With 7.3 million items in the Science Museum Group collection, our dedicated team of conservators have a busy programme of preservation work to look after the millions of items we care for.
Our conservation work includes:
- treatments to stabilise the condition of an item;
- preparing items for display in our museums or for loans;
- assessing the condition of new items added to the collection;
- pest management to protect our collection;
- monitoring of heat, light and pollution to minimise their impact on the items we care for.
The collection includes many different types of materials, often together in the same item, so our conservation team work with metals, plastics, paper, books, art (of all shapes and sizes) and working objects too.
Recent conservation projects
The Conservation and Collections Care team received a new piece of equipment in November when a microfadometer was delivered to our conservation laboratory at the National Collections Centre. This apparatus is used to help assess the stability of an object’s surface and interpret how long an item can be on display before noticeably fading.
The microfadometer shines a very small, intense beam of light onto the surface of an object, the tested area is not noticeable to the naked eye. The equipment uses the light reflected from the surface to establish how much fading has been caused by the beam of light. Testing may be required on several areas when an object has different surface finishes such as various pigments or dyes.
After training on how to operate the equipment and interpret the results, the microfadometer has been used by the team to assess the stability of some items which will go on display in the Science Museum’s new Medicine Galleries.
After months of preparation, Stephenson’s Rocket left the Science Museum for the first time in almost 20 years in June 2018.
This 5 tonne locomotive has headed north on a tour, first visiting the Discovery Museum in Newcastle (the city in which Rocket was built) as part of the Great Exhibition of the North and then returning to the Liverpool Road station it served 180 years ago—now part of the Science and Industry Museum in Manchester—where it will be on display from 25 September 2018 – 21 April 2019.
Not many museum objects need a bespoke tailored protective jacket and several large pieces of lifting equipment to be moved safely, but Rocket did.
The conservation team ensured Rocket was not damaged during its journey, carefully removing its chimney (and replacing all 18 unique nuts and bolts), checking it was ready to move and supervising all lifting of the locomotive.
Picturing the past
To prepare for the Action Replay exhibition, which explores changes in sports broadcasting technology, at the National Science and Media Museum, the conservation team has painstakingly cleaned a unique 1948 camera control rack ready for the public to see it on display.
It was covered in a brown tar-like substance probably from cigarette smoke, from the time when smoking in the workplace was the norm.
George III half-penny coin
The coin was found on the fourth floor of Decker Mill in Manchester during an archaeological survey of the site. It’s likely that the coin was deliberately concealed during the original construction of the mill in 1801 to bring luck following a folklore tradition.
Ahead of the coin going on display the conservation team first studied its condition (repeated monitoring helps with the long-term preservation of objects) and then cleaned it, removing corrosion to avoid further deterioration and removing dirt so the text on the coin is visible.
To the Moon and back by train
As just one of many trains we care for, 2HAP seems unremarkable at first. Yet this is the most travelled railway carriage in the Science Museum Group collection, having covered five times the distance to the Moon and back while it carried London commuters between 1957 and 1997.
The restoration of 2HAP is underway in the restoration workshop at Locomotion with the help of the volunteer Project Commuter team. Once completed, 2HAP will go on public display.
This restoration work is an example of returning an item in the collection to an earlier appearance. We only do this in special circumstances when our curators judge that the appearance or function of the item is more important than preserving the item in the condition it joined our collection.
A Star addition
Visitors to the Science Museum can come face-to-face with a gigantic model of Blue Star Line’s Arandora Star. This scale model of the twin-screw turbine steamer was recently conserved at our National Collections Centre in Wiltshire.
Significant splits in the hull were repaired before the Group’s logistics team transported and installed the model at the Science Museum.
More about our work
You can read about more about our conservation work on our museum blogs:
- Science Museum Blog
- National Railway Museum Blog
- National Science and Media Museum Blog
- Science and Industry Museum Blog