Behind the scenes: Loaning objects

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The V&A lends several thousand of its objects every year to other museums and art galleries for all sorts of different exhibitions and events. This is what happened to one object, the Becket casket, when it was sent as a loan to an exhibition at the Hayward Gallery. The Becket casket is a reliquary made in France about 1190, of wood covered in gilt-copper and enamel depicting, among other things, the death and funeral of St Thomas Becket.

The case where the casket is displayed was opened and the casket carefully lifted out into a basket lined with puffs of acid free tissue paper. More tissue paper puffs were packed around it in the basket. These help to keep the object firmly in place and absorb any minor shocks. A temporary label was put in the case to let visitors know where the casket was and how long it would be off display at the V&A. The basket was carefully carried along a previously agreed route which had as few doors, steps and other obstacles and potential hazards as possible.
The casket was taken to the metalwork conservation studio where it was unpacked and lifted onto the conservator's desk for a condition check.

First the structure was examined to check that it was as stable as possible, that nothing had worked loose and that all the fastenings holding it together were in place. Then the surface wasexamined carefully and everything was cross referenced against previous reports to make sure that the condition of the object was unchanged. Finally any slight surface dust on the object was removed with a soft brush.

When the check was complete and any comments noted on the report, the casket was taken to be packed. Most loan objects have cases or crates individually made for them. Because it often goes on loan, the Becket casket already had its own purpose made secure carrying case which was kept for it. The casket was first wrapped in acid free tissue paper and a foam cover was fitted closely around it and secured with tapes. It was then slotted into the foam padded carrying case, ready for travel.

A courier accompanied the case containing the object to the loan venue. When it arrived the courier unpacked the casket. It was then given another condition check to make sure it had not been damaged in any way by the journey, and put into the exhibition case.

At the end of the exhibition the process was repeated in reverse until the casket was back in its display case at the V&A.

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