October 1996 Issue 21
What have leather, rubber and PVC got in common? One answer is that, despite the claim that 'Conservators make it last longer', the profession fails dismally with polymeric materials. The mechanisms of decay of these natural and synthetic polymers have been well studied but there are few successful interventive techniques to delay deterioration. Passive conservation by control of storage and environment needs committed collaboration between conservator, curator and buildings management. This can be difficult to achieve, especially since love of these materials is not widespread.
Another thing these types of materials have in common is that they are not in the mainstream of what curators collect, they merely happen to be present in the collections. Similarly they are not in the mainstream of what conservators are asked to treat, yet conservators from a number of different specialist disciplines may find them associated with objects they are faced with. The material may be there as overt decoration as in the Mackintosh cabinet described in this Journal or deliberately hidden as with elastic in a dress.
However, things are not always as bad as they seem. There are signs of a growing interest that may turn into something more passionate. The Museum's collection of gilded leather hangings, largely ignored since it was acquired last century, has been catalogued and rehoused in a curator/conservator collaboration funded by the Getty Grant Program. A number of articles in this issue show that plastics are not totally unloved and the Museum has organised a display of historic plastic tableware, containers and vessels ranging from a Lalique box of 1935 to some recently acquired Tupperware (30 September-16 December). On the subject of growing appreciation and affection, the responses to the questionnaire about the future of this Journal were extremely positive. Nearly 95% of respondents were quite or very satisfied. More than 70% read most of every edition. Nearly 70% said they would be willing to pay. A substantial number, 45%, said that they would be able to access the information via the internet and it is reasonable to suppose that this number would increase rapidly. We will need some time to consider all the comments made in response to the questionnaire. It will not be easy to balance our professional wish to spread information as widely, cheaply and rapidly as possible against our desire to continue to produce a high quality, permanent hard copy in an affordable manner.