Silver teapot featuring an eagle head with open beak at the mouth, and mask at base of spout.
Image: Museum Victoria
Source: Museum Victoria collections: HT 8115
Following are some questions that museum conservators are frequently asked. The answers will give you some ideas about how to care for your object.
Q: The object I am researching is my mother's 42-year-old teddy bear. Its limbs have been sewn back on a number of times (from when my mother was a baby!) It was transported from London, England by ship. How can I keep the teddy dust free? Also, the teddy is currently kept at room temperature - is this ideal?
A: It is a very good idea to keep the teddy bear dust free. You could do this by keeping it in a box or a bag. It is fine to keep your object at room temperature. However, when storing special objects the important thing is to keep the temperature constant. The best place is usually inside a cupboard, away from sources of heat such as sunlight and heaters.
Q: My object is a 3-d picture of a doll's head. It is about 47 years old and it is from Germany. How should I store it?
A: It is important to protect your object from being damaged by putting it in a protected place. A box would probably be the safest for it, as this would prevent it from being bumped as well as protecting it from dust and dirt. As light causes objects to fade, a box would also protect it from sunlight and electric lights.
Q: My object is a model of a house from Timor. It has a carved bottom and a glued coconut fibre roof. How can I protect the fibre roof?
A: The glue holding the coconut fibre is probably the most vulnerable part to damage. As it breaks down over time it will become less effective, and the fibres will become loose. Rather than using more glue, I would suggest tying cotton of a similar colour to the fibre right across the roof to form two or three parallel lines. This will only work if there is a space to pass the cotton through under the roof. You can slow the chemical breakdown of the glue by keeping the model out of the sun. Otherwise watch out for insects and mould. Mould growth can be prevented by keeping the model away from the damper areas of the house such as the kitchen and bathroom.
Q: I have a photo to research. How should I store and look after it?
A: I recommend that you put your photo between two pieces of stiff cardboard and place it inside a plastic envelope. This would keep it flat, as well as protecting it from dust and dirt. The cardboard would also stop light getting onto the photo, as this can make it fade.
Q: My object is a silver plated Britannia metal teapot. It is over 85 years old. How should I look after it?
A: Silver plated teapots can become tarnished if they are exposed to the air. To stop this happening, try putting your object in a clean plastic bag and sucking all of the air out of it and then sealing the top. You can buy special bags of silver cloth that work well, but the trick with the plastic bag is cheap and handy! If you want to clean your teapot, museum conservators recommend that you don't use commercial polishes, even those that are sold especially for silver. They are too abrasive, and a little bit of the silver comes off each time you use them. Try washing it in clean running water. You can use a little dishwashing liquid, but make sure you rinse it off carefully.
Q: How could I keep a wedding certificate safe without breaking the bank?
A: It is important to keep the wedding certificate flat so that it doesn't fold or tear, and also to protect it from dust or dirt. It is also necessary to prevent it fading, so it is best to store it away from direct light (either sunlight or electric lights). I would suggest putting it between two pieces of stiff cardboard and then in a plastic sleeve or box.
Q: My item is an 18 carrot (sic) gold fob-chain that belonged to my great, great Grandpa, who wore it on his waistcoat. The gold has slightly tarnished, how can I restore it?
A: Gold is an extremely non-reactive metal, so it is not likely that the "slight tarnish" is doing the object any harm. If you like, you could wipe some methylated spirits on a cotton bud (on a stick) over the surface, which would remove greasy deposits. Don't rub hard, as gold is a very soft metal and will scratch easily.
Q: My object is a Birth Certificate from Egypt, 1927. It is made out of paper and is a little bit ripped at the sides. I would like to know if I was to laminate it whether it would wreck the paper?
A: At the museum we always recommend that people don't laminate special objects. Once something is laminated it will be that way forever, and we like to keep objects in as close to their original form as possible. However, it is a very good idea to protect the birth certificate from tearing any further. To do this you could put it between two pieces of cardboard and then put it in a plastic sleeve. This would keep it flat and protect it from damage.