Museum collections include a wide variety of materials, many of which are vulnerable to damage and deterioration. When not on display, the collections are housed at Chilcomb House and F2 collection stores in Winchester where they are looked after by a team of conservators.
Their aim is to prevent the deterioration of the collections by making sure that storage and display will not cause any strain or damage to them. Our team of conservators undertake a range of conservation tasks at our Chilcomb laboratories:
- Remedial object conservation across the collection.
- Treatment of insect-pest infested objects using anoxic fumigation in a specially designed chamber or industrial-grade freezing
- Providing colleagues with advice and training in preventive conservation and collections care.
- X-raying of objects
Our conservation staff are professionally trained and include an accredited member of ICON.
Let there be low light
Light whether natural or artificial can cause damage to most family treasures. Photographs, letters, certificates, wooden furniture, any textile item such as a sampler, watercolours and even some synthetic materials such as Bakelite, will be affected by the action of light and the heat it gives. Fading and chemical decay caused by light is irreversible so keep precious objects out of direct sunlight and do not use spotlights over pictures.
Keep it cool
Temperature and humidity will have an impact on how quickly an object will age. High temperature and low moisture in the air will cause certain materials to crack, and too damp an atmosphere will cause mould to grow. It is better not to store objects in a loft, garage, shed or near a direct heat source such as a radiator.
Pack for the future
If storing any item for safekeeping it is always worth considering what it is stored in. Acid-free tissue paper and boxes protect against damage. Plastic containers are not always suitable, especially plastic garment bags as they can cause discolouration.
What's eating my treasures?
Certain insects can cause damage to many family treasures. Wood, paper and textiles are vulnerable to attack from clothes moth, wood worm and silver fish. Traditional methods of preventing insect damage such as lavender bags and cedar wood balls can be effective but vigilance is the best deterrent. Regular vacuuming of storage areas can help disturb and deter potential settlers.
Surface dust can have an impact on certain objects. Dust is acidic and if left in place for a long time can be very difficult to remove completely and can damage the object. Remove dust carefully by brushing the surface of an object lightly with a soft bristle brush. On a smooth surface we use a microfiber cloth rather than a traditional duster, which can catch.
To clean or not to clean?
No matter how tempting, cleaning can cause problems so consider if it is safe to clean an object without damage occurring. Always test a polish or cleaner on an unobtrusive area of an object in case of problems. If cleaning metal items such as silver, check that residues from cleaners are not allowed to build up in crevices. Never over-clean otherwise surface finishes, makers marks and the object itself can be damaged. If washing ceramics or glass always take care to protect objects from hard surfaces such as sinks and taps by using a soft cloth around the bottom of the sink, and take care with proprietary cleaners. If in doubt, check with a conservator!
Cut or other gemstones mounted in rings or other pieces of jewellery are susceptible to dirt contamination. Dirt can cause loss of brilliance so to restore brightness brush gently using an old toothbrush with mild detergent and water over a bowl (in case the stone drops out!)
If an item is damaged it is not advisable to rush in to repair it. Poor repairs can cause more problems for an object and so contact a conservator for advice before starting any treatment.
Using historic objects
It is a natural desire to want to keep the same objects in use, but it is always worth remembering that this will have an impact on how long and well it will survive. Family wedding dresses and christening robes, for example are often re-used from one generation to another. Perspiration and deodorant marks will stain and eventually rot textile fibres and sewing threads will weaken over time so seams could be vulnerable to damage if strained. If enjoyment of an object depends on its use, try to find a balance and always handle with care.
Handle with care
If you need to handle or move a fragile or heavy object from one place to another, make sure it is well supported and that the way through is clear. Accidents can happen if thought isn’t given to careful handling. Never move an objects without considering your personal safety and that of others first.
More useful information can be found on the Institute of Conservation (ICON) website.