THE EXHIBITION OF UNLACQUERED SILVER AT THE METROPOLITAN MUSEUM OF ART
2 THE ERA OF LACQUER
Since at least the early 1950s, the principal form of protection for decorative and archaeological silver in the collections of The Metropolitan Museum of Art from the effects of contaminants in the air has been a coating of Agateen #27, a nitrocellulose lacquer, diluted with Agateen Thinner #1 and applied as a spray or by brush over a cleaned and degreased surface. Given its physical and optical properties, a properly applied coating can be an effective barrier (De Witte 1973-74; Heller 1983; Reedy et al. 1999); however, an excessive build-up of lacquer can diminish the reflectance of a burnished silver surface or impair the viewer's ability to accurately read finely chased or engraved details. Of further concern is the potential regular process of removal and reapplication necessitated by the effective lifespan of such a coating. While many objects are in stable enough condition to be treated repeatedly, there are other, more fragile pieces whose previous conservation treatments might be reversed by the action of the solvents or whose surfaces might be too sensitive for any mechanical agitation. By eliminating the need to lacquer silver, such problems can be avoided, as can the investment in time and resources repeated conservation would require.