Handling and Packing of Museum Objects

08 Aug.,2022


museum storage cabinet

Handling and Packing of Museum Objects

Engr. Nimfa Rubias-Maravilla
New Zealand

Man is considered one of the extrinsic causes of deterioration of museum objects. Man-made causes are brought about by negligence on the proper care, handling, maintenance, storage and transport of museum objects. The greatest harm man does to museum objects is his lack of care in handling them.

Clean cotton gloves should be worn when touching any type of museum specimen because perspiration and grease could stain the objects, and moisture from the hand can cause metal objects to rust. Painted objects which are delicate should not be touched with the bare hands. If it is avoidable, they should not be touched at all. When holding such things as pottery or plaster, touch the parts without paint.

Work areas in museums must be kept clean as dust and insects in unclean areas can cause damage to objects and untidy places can also cause accidents. For example, you might stumble over a rope or a piece of wood and drop a ceramic bowl on the floor. Small objects must be put is padded tray when transported and padding must be placed around them during transport. Objects should not be lifted in handles, necks, rims or any other projecting parts because these portions can easily be broken. Carry only one museum object at a time, and if possible, support them at the bottom by the hand. A tall object with a small base should never be transported on a trolley in a standing position. It must always be transported in a lying position. Heavy objects such as large pieces of sculpture should be lifted or transported by enough persons.

In cases when museum objects need to be transported from one continent to another, the dangers due to variations in temperature and humidity must be taken into consideration. Similarly, packing cases and materials must be suitable to the needs of the items and precautions in packing must be observed.

Museum storage areas must also be kept clean and tidy like the exhibition and display areas. Objects must be stored or kept according to category. For convenience in environmental control, it is suggested that classification of objects in storage be by material. Some type of objects, particularly those made of organic materials need to be stored in a specific temperature and relative humidity. Organic objects in storage may be classified and handled, as follows:

1. Paintings

  1. Paintings must be handled with the greatest of care, attentiveness and forethought.
  2. Carry a small-framed painting by grasping it firmly with one hand on each side.
  3. If the painting is not framed and is small enough for one person to carry, hold it with the flat of your palms against its edges.
  4. Medium sized paintings should be handled by two persons, each with one hand holding the lower edge and the other hand placed along one side towards the top corner to balance the weight of the painting.
  5. Large or heavy paintings should be moved with the assistance of folding handles. When appropriate, use a trolley.

2. Bone, Ivory and Antlers

  1. Bone, ivory and antlers should be displayed and stored at a temperature not greater than 25°C and a relative humidity in the range of 45% to 55%.
  2. Illumination should be kept below 150 lux; objects colored with dyes should only be exposed to 50 lux, at most.
  3. Keep the artifact in a tightly closed display case or storage drawer in order to provide a considerable degree of buffering against sudden change in temperature and relative humidity and as protection against dust and dirt.
  4. Line storage drawers and shelves with chemically stable cushioning material.
  5. Avoid the use of rubber-based materials for storage or packing as these can produce unnatural yellowing of ivory.

3. Leather Objects

  1. A stable RH in the range of 45% to 55% and a temperature of 18°C to 20°C are the recommended environmental conditions.
  2. Unpainted leather can be subjected to maximum illuminance of 150 lux.
  3. Painted leather can extremely light sensitive and should not be exposed to more than 50 lux. Exposure of leather to spotlights, direct sunlight or daylight will cause them to discolor, become desiccated and suffer photochemical degradation.

4. Wood

  1. A relative humidity of 45% at 20°C is the optimum value. Large fluctuations in RH result in movement of wood; i.e., swelling and shrinking, which can be damaging.
  2. Small objects are best kept in drawers lined with thin foam.
  3. Medium-sized objects may be kept in large, shallow vertical cupboards or on flat shelves.
  4. Large objects, like most pieces of furniture, should be kept at floor level.

5. Textiles

  1. A cardboard tube can form the basis of an excellent space-saving storage system for textiles that can be rolled. Tubes can accommodate pieces ranging from narrow lace yardage to large, heavy carpets.
  2. Rolled storage for textiles can be:
    • bracket storage system in a cupboard
    • bracket storage system in a drawer
    • suspension storage system with chains anchored at floor and ceiling
    • small, flat textiles may be stored in acid-free boxes
  3. Costumes may be kept in hanging storage
    • padded hangers for costumes that are structurally sound
    • use of tapes for supplementary support for heavy, bulky and awkward garments
    • use of garment dust covers as protection from dust, light and contact with other garments
    • use of mannequins

6. Basketry

  1. The objects might then be placed in plastic bags with tags. Be sure the objects are essentially free from moisture so that growth of mold could be avoided.
  2. Museum objects of this category are usually damaged by moths. Insecticides must, therefore, be applied before the objects enter the storage.

7. Books and Paper

  1. Suggested range of T and RH are 21°C to 25°C and 40% to 50%, respectively.
  2. Suggested level of light for books, paper and other library materials is 50 lux.
  3. To store, keep paper in acid-free file folders in the dark.
  4. Keep the temperature low and maintain a non-polluted storage environment.
  5. To display books, support the text block with specifically designed supports made of Plexiglas.

8. Photographs and Negatives

  1. RH for the storage of photographic prints may fall between 30% and 50%, but should never exceed 60%, while storage temperature may range from 15°C to 25°C and must never exceed 30°C.
  2. Cold storage conditions, even below the freezing point of water, are beneficial to the longevity of photographic prints.
  3. Prints and negatives are susceptible to physical damage through fingerprints or scratches, thus, they should be handled with protective lintless cotton or nylon gloves.

9. Ceramics and Glass

  1. Objects in good condition cane be safely stored or displayed within the 45% to 55% RH range.
  2. Avoid temperature extremes, particularly rapid temperature changes.
  3. Protect the objects from dust and grime so that they do not have to be cleaned too often.
  4. Store them on shelves or in cupboards that will not be subject to vibration. Line shelves with soft, non-fibrous padding.

10. Mounted Specimens

  1. There is a danger of mold growth on mounted specimens when RH goes beyond 65%. The recommended range for RH is from 45% to 55%.
  2. It is important to avoid temperatures above 25°C.
  3. Do not subject specimens to light levels higher than 50 lux.
  4. Never store objects in areas where environmental conditions are poor.
  5. Store specimens in the dark to avoid fading.
  6. Ventilate storage areas well and keep them free from dust and dirt to inhibit mould growth and insect attack.
  7. Use air fans and blowers to maintain air movement.

11. Machinery Artifacts Displayed Or Stored Outside

  1. The chief cause of deterioration of both metal and wooden objects stored outside is moisture in the form of high humidity, standing rainwater, or water absorption from the ground. All ferrous metal are highly susceptible to rusting when atmospheric humidity is above 65% or 70%.
  2. Storage:
    • an inexpensive, temporary cover for an outdoor artifact
    • open shed: a covered structure for a large, outdoor artifact