retain all of the information about the capsule, including any newspaper articles and photographs of the sealing, at a local archive or library.  Inform the International Time Capsule Society (ITCS) of the completed time capsule or First Birthday Time Capsule Printable project.  

The ITCS will add the time capsule or First Birthday Time Capsule Printable to its database as part of an attempt to register all known time capsules.  If the capsule is to be opened during the creator’s lifetime, prepare invitations, which can keep in scrapbooks or albums as reminders.

First Birthday Time Capsule Printable


The International Time Capsule Society
Oglethorpe University, 4484 Peachtree Rd. NE, Atlanta, GA 30319-2797

Capsule Suppliers

PO Box 3417, San Diego, CA 92163-3417

A-1 Time Capsules
1345 East Lemon Avenue, Bradbury, CA 91010
(818) 358-9181

230 Sheffield Street, Mountainside, NJ 07092
(201) 233-3500

Barrtek Inc.
2885 Whipporwill Drive, Morgan Hill, CA 95037
(408) 779-2345

Future Archaeology
P.O. Box 1130 Ansonia Station, New York, NY 10023
(212) 877-4310

Future Packaging & Preservation
1580 West San Bernardino Road #C, Covina, CA 91722-3457
(800) 786-6627

Time Capsules, Inc.
107 Bauder School Road Prospect, PA 16052
(800) 527-7853

Archival Suppliers

Light Impressions
439 Monroe Ave, P.O. Box 940 Rochester, NY 14603-0940
(800) 828-6216

Gaylord Bros.
P.O. Box 4901, Syracuse, NY 13221-4901
(800) 448-6160

University Products
517 Main Street, P.O. Box 101, Holyoke, MA 01041-0101
(800) 628-1912

Further Reading

  Australian Institute for the Conservation of Cultural Materials (Inc.), The Preparation of Time Capsules.  Information Sheet No. 3, Canberra: AICCM, 1992.

  Durrans, B., “Posterity and Paradox: Some Uses of Time Capsules,” in Sandra Wallman (ed.), Contemporary Futures: Perspectives from Social Anthropology (Association of Social Anthropologists Monographs, 30), London and New York: Routledge, 1992.

  Field, B.P., “U.S. History in a Box.” National Geographic, vol. 175, no. 5 (May 1989), pp.652-660.

  Fraser, Helen. “The Time Capsule: Repository of the Past or Romantic Notion?” AASLH Technical Leaflet #182. Nashville: American Association for State and Local History, 1992.

  Barclay, Robert L., “Time Capsules” CCI Note N1


Written by Heather Tudhope
for the Art Conservation Center at the University of Denver,
Colorado Preservation Alliance & Tudhope Conservation Studio
© 2000-2008

James Heidel

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