Collection Care

The work carried out by our Conservation Studio involves the treatment of items, alongside developing and implementing preservation plans for the museum. The focus is to make our collections accessible to everyone now and in the future.

The diverse collection contains paper files, books, stamps and postal history material, posters, maps, textiles, and vehicles to name just a few. As a collection designated as of outstanding national and international importance, the long-term survival, use and sustainability is one of the Museum’s main objectives.

Paper items from the SS Gairsoppa in the conservation studio for treatment
Paper items from the SS Gairsoppa in the conservation studio for treatment
Paper items from the SS Gairsoppa in the conservation studio for treatment
Paper items from the SS Gairsoppa in the conservation studio for treatment

In addition, the Royal Mail archive (being one of the oldest business archives in the world) attracts much interest from scholars, philatelists, local historians, collectors, and the general public. Making our collections accessible to all is one of our key objectives, so it is vital we do all we can to preserve them. The Conservation Studio (part of the Collections Department) is at the heart of this, managing and implementing actions from our ‘Collection Care and Conservation Plan’. This bespoke plan is the backbone of the work that the Studio undertakes and is crucial to the survival of these collections.

How we look after our collections

Conservation care activities are at the heart of what the Studio does and can be broadly split into two main areas: Preservation and Conservation.

Preservation

These are the strategies an organisation is using for the care and protection of its collections by managing the changes associated with their physical properties, storage and display environment and their use/access.

Conservation

This focuses on specific treatment methodologies which are guided by a professional code of ethics intended to protect the tangible and intangible value of any collection item.

Together preservation and conservation offer the means to prolong the life of cultural artefacts so that these objects can continue to offer their insights to future generations.

Conservation Talk June 2019 - The Survival of Memory: Conserving the Shipwrecked Mail from the SS Gairsoppa
Conservation Talk June 2019 - The Survival of Memory: Conserving the Shipwrecked Mail from the SS Gairsoppa
Documentation of The Postal Museum object gallery rotation. January 2019
Documentation of The Postal Museum object gallery rotation. January 2019
Paper items from the SS Gairsoppa in the conservation studio for treatment
Paper items from the SS Gairsoppa in the conservation studio for treatment

Access and Handling

Damage to objects is often associated with incorrect handling. Our conservators are on hand to provide advice and support to enable safe access to items.

This can be through adapting handling methods to the needs of each object, as well as providing protective and supportive housing. This helps to safeguard the collection from physical and chemical deterioration. Conservators are on hand to respond to all collection care enquiries and support and train staff and volunteers.

We work closely with our in-house Digitisation Studio by making items stable and accessible for photography, as well as providing handling support during the process, especially for large and complex objects.

Find out more about how we handle items in our Access and Handling Guidelines. LINK

Environmental conditions

Conservators actively manage the environment in which the collections are stored and displayed. By controlling these we can help to elongate the life of the objects. These can include:

Light

UV and visible light can be severely damaging to objects, so we limit light levels and exposure times to prevent deterioration whilst still allowing good viewing conditions.

Temperature and Humidity

Objects made of different materials prefer different conditions, so the management of mixed media collection involves compromises. For example, high humidity and temperature can create the perfect conditions for mould growth; controlling the conditions in the most sustainable way reduces the risk of deterioration.

Dust

This everyday household occurrence can contain contaminants that cause damage as well as being enticing for pests, so good housekeeping is essential for keeping items safe.

Exhibitions

All objects you see on display in the museum have been through an assessment process to make sure they are protected while being seen at their best.

Working on exhibition displays includes both preservation and conservation aspects. Conservators work closely with the curators and archivists to support the selection of objects for display, and undertake conservation treatments and mounting to ensure the collection items are supported and enjoyed.

Documentation of The Postal Museum object gallery rotation. January 2019
Documentation of The Postal Museum object gallery rotation. January 2019
Documentation of The Postal Museum object gallery rotation. January 2019
Documentation of The Postal Museum object gallery rotation. January 2019
Documentation of The Postal Museum object gallery rotation. January 2019
Documentation of The Postal Museum object gallery rotation. January 2019

Treating damaged objects allows visitors to appreciate and learn from them as well as stabilize the object for the future. Treatments always take into consideration the history and provenance of the object.

Display cases have been designed with features to limit potential deterioration to objects. Lighting, temperature, and humidity are all controlled in the exhibition galleries, and objects are constantly monitored to ensure no changes have occurred.

Read on

There’s more to discover about collection care in our blog, including our work on preserving letters retrieved from the shipwreck of SS Gairsoppa.

    • Conservation
    • 18 April 2018

    Conservation of Letters

    Meet our Conservator Barbara and find out what it takes to care for delicate objects from our collection.

    Read more
    • Behind The Scenes
    • 30 January 2018

    What is a Rotation?

    Having completed the first object rotation Assistant Curator Jessica explains what it is and why it is vital for objects on display.

    Read more
    • blog
    • 17 January 2019

    Shipwrecked Mail from WWII

    Dr Sean Kingsley tells the story of a letter reunited with the recipient's family almost 80 years later.

    Read more
    • blog
    • 13 May 2020

    A Day in the Life of a Conservator

    Step into the shoes of Conservator Eleni and find out what her typical day is like.

    Read more

Our services

Our Conservation Studio are also able to offer their services to external clients. Find out more about who they are, what they do, and how they could help care for your collection.

  • Conservation Studio

    Our in-house conservation expertise and facilities can provide you with the best care for your own objects.

    Read more
  • Digitisation Studio

    Our digitisation studio has the specialist gear to digitise our varied collections. We can help with yours too!

    Read more