What is a Rotation?

30 January 2018

Having completed the first object rotation at the recently opened Postal Museum, Assistant Curator Jessica explains what a rotation is and why it is vital for objects on display.

Mail Guard Moses Nobbs, watercolour, 2004-0180 (facsimile currently on display)

When curators, conservators and other museum staff discuss the logistics behind creating and maintaining an exhibition or gallery space they often use the term “rotation”. A rotation in a museum or gallery means the changing of objects on display; as one is taken off view and another replaces it. The practice of rotating objects ensures that light-sensitive or fragile objects are not on view for too long.

Letter Carrier, watercolour, 2004-0184 has been rotated with the Silhouette (below)

Silhouette of letter carrier, 2004-0182 (currently on display) 

Paper can fade over time, too much light on paper can cause irreversible damage. Our Conservation team carefully reviews every object before installation to determine its fragility and sensitivity to light. From this and frequent checks while installed we can ascertain how long an object should remain on display and for how long it should be rested before it could be returned.

‘O Charms like thine are too divine’ valentine card, watercolour, OB1995.301 (removed from display)

Vinegar valentine card, watercolour, OB1995.30/1 (now on display)

Watercolours were the first at The Postal Museum to be rotated and will continue to be changed every three months. Their higher sensitivity to light means they could potentially fade more rapidly. Resting an item does not always mean its removal. For example, for a book, it may only require turning a page. Ink composition and the way in which the paper has been treated can affect its vulnerability to fading, this must be taken into account when choosing how long a paper item should be on display.

German Military Parcel Postman, lantern slide, 2011-0502/12, 1914-1918 (due to be placed on display in Jan 2018)

‘Coming for Mails’, lantern slide, 2010-0451/3, c.1890-c.1910 (due to be placed on display in Jan 2018)

How else can we protect our objects? We use low lighting and lights that are activated when a visitor steps close to a display case. Additionally, all cases are fitted with UV filter glass. These small but significant differences help extend the life of the objects, meaning that future generations may also enjoy seeing them.

River Postman frock coat and arm badge, 2010-0476 and OB1999.9 (currently on display)

Some objects are rotated every six months, these include photographs and lantern slides. In July 2018, our textiles (uniform) will be rotated; textiles are normally rotated every twelve months as just like paper they are vulnerable to fading caused by light.

So, our River Postman frockcoat (above) currently on display, may be replaced with one worn by a Letter Carrier or Mail Cart Driver. This means that collections even in the permanent galleries are always changing as a result of rotation and you are very likely to see something different on your next visit.

– Jessica Woolf, Assistant Curator