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Subject: Long-term monitoring of historic furniture

Long-term monitoring of historic furniture

From: Jonathan P. Brown <envcons>
Date: Tuesday, September 15, 1998
1. Background

Mount Vernon is the second most visited site historic site in the
USA.  The institution is about to begin installing an HVAC system
into its mansion (the home of George Washington).  The building
fabric is largely original to Washington (right down to the wooden
siding) and contains a mixed social history collection of
furnishings.  The collection on open display in the mansion is
relatively small in size, and there are a number of pieces of
particular importance (both original to the building and associated
directly with George Washington).

2. The Problem

At a recent meeting about monitoring the impact of the new HVAC
system on both the building and its contents the following question
arose: 'how will the curatorial staff be able to tell whether the
climate control system is adversely affecting the furniture
displayed in the building?'  Mount Vernon has no permanent furniture
conservation staff and relies on infrequent visits by consultants to
assess the condition of its collections.

3. The Proposal

It was proposed that the condition particularly vulnerable areas of
vulnerable artifacts (those with recent repairs, or with
particularly vulnerable construction features) should be recorded
prior to commissioning of the HVAC system, and at regular but
infrequent intervals (years) over a long period (decades)
thereafter.  The intention of the proposal is to discover what new
damage (if any) is accumulating over, say, the next thirty years.

4. The Problem with the Proposal

The proposal, while excellent in itself, begs the question of
exactly how one should set about recording the condition of the
vulnerable sections of furniture in such a way that the assessment
is repeatable and, to some extent, quantifiable by changing staff
over an extended period of time.

5. Over To You...

We need to assess the practicality and usefulness of the proposal.
Has any protocol for this sort of long-term periodic monitoring of
the physical condition of furniture (or analogous materials) been
developed?  If so, where is it published and what success (if any)
have people had in following it?  If not, I would welcome fresh
ideas and experience from people with similar problems.

JP Brown
Environmental Conservator

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                  Conservation DistList Instance 12:27
               Distributed: Wednesday, September 16, 1998
                       Message Id: cdl-12-27-005
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Received on Tuesday, 15 September, 1998

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