JAIC 1995, Volume 34, Number 1, Article 7 (pp. 84 to 91)
JAIC online
Journal of the American Institute for Conservation
JAIC 1995, Volume 34, Number 1, Article 7 (pp. 84 to 91)


Odegaard Nancy, Goldberg Lisa, Ballard Mary, & Piechota Dennis


KONSTANZEBACHMANN, EDITORCONSERVATION CONCERNS: A GUIDE FOR COLLECTORS AND CURATORS. Washington D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1992. 149 pages. $14.95 paperback. ISBN 1-56098-174-1. Available from Smithsonian Institution Press, Dept. 900, Blue Ridge Summit, Pa. 17294.

This book is a collection of essays originally published in the 1980s as bulletins of the Cooper-Hewitt Museum and New York State Conservation Consultancy. The essays are written by professional conservators, most of them from the New York area, who are known for their expertise or previous contributions regarding the material class discussed. Most essays are about three to five pages long and include basic, nontechnical information. Some of the contributions have helpful diagrams to clarify the information. As stated in the subtitle, this volume is directed to collectors and curators.

The volume reflects the nationwide effort in the 1980s to promote preventive conservation and collection care, and much of the information presented in the essays is available elsewhere. Conservators may find that they are reminded of publications such as the CCI Notes of the Canadian Conservation Institute, the Conservation Notes of the Texas Memorial Museum, bulletins and handouts of the various regional conservation centers, and, to some extent, the National Park Service Conserv-O-Grams. However, as a bound volume rather than a cumbersome binder, Conservation Concerns is easier than many of these publications to obtain and use.

Because discussions of general care overlap, the volume is best used as a reference for specific material subjects. Twenty-three unnumbered essays are grouped generally by material type. There is no index, and, as the contents page does not include headings, browsing is required to find essays of interest. Because each essay was originally written for separate publication, formats are not consistent, nor do the contents constitute a complete volume on collections care. For example, environmental concerns are introduced in the essay “Principles of Storage” by Konstanze Bachmann and Rebecca Anne Rushfield, and environmental issues are summarized in the tables included in “Composite Objects: Materials and Storage Conditions” by Valerie Reich Hunt. A specific discussion of environmental agents is limited to the essay “Control of Temperature and Humidity in Small Collections” by Ann Brooke Craddock. Some essays include no more than generalized information regarding light, pollutants, mold, pests, and handling. Overall, the environmental recommendations made throughout the volume are a repetition of the well-known standards for temperate climates.

The section on paper-based works includes “Storage of Works on Paper” and “Warning Signs: When Works on Paper Require Conservation,” both by Marjorie Shelley. While more specific information may be found in other sources, the format in “Warning Signs” is particularly useful. References in the reading list are recent and representative of the topic.

Photographs are discussed in two essays by Klaus B. Hendriks entitled “Storage and Care of Photographs” and “Warning Signs: When Photographs Need Conservation.” Both are clearly written and present more technical and historical information than most general collections care articles. “The Preservation and Storage of Sound Recordings” by Hendriks clarifies the category of sound records and admits that information about the long-term stability of these materials is scarce. The reading list is impressively long and current, including both scientific and popular references.

The essays on paintings include “Painting Storage: A Basic Guideline” by Kenneth S. Moser and “When Is It Time to Call a Paintings Conservator?” by Charles von Nostitz. Both are very general and leave out much of the information covered in other collections care guides. The reading list for this topic is comparatively small, including older, wellknown references of the mid-1960s to the mid-1970s.

Essays on textiles include “Storage of Historic Fabrics and Costumes” by Christine Guintini, “Textile Conservation” by Patsy Orlofsky, and “Warning Signs: When Textiles Need Conservation” and “Storage Containers for Textile Collections,” both by Lucy A. Commoner. “Upholstery Conservation” by Kathryn Gill appears later in the volume. This group of essays is perhaps the most useful, presenting a great deal of practical information. The information nicely complements other general conservation literature, and the reading list includes titles written by numerous prominent textile conservators.

Essays on objects and furniture include “Storage of Stone, Ceramic, Glass and Metal” by Lynda A. Zycherman, “The Care and Conservation of Metal Artifacts” by Elayne Grossbard, “Furniture Conservation” by Susan Klim, “Preserving Ethnographic Objects” by Carolyn L. Rose, and “Care of Folk Art: The Decorative Surface” and “Composite Objects: Materials and Storage Conditions,” both by Valerie Reich Hunt. Although some specific information is included, these essays are generally introductory and often vague. The importance of documentation and simply being familiar with the collection is stressed in the furniture and ethnographic essays. Overall, the references for this section in the reading list are current and representative.

Emergencies are covered in “Emergency Planning” by Mary W. Ballard. The essay introduces the concepts of management, contingency plan, and recovery plan. The reading list for this section is larger than most topics covered in the book and includes general as well as recovery treatment references.

The volume has an appendix of conservation suppliers, organizations and agencies, conservation centers, and conservation and collections care training. The list of suppliers will be particularly useful to collectors and curators.

Rather than attempting to cover all topics in the field of conservation for historic and artistic works, Conservation Concerns has brought together a diverse set of brief, specific, and useful essays that cover some of the issues important to this audience. It provides information adequate for understanding a material topic, discusses the factors that influence material condition, and directs the reader to resources and further readings. The volume is very useful for the general collections curator and the serious collector.

NancyOdegaardArizona State Museum, University of Arizona, Tucson, Ariz. 85721JOHNMORGANCONSERVATION OF PLASTICSLondon: Museum and Galleries Commission, 1991. 55 pages. $12.00 softcover plus $6.00 air mail postage. ISBN 0-948630-14-0. Available form the Conservation Unit of the Museum and Galleries Commission, 16 Queen Anne's Gate, London SW1H 9AA, England; fax 071-233-3683; or Plastics Historical Society, c/o Plastics and Rubber Institute, 11 Hobart Place, London SW1W OHL, England; fax 071-823-1379.DAVIDGRATTAN, EDITORSYMPOSIUM 91, SAVING THE 20TH CENTURY: THE CONSERVATION OF MODERN MATERIALSOttawa: Communications Canada, 1993. 440 pages. $50.00 (Canadian) softcover plus $6.00 postage and handling. ISBN 0-660-57854-9. Available from Extension Services, Canadian Conservation Institute, Communications Canada, Ottawa, Ontario, K1A OC8 Canada; fax (613) 998-4721.

Two recently published volumes concerning the conservation of plastic materials are based on an excellent premise: that man-made and synthetic polymers have become artifacts and antiques worthy of detailed concern for their preservation and long-term care. The smaller, more general volume, Conservation of Plastics, provides an introduction to late-19th-century and early-20th-century plastics production, with an emphasis on such conservation concerns as characterization of deterioration, simple means of identification, and simple precautions for cleaning. A major portion of the text is devoted to descriptions of types of plastics, with general information on their history of manufacture and their chemical properties. In contrast, conference papers published as Symposium 91, Saving the 20th Century aim at providing some detailed information about the current state of knowledge and future research directions for the conservation of modern materials, with a primary focus on plastics. This volume is long overdue in the conservation literature because it deals with questions about the long-term stability of objects made from essentially man-made materials. Issues concerning collection policies, documentation, and deterioration, as well as investigations of modified storage needs and treatment options, are addressed in this volume.

The smaller, more descriptive volume, Conservation of Plastics, is written without a clear sense of who the audience might be. For conservators, this volume provides a short review of fabrication and degradation factors. It succinctly describes the symptoms of deterioration and divides early polymers into four categories: natural polymers, modified natural polymers, early synthetics, and later “poly products.” There is a very useful chronology of polymer discoveries (pp. 41–42). The historical synopsis is also useful: collectors with ebonite handles on antique guns (pp. 19–20) or bois durci molded plastics will welcome the clear explanations of these materials. Particular problems are clarified, like the crazing of casein buttons in cyclical humidity conditions (pp. 24–25). The section on identification is thoughtful and practical; for instance, it points out that identifying the manufacturer, method, and date may obviate the need for actual testing. Analysis may include nondestructive but useful tests such as determining appearance, color, and odor. Specific gravity and burn tests are also discussed (pp. 35–41). This text can be used as a general introduction to plastics manufacture and characterization, with an understanding that further information is required to provide a full picture for the conservation of plastics.

Errors in the descriptions of several polymers compromise the usefulness of this volume for American conservators and collectors. For example, the descriptions of cellulose nitrate, cellulose acetate, and “celluloid” are somewhat confusing and misleading. The simplified summary of cellulose acetate does not alert the reader to the interrelationship of acetylation, working properties, and degradation. These distinctions are important: only cellulose acetates with a low degree of acetylation (52–56% acetic acid by weight is produced by the complete hydrolysis of the ester) are soluble in acetone. Cellulose triacetate (61–62.5% acetic acid yield) is not soluble in acetone, nor is it easily plasticized. Because cinematic and photographic films incorporated various cellulose acetate polymer substrates, these products have been studied extensively in the United States, but guidelines for storage and handling that have been developed in the United States are not discussed. Additionally, the description of cellulose nitrate degradation is somewhat erroneous. When cellulose nitrate degrades in the presence of atmospheric moisture, it releases nitrous oxides, not nitric acid. In the identification section, the odor of celluloid (plasticized cellulose nitrate) is identified as camphor, but the author fails to inform us that camphor was added to this plastic as a plasticizer and may not be present in all cellulose nitrate products. The English vocabulary and colloquialisms in the Conservation of Plastics limit its usefulness for a general American audience who may not recognize the trade names used in the text (Perspex for Plexiglas, p. 30; or Melamine for Formica, p. 27). The “notorious plastic mac” (p. 28) refers not to a fast-food hamburger but to a yellow plastic raincoat, once ubiquitous in Britain. This British insularity extends to the perception of problems associated with plastics. For example, while electrostatic charge may not be a problem in relatively humid climates, electrical charging of plastics such as polyethylene terephthalate and polymethylmethacrylate films creates dust accumulation problems for objects and owners.

Finally, the retrospective character of the book focuses on the imitative properties of plastics, their use as a substitute for natural materials rather than their more innovative uses. It is a focus on “trinkets” instead of major industrial and commercial applications. While the text provides a general description of most of the common plastics that might be found in museum collections, it does not attempt to describe or characterize the wide range of additives, colorants, antioxidants, and other materials that make plastics manufacture and subsequent deterioration so complex. Laminated plastics, elastomeric polymers, foamed materials, and adhesives have been excluded from discussion. There is no reference to the major technological developments that have changed the way people dress or live or see in the 20th century, from swim and ski wear to the composites or laminates on automobiles and airplanes, to animation stills and adhesive tapes. Furthermore, there is no attempt to describe or characterize more modern plastics such as the silicones, epoxies, or other hybrid plastics that have recently been developed, for example, for the medical and automotive industries.

In contrast, the papers published in the volume Symposium 91, Saving the 20th Century cover a wide variety of materials and conservation concerns. They are divided into categories or groups that reflect the present state of conservation views, practices, and research for materials typically characterized as “modern.” These topical areas include condition surveys, history of technology, deterioration, case studies, research and development, as well as analysis and identification. Many of the papers do not fall neatly into these groups, and there is some overlap in the content of various papers, especially in the earlier sections. However, several of the papers are seminal and might well become standard reference papers for particular topics.

The first two sections address types of collections, their condition assessment, and museum policies regarding their care. Authors of papers in this section discuss observations regarding such polymeric materials as rubber, various plastics, lacquer, and varnishes. Types of damage that these materials are subject to are cataloged in “The Condition Survey of Sound Recordings at the National Library of Canada, Implications for Conservation” by Jan Michaels. Issues such as survival rates for plastics and storage, exhibition, and collection policies are thoroughly discussed by Susan Massman in “Plastics in the Science Museum, London: A Curator's View.” This paper is followed by one that addresses some of the guidelines the Plastics Historical Society uses to evaluate the stability of its collections. Finally, Roger Price and Ann Moncrief discuss some of the broader issues of museum management for plastics collections, including the allocation of resources and ways that goals for research and education are met in using these types of collections.

The section concerning the history of technology is limited to a small number of polymeric materials, including rubber, Adril, and plastic materials from archival collections. In “Plastics Found in Archives” Alan Calmes discusses the physical and aging characteristics of a variety of materials, including cellulose nitrate, polyester, various acrylics, polycarbonates, epoxies, polyolefins, and polystyrenes. Further information on earlier plastics such as rubber-based substances and phenolic resins can be found in other papers included in this section.

The section on the process of deterioration is useful for conservators who wish to understand the physical degradation of many plastic materials in detail greater than that presented in earlier papers. Various topics are addressed from a chemical standpoint in “Changes in Polymeric Materials with Time” by David Wiles. This contribution is followed by papers on individual topics covering a wide range of polymeric materials and addressing such issues as physical aging, photodegradation, and the effects of additives.

The papers that present case studies and analyze specific problems will be useful for conservators who are looking for detailed information as well as treatment and experimentation options for specific materials, such as rubberized fabric, cellulose nitrate, plywood supports, and various modern metals.

The section on the testing and development of conservation practices includes several papers with practical content for conservators. Julia Fenn's paper on the labeling of plastic artifacts brings attention to the complex issues of museum registration versus application of substances that could cause potentially irreversible alterations to the substrate. Don Sale's paper evaluates the use of a wide variety of adhesives for poly (methyl methacrylate) and may provide the basis for future work on the repair of plastic artifacts. David Grattan's sophisticated work on the use of oxygen-free environments as a solution for degradation control suggests a future direction for storage and for long-term preservation of some polymeric materials.

The last section on methods of analysis and identification is limited to two papers. Helen Coxon's advice on practical pitfalls is useful because it outlines common-sense methods conservators can use to evaluate composition and provides some detailed discussion of problems that might be encountered with use of any of these tests. In the next paper, Carol Stringari and Ellen Pratt propose material identification with complex analytical techniques that may not be available to most museum laboratories.

Although the range of materials presented in this volume is broad, it does not encompass all “modern materials.” Some obvious absences include more recent synthetic fibers, modern uses of older resins such as modified rubbers, and paint films.

While most authors emphasize earlier 20th-century materials such as rubbers, cellulose nitrate, and phenolics, some of the case studies and research papers deal with more varied and recent materials such as plywood and treated aluminum. Like the Conservation of Plastics, however, the emphasis of research focuses on the deterioration patterns of older plastics. Perhaps the conservation field is just catching up to the 20th century.

LisaGoldberg401 Belford Place, Takoma Park, Md. 20912,MaryBallardConservation Analytical Laboratory, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C. 20560CAROLYNL. ROSE AND AMPARO R.DETORRES, EDITORSSTORAGE OF NATURAL HISTORY COLLECTIONS: IDEAS AND PRACTICAL SOLUTIONSPittsburgh, Pa.: Society for the Preservation of Natural History Collections, 1992. 343 pages. $30.00 (plus shipping: $4.00 library rate; $4.50 priority mail; $6.00 Canada and Mexico; $12.00 first class overseas; $17.50 airmail). ISBN 0-9635476-0-7. Available from SPNHC, c/o Julie Golden, 121 Trowbridge Hall, University of Iowa, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-1379.

In Storage of Natural History Collections, 95 authors present 113 short articles describing their solutions to storage problems. They are offered to inspire museum workers attempting to solve similar problems. The authors represent institutions from around the United States and Canada, with additional submissions from Singapore, Spain, and England. The volume is a sampling of current storage practices with an emphasis on rehousing used within a wide variety of collections. It is an unpretentious reference work to be opened by the museum worker who is confronting an immediate problem and needs inspiration.

While in their short preface the editors do not define the intended readership, this omission may be pardoned in view of the broad range of the articles. The rudimentary nature of some of the constructions suggests that the reader is not expected to be familiar with the general conservation literature. At the same time, the reader should be cautious. While some methods presented are traditional and accepted, others are unusual, innovative, and even controversial.

The articles are grouped in six sections. The first three sections describe artifact rehousing ideas. In “Supports” the reader will find an array of paperboard, plastic sheeting, and polyethylene foam constructions supporting two- and three-dimensional objects. This is the largest section, containing 46 articles with subtopics including hangers, trays, drawers, and tubes. “Supports” is followed, fittingly, by “Covers.” This section contains five articles solving common dust fall and handling problems. The section on “Containers” includes 41 articles on housings for shadow puppets, shells, bird nests, and fluid collections. Like the previous sections, the articles here are grouped by a typology of rehousing under subheadings including jars, cases, boxes, vials, subdividers, folders, and bags. The fourth section, “Environmental Control,” contains several retrofitting approaches and new construction ideas as well as two articles on pest control. The fifth section, “Labels,” offers solutions to collection labeling problems. The final section, “General Guidelines: Miscellaneous Collections,” is a residual category containing eight articles on ancillary, arcane, and special collections. The authors discuss the storage of living cells, Polaroid photographs, optical and electron microscope preparations, videotapes, and other materials.

Each short article has a standard format. The purpose of the article is described in a few paragraphs, followed by a description of the finished construction. Then the supplies, materials, and equipment needed are listed, and the construction steps are described. Each article ends with useful tips, sometimes alerting the reader to the limitations of the construction materials and techniques described.

Storage of Natural History Collections is an important addition to our conservation literature. No other text addresses the topic of storage renovation so thoroughly. The useful detail presented in the articles is supplemented by the glossary, the materials table, and the suppliers list. But the volume lacks an introductory section on design and a review of design principles that would serve as a conceptual framework. Such a review would describe important dos and don'ts to be kept in mind during the design phase of rehousing and storage improvements. It might contain general statements such as, “Lack of redundancy is a common reason for the failure of a housing design. Backups must be provided for any critical design element.” Or perhaps, “Rehousing solutions tend to be incremental improvements of a bad storage environment that are driven by concerns of economy. This approach can produce solutions that are half-measures, underdesigned and logically flawed. At times the global environment must be radically improved.” Important general statements of this kind are lacking from this volume.

Nancy Davis presents a traditional method of padding out moccasins and other clothing in “Internal Supports for Pliable Artifacts” (p. 59). But conservators familiar with the textile storage literature will recognize that Geoffrey I. Brown's article, “Support for Large, Lightweight, Flat Objects” (p. 25) describes an unusual use for common window screening. Brown suggests storage trays as large as 5 x 12 ft. using modified window screens. While this innovation may be safe for use, it is not yet widely practiced. The author's discussion of the sagging of the stretched screening due to “creep” points to a significant problem with innovative designs. They are not time-tested, and they can be unpredictably prone to distortion and deterioration during service. The low cost of this design is a primary virtue that will diminish as one incorporates more exotic lowcreep screening.

Each author's address, and phone and fax numbers are listed on the title page. With this friendly information the reader can contact the authors directly to get important details left out of the articles such as: the average cost per unit at the time of construction (an important budgeting concern when considering rehousing options); length of time the designs have been in use and whether they were prototype-tested (critical to evaluating the durability of new designs or storage hardware alterations); climate conditions under which their constructions have been implemented (especially important for the long-term performance of paperboard constructions and constructions adhered with hot-melt adhesives).

The use of generic product names instead of the exact brand names for construction materials is the single greatest weakness in this otherwise practical text. This editorial decision was probably made to avoid the appearance of promoting individual products, but instead it promotes confusion even though an extensive product index directs the reader to particular products within a generic class.

Anyone who has tried to substitute one foam for another in its class or one tissue paper for another in its class knows that unexpected characteristics can make the substitution problematic. For example, in “Standardized Packaging Containers for Silica Gel” (p. 241), Toby Raphael writes generically of silica gel while illustrating a particular brand, Arten Beads, which are low dusting, relatively large in size, and limited in size range. If common regular density silica gel were used, the author's bag porosity would need to be dramatically reduced to avoid dusting. The awkwardness of using generic material names is also evident in “Durable Specimen Labels,” in which the authors recommend labels made of this “high density fiber, spun-bonded olefin with corona and anti-static surface treatment, type 1056D.” It would have been much more elegant and informative simply to recommend Tyvek 1056D.

Storage of Natural History Collections should be on the bookshelf of any conservator or collection manager working on storage renovation. Regardless of its omissions, the case studies provide models for the initial stages of problem solving. The conservator can use the examples in this text as the starting points for custom storage solutions. A wonderful detail of the book is that each article provides the author's telephone and fax numbers to promote direct contact with the reader. Using Storage of Natural History Collections in this way the conservator or collection manager will be several steps ahead in the sophistication of his design.

DennisPiechota16 Central St., Arlington, Mass. 02174, Internet: piechota@world.std.com

Copyright 1995 American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works