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Thursday, May 30 • 3:00pm - 3:30pm
(Objects) Three Decades Later: A Status Report on the Silver Lacquering Program at Winterthur

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Just over 30 years ago, Winterthur began its first museum-wide campaign of cellulose nitrate lacquer application to its collection of historical silver objects displayed predominately in open Period Room settings, i.e. not in display cases. This coating was chosen after testing demonstrated that it could protect the silver from tarnishing for a period of approximately 28 years under regular museum conditions. The lacquering program continues at Winterthur today for about 3,000 silver objects on permanent display in Period Rooms and in the Study Collection.

The authors will discuss a project currently underway, which began with a survey of 1,500 lacquered pieces performed to determine the effectiveness of the coating over the years. The results of this survey indicated that the coating had begun to fail on about 42% of the silver pieces. The results were also instrumental in the development of an intensive second campaign of cellulose nitrate lacquering begun in August 2011. As part of this initiative, funded in part by an IMLS grant, 750 silver objects will be re-lacquered, focusing on pieces where the lacquer is oldest or has failed for different reasons.

This paper will present the results of many observations made during the project to better understand the behavior of cellulose nitrate coatings on silver objects, its progressive change over time, the instances why it may or may not fail, and the methods used for the removal of old coatings and re-application of new ones. This will include the preliminary results of a study of failed/discolored coatings via FTIR, tarnish/corrosion products via Raman, FTIR, XRD, and XPS, and how the presence of lacquer may affect XRF analysis of silver as compared to incipient tarnish.

Coating with cellulose nitrate, a material with inherent chemical instability, may at first seem counterintuitive in conservation; to that effect, other preventive methods exist and are successfully in use at Winterthur to retard silver tarnishing. Yet the results of this study demonstrate how effective cellulose nitrate coatings have been within the open environment of Winterthur’s Period Rooms so long as the coating is properly applied, the objects appropriately handled, and with plans and resources in place for the coating’s eventual and “unavoidable” reapplication.


Kaitlin Andrews

Conservation Assistant, Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library
Kaitlin Andrews is a part-time Conservation Assistant at Winterthur Museum. Hired in 2011 specifically for the IMLS silver project, she is responsible for the documentation and treatment of the silver objects.
avatar for Margaret Bearden

Margaret Bearden

Graduate Fellow, Winterthur/University of Delaware Program in Art Conservation
Maggie graduated from the University of Delaware in 2011 with Bachelors of Arts degrees in Art Conservation and Art History. During her time as an undergraduate she worked pre-program at the Emory Michael C. Carlos Museum, the Philadelphia Museum of Art (PMA), and Ossabaw Island... Read More →

William Donnelly

Conservation Assistant, Winterthur Museum, Garden, and Library
William Donnelly is Conservation Assistant at Winterthur Museum. William’s role throughout the project was to maintain the supply inventory, approve treatment proposals, assist with training of the part-time Conservation Assistants in polishing practices, brush/spray coating and... Read More →

Jennifer Mass

Senior Scientist, Winterthur Museum
Jennifer Mass is Senior Scientist at Winterthur’s Scientific Research and Analysis Laboratory as well as Adjunct Faculty in the Winterthur/University of Delaware Program in Art Conservation. She recently co-authored the chapter “Quantitative non-destructive analysis of historic... Read More →

Catherine Matsen

Associate Scientist, Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library
Catherine Matsen is Associate Scientist at Winterthur’s Scientific Research and Analysis Laboratory as well as Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Winterthur/University of Delaware Program in Art Conservation. She co-authored the chapter “Quantitative non-destructive analysis of... Read More →

Bruno Pouliot

Senior Conservator, Objects and Winterthur Assistant Professor in Art Conservation, Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library
Bruno P. Pouliot is Senior Conservator of Objects at Winterthur Museum and Assistant Professor in Art Conservation in the Winterthur/University of Delaware Program in Art Conservation. Since he joined the Winterthur staff in 1997, Bruno has continued the long-standing tradition of... Read More →

Thursday May 30, 2013 3:00pm - 3:30pm EDT
JW Marriott Grand Ballroom 3 & 4 19 S West St Indianapolis, IN 46204

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