Objects on the move! Volunteering on a museum collections move project

By Kylie Lloyd, MA Conservation of Cultural Heritage

An image of the author.

This summer preparations began for the Wakefield Museums & Castles partial store move, which meant dusting and packing objects that are not currently on display at any of the museum locations. Working together as volunteers, under supervision, myself and another Conservation student from the University were able to help review shelves of objects so that their documentation would be up to date, and their condition for moving would be improved.

Objects kept at the store will typically have significance to Wakefield and the surrounding area. There were many interesting objects for us to clean. For example, typewriters could have dust settle under the keys whilst on open shelves (Figure 1). Using brushes, microfibre cloths, Smoke Sponges, or museum vacuums, they were returned to a clean state. These dry-cleaning methods will not always cause drastic changes in appearance, but it is still satisfying to know that objects are cleaner and protected from damage by dust.

Photograph of historic typewriters on metal shelving. The typewriters show signs of being dusty, from open storage.
Figure 1: Some of the typewriters before we dry cleaned and repacked them (Kylie Lloyd/Wakefield Museums & Castles).

An object of particular interest was a black case of entomology equipment, used to study insects (Figure 2). The donor information named Walter Fletcher as the former owner, which is corroborated by the ‘WF’ scratched into a magnifying lens in the kit. Unfortunately, not much else is recorded about him, but it is clear that he had a passion for entomology and took time to curate the required supplies over a long period of time.

A black wooden case on a table. The case holds entomology equipment.
Figure 2: Walter Fletcher’s entomology kit (Kylie Lloyd/Wakefield Museums & Castles).

Inside the case there were 44 small, empty boxes, some made of metal, but most of paper (Figure 3). The majority also had labels for tablets from chemists. The size of these must have been perfect for storing insects. Discerning the exact date of the supplies and owner was difficult, but the labels of the various pill boxes inside the case suggested it dated from 1935-1968 due to the company name, Timothy Whites & Taylors. There were also no objects made of plastic in the box, which may suggest it dated from earlier than the 1960s.

The small round boxes. Each box has a label indicating it originated from a chemist, and contained medication.
Figure 3: Pill boxes from local chemists seem to have been repurposed to store insect specimens (Kylie Lloyd/Wakefield Museums & Castles).

There were also wooden blocks with string wound around them that would have been used to hold insects in place while drying them, and metal tools, scalpel blades and packages of pins to assist in this process. A large net that could be disassembled was also able to fit in one compartment of the case. Everything needed for this hobby or passion to be fulfilled. There was attention to detail in so much of what Fletcher kept, including nine glass slides with different insects, each carefully labelled (Figure 4).

Nine glass microscope slides on a surface. Each slide has an insect mounted on it, and is carefully labelled with details of the insect. An archival marking pen sits alongside.
Figure 4: Glass slides of insect specimens collected by Fletcher (Kylie Lloyd/Wakefield Museums & Castles).

In conserving this case, all objects were removed, and the interior cleaned by brushes and a museum vacuum. Some objects required wrapping in acid free tissue paper, which will help to stop any reactions between materials. This included the metal boxes, because they react to relative humidity more than other organic materials like paper. Objects that were loose, like two large feathers, were also wrapped in tissue. Other objects were put into zip sealed plastic bags. This included loose pins and other sharp hazards. The goal was that all the different parts of the kit would be protected together for when the case was moved, so that it would be unlikely for damage to occur, or for items to become lost.

There were many more interesting objects to be found in the store. Dry cleaning and improving packaging for storage is helpful, so that the objects remain conserved for study or display in the future.

It was a pleasant experience working with the staff in the Wakefield store. They offered a friendly and educational environment to learn about object care in a museum setting. I am glad there was an opportunity to help!

Editor’s note: A version of Kylie’s post has also appeared on the Wakefield Museums and Castles blog. We are very grateful to Kylie and Wakefield Museums and Castles for allowing it to be reproduced here.