Duygu Camurcuoglu, Money Gallery project conservator, British Museum
As project conservator for the re-display of the Money Gallery, it is my job to keep an eye on the ceramics, glass and metal objects going on show in June. While the re-display continues and the final work has started on the design of the gallery, myself and seven other conservators who are specialised in different materials (ceramics, glass, stone, organics, paper and prints), are responsible for checking through more than 1,000 objects to ensure they are in good condition to go on permanent display, so our visitors get the best out of these fascinating artefacts.
I joined the project in late January 2012 and since then I have looked at nearly 1,000 coins and objects mainly made from metal. There are 19 cases in total containing mixed materials and my responsibility is to check all the objects in these cases and direct specialist conservators to their related items.
Luckily most objects require only light cleaning or simple stabilisation work, but fragile objects needing more detailed work such as paper and prints are given more time to complete their treatments.
One of the most interesting parts of this project is to be in contact with other curatorial departments and see all money related objects from different parts of the world and from different eras. Even though the number of objects to be checked is very high, we maintain a good communication with the departments to complete the work on time while considering the requirements from specific curators. In the mean time, we give advice to the design team on the environmental conditions inside cases such as relative humidity and light levels as well as on the use of conservation grade case materials such as boards, tapes, fabrics and mounts, which must be used for the long-term display of the artefacts.
High relative humidity and light levels can cause problems on objects such as those made from metals, wood, paper and textile, while dry conditions can also be very damaging particularly on organic objects; the effects can be warping, shrinking or drying. Higher light levels can cause textile, paper and painted surfaces to fade away.
The most challenging situations take place when different materials are desired to be displayed in the same cases. For instance, an iron dagger with a velvet-covered scabbard from the collection of the Department of Asia, was assessed and we decided that the light levels should be minimum and the object should only stay on display for a year due to the vulnerability of velvet under display conditions. Relative humidity levels must be mid-range for textiles (40-55%), while iron requires the lowest levels as possible. In a situation like this, curators and conservators need to be in agreement, with support from the design team, that the display requirements for certain objects can be met.
Our work, of course, is not complete without monitoring the cases throughout the display, checking how the most susceptible objects react with changes in the case environment. Apart from the risk of very dry and damp conditions, fluctuations of relative humidity can create undesirable conditions for the objects and need to be addressed immediately.
Conservators, preventive conservation scientists and museum assistants work closely to make sure all the objects are safe and plan to deal with unexpected situations during the course of display. Small monitoring units for temperature and humidity will be placed in the cases in order to check the conditions regularly.
The conservation work on all the objects needs to be completed by the end of April, so time is tight! There will be many silver and gold coins put on display, mounted on new grey background fabric – and visitors will be able to really see their detail thanks to the way, particularly the silver coins, have been cleaned.
Most of the objects are now ready to be placed in cases and the conservation team will be on hand throughout to work with the museum assistants and curators, advising them on the safest display options while still giving visitors the best view of these objects.
The Money Gallery project is supported by Citi and opens in June 2012.