As one of the Conservation and Engagement Assistants at Shakespeare’s Birthplace, it is my job to help look after the historic objects in the house. Recently, I have been doing a review of the metal objects that we display in the house and researching the best way to clean them.
It is important to keep the objects in the house clean because it helps to preserve them. This is known as preventive conservation. Dust is a particular problem for metal objects because it can hold moisture on their surface. Moisture can cause corrosion, for example rust on iron objects.
We have a number of different metal objects in Shakespeare’s Birthplace, including a pewter plate, a wrought-iron pan, bronze cauldrons and a brass warming pan. Undertaking a review of these objects involved inspecting them closely and recording any areas of concern or historic damage. I also made notes on the location and environment in which the object was placed, along with recommendations for future placement in the house. The review revealed that most of the objects were in good condition considering their age, but many of them had collected a lot of dust and further action needed to be taken to ensure that this does not become a problem.
Cleaning historic metals is usually different from looking after any metal items you might have at home. We tend to avoid using abrasive polishes as these can strip layers off the metal and remove protective or historically significant patinas. A patina is a layer that forms on the surface of a metal. It is either added chemically or it is formed naturally over time. It is a layer of protection between the object and the atmosphere. Therefore, removing a patina will make an object look shiny and appealing, but it can also make historic objects more vulnerable to damage.
I took the opportunity during our recent deep clean and redisplay of the Hall to start cleaning some of the metalwork on display. I cleaned the objects using a soft brush and museum vacuum in order to remove surface dust and dirt. This is the best method for our objects where the main problem is dust! Removing the dust has made a huge difference to the metalwork, both in terms of their visual appearance and their future conservation.
If you would like to learn more about the history of some of the metal objects in the Birthplace, follow the links below to posts on our Finding Shakespeare blog.
Shakespeare’s World in 100 Objects: