Store Room Surprises!

Project Conservator, Helen Baguley, describes some of the more unusual objects she has found in our store rooms, and how she has conserved them, in this week’s blog…

One of the most exciting aspects of my role is surveying the collections housed at the Main Library and the University Collection Facility (UCF). This gives me to opportunity to look at collections I would not usually come into contact with, and I get to discover what is in the University’s vast collections. The purpose of these surveys is to determine any conservation work which needs to be carried out to safely house the collections and preserve them for future use. Some of these collections have already been appraised by archivists and some are awaiting appraisal. I create the surveys in Excel and write a report of my findings. The report records the current condition of the collection, lists the types of materials found, gives recommendations for future housing, and provides a cost estimate for the materials needed to carry out the work.

The most varied collection I have surveyed so far has been the Royal (Dick) Veterinary School collection which is housed across two sites – the Main Library and the UCF. Some of the more memorable items in this collection include; a full chicken skeleton, a zoological specimen of four pigs trotters preserved in fluid, a cow’s skull, glass lantern slides, photographs and anatomical diagrams. The photos below show a veterinary case containing tools which is also found in this collection. As I went through the box it was decided that these objects could be quickly packaged to prevent damage occurring due to abrasion and handling. By improving the layout within the box and rehousing the items, we could protect them from scratches and reduce the amount that each item needed to be handled in future.

Wooden box open with metal medical instruments and stethoscope inside.

Veterinary Case, before rehousing

Photograph of the metal tools all laid out on a white table.

Tools in the Vet Case

Each item was tied with cotton tape onto a sheet of thin plastazote. Both of these products are inert and acid-free which alongside being securely packaged will help increase the objects longevity. This box is also now labelled to inform staff that they need to wear gloves to handle what is inside to prevent corrosion from fingerprints, and to be aware of sharp objects.

The material is now tied up in white cotton tape to foam backing, and placed back into the wooden box.

Veterinary Case, after rehousing

Another box in the collection which also benefited from a quick change to its housing was a selection of printing blocks. Each block depicted influential individuals, animals or architectural features of the Vet School building.

Printing blocks wrapped in white paper in an old large metal box

Printing blocks, before rehousing

The blocks now fully wrapped and tied with archival paper, with labels attached.

Printing blocks, after rehousing

Luckily, a number of the blocks were wrapped in paper to prevent any scratches to the copper plates, however, many did not have any protective layers. These were wrapped in a layer of Tyvek and cotton tape. Tyvek is a pH neutral, lint-free, tear resistant, breathable fabric which prevents scratches, so it is ideal for this type of rehousing. To improve efficiency and handling of these items, a label was attached to each printing block which described the image on the plate, the materials it is made from, and a reminder to wear gloves when handling these objects.

This type of rehousing is hugely beneficial to collections as it prevents damage from occurring in the future whilst assisting staff and researchers to quickly and easily find what they are looking for. Carrying out the survey of the Vet School collections has really opened my eyes to how interesting and varied the collections are. I’m looking forward to seeing what other store room surprises I will find in the future!

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