Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Object Condition Checking



Over the past several months I have been working on an annual object condition checking project to monitor the collection for any signs of deterioration. A total of 350 objects were reviewed including all of the Cellulose Acetate and Cellulose Nitrate objects (notorious problem plastics), a sample of 10 items from each of the different plastic groups in the collection and 10 items made from materials other than plastics. Each object was thoroughly examined, all associated records updated and, where necessary, storage improved.

When we perform a condition check, early signs of degradation can include (http://www.modip.ac.uk/resources/curators_guide/care_plastics):

  • bloom, a white powder of the surface
  • corrosion of metal parts or surrounding objects
  • crazing and cracking
  • discoloured or shredded packaging materials
  • distortion of the shape of the object
  • smells: mothballs (camphor), sweetness, vinegar, vomit, rancid butter 
  • surface stickiness 
  • haze, a wet acidic deposit on the surface

Stylo platform shoes showing the plasticiser, adipic acid, having migrated to the surface.
We have a hospital cupboard where we keep objects in isolation if they are displaying signs of deterioration, a sample of which are regularly surveyed as part of an ACE funded project: Confronting Plastics Preservation http://www.modip.ac.uk/resources/confronting-plastics-preservation. The main aim of this resource is to provide guidelines for the care of different plastics through a series of case studies tracking the deteriorating condition of 18 objects over the course of five years.

Although this is an interesting project, deterioration in the MoDiP objects is actually quite rare due to our preventative conservation measures and regular condition checking. Every time an object is removed from storage it is given a visual assessment and no sooner have we completed one year’s sample check it is time to start again.

Katherine Pell, (MoDiP Administrator)

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