Agents of Deterioration and YOU: Preserving Household Treasures
The collections at the Science Museum of Minnesota are very diverse any way you look at them. There are 1.75 million objects ranging from dinosaurs to butterflies, canoes to Pre-Colombian ceramics. In the Collections Services Department, we are most likely to approach objects from a materials viewpoint. We study the material (i.e. stone, glass, hide, wood, etc.) from which an object is made. With human-made artifacts, we also study how the object is made. By understanding the material or materials of which an object is made, we can plan how best to store and display it and make informed decisions on its preservation.
Everything falls apart eventually. In the field of conservation, we try to prevent this eventual deterioration. The Canadian Conservation Institute (CCI) has recognized nine agents that lead to the deterioration of materials. In the poster “Framework for Preservation of Museum Collections,” CCI outlines the nine agents, acute and long term results of damage, and methods for preventing damage.
The agents are:
- Direct Physical Forces: Sudden shocks or long term pressure break and deform objects.
- Radiation (Light): Radiation from light waves fades and embrittles sensitive material.
- Pests: Insects and rodents eat and nest in organic collections. Mold consumes and stains organic material in humid conditions.
- Incorrect Relative Humidity: Low RH% causes drying and cracking. High RH% encourages mold growth. Rapidly fluctuating RH% causes structural damage as materials expand and contract.
- Thieves, Vandals, Displacers: People steal or maliciously damage objects. Museum personnel can simply misplace them.
- Fire: Fire, smoke, and soot destroy and dirty objects.
- Water: Floods, leaky roofs, or slow drips from pipes damage collections irreparably.
- Contaminants: Acids and pollution hasten the chemical deterioration of materials.
- Incorrect Temperature: High temperatures hasten the chemical deterioration of unstable materials. Low temperatures stress flexible structures. Fluctuating temperature causes materials to delaminate and crack.
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These pages were made possible by a grant from the Institute for Museum and Library Services. Original artwork by Verne Anderson.